IMF Rape Case: Reminiscent of Antebellum South by Kalima DeSuze

Wed, Jun 24 2015 06:44pm EDT 1
Black Women's Blueprint
Black Women's Blueprint
46 Posts
written by: Kalima DeSuze

On the heels of newly released information in the case of the African-immigrant woman who accused French IMF Chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her last May, anti-racist, feminists, womanists and international human rights defenders have been left spinning.

Speculations about the African immigrant woman’s life and the manner in which she has wholly been vilified, framed as a "vixen", "hooker", "liar", "criminal”,” with criminal friends", in short a pariah will inevitably impact women’s rights efforts and specifically the anti-rape movement here in the U.S. However, we are asking all those concerned to regain balance, refocus energy and resources on the real issue at hand and that is raging and audacious violence against women, occurring with regularity, with impunity and within what is now normalized rape culture. The race of the victim, in addition to her status as an immigrant who is reported to be a mother and a Muslim woman by family and friends are of true importance. Then there is her economic status as a woman engaged in some level of domestic work. Conversely, the race of the accused, his obscene financial, social and political capital, all conspire in this case to evoke the spirit of the Antebellum South where access to Black women's bodies was not only commonplace but expected by those in power. Access was legal and these women were accessed with regularity and with impunity. The sexual exploitation of Black women by white men had its roots in slavery, continued throughout the better part of the twentieth century and as this case demonstrates, still occurs today.

Sexual violence against Black women continues to be rewritten as consensual, as deserving, as excusable and as justified because of racist and sexist notions and stereotypes based on centuries-old myths that frame Black women as “unable to be raped”, “sexually promiscuous”, or “hypersexual.” These stereotypes have haunted our communities since the first ships arrived on the shores of Africa. In 2011, stereotypes of the young, Black, working class poor, and immigrant women has become savvy. We are now relying on public benefits, tax forms, and choice of friends to limit, label, and stigmatize. It’s important that we not be confused by the myriad of erroneous information that may be part of this story. Her alleged lying on her asylum application, tax forms, and income is not the issue. Historically sanctioned racialized and sexualized violence is the issue. However, to play fair in this obvious game of “catch me if you can,” let’s take a moment to discuss the alleged lies.

There are few decisions in a poor woman of color’s life that can be reduced down to a simple lie. It is incumbent upon all critical thinkers to challenge this line of thinking. We cannot separate the person from environment. Economic, political, cultural, and social conditions impact our everyday decisions from something as large as whether to continue cleaning a room after an assault to whether to wear a sleeveless dress in 100 degree weather. And we certainly cannot afford to ignore and/or separate the cultural and historical impact of supported gender violence entrenched in this young woman’s psyche. To do so is nonsensical as she hails from a country steeped in gender violence and was actually fleeing due to vaginal mutilation. So, it is possible that her first reaction to continue cleaning was culturally based; the decision to challenge was based on the reason why she sought asylum here in the first place. She assumed that she’d be safe here and if not had the option to seek redress. And since when is it a crime to have a friend in jail?

Again, please let’s look at the social and political landscape women of color are navigating. We are living in a time and place where 90% of the male population of Rikers Island is Black and Brown. There are more Black Men under the control of the criminal justice system in the United States today than there were enslaved Africans in 1850. This equates to a social epidemic of mass incarceration of Black men in which there will be few if any Black and Latina women who do not know someone incarcerated. This is reflection of our society, not a reflection of our character. And most likely, they will be our fathers, brothers, uncles, partner-people who play critical roles in our lives-not just neighborhood friends.

So again, it is worth mentioning that this is not about what some may call lies and what others may call survival tactics in response to a savagely oppressive society especially for women who stand at the intersections of race, class, gender, and immigration status as this young lady bravely does. There will never be a perfect victim simply based on the many challenges women face to survive. So, let’s not be distracted by what could be easily described as bedlam-all being created by a media industry that cares very little about justice than they do about ratings and advertisements. It is critical that our focus remain on the fact that this is about raging and unabated racialized and sexualized violence in the likes of Antebellum South.

Further, and this begs the more difficult question: can she still be a victim even if she lied. Was she not assaulted and raped? In our society we often look for perfect victims, especially in cases of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence. The victims however, are often all too human. They lie, they scream, they do things they might regret later. Their humanity should not impede their right to justice. The mainstream media is also playing an active and disturbing role in this case. The release of “information” about this victim is ensuring that her testimony will be less credible.

Even further, if her abuser does not get prosecuted, the media has created a narrative where there will be no outcry. By siding with the powerful/rich aggressor, the embodiment of white patriarchy, the media is not challenging our faulty justice system, a system that has failed and continues to fail poor women of color. Unfortunately this is part of our story, our struggle. Just as in this current case, Black women in Antebellum and Post-Antebellum South are always faced with a life or death choice: swallow the memories of sexual violence by slave masters to ensure they and their children would see another day or seek justice and brace for guaranteed retribution. Except in 2011 in NYC we have a district attorney who moved swiftly to detain the assailant---obviously keenly aware of the capacity of Strauss-Kahn.

Still, the survivor is now suiting up to brace for what will be a relentless attack on her character. While she may survive physically, the unseen scars are the most damaging. In fact, what will this do to thousands of survivors of sexual violence wrestling with the critical decision to come forward? Most assuredly, silence many survivors. And, although Strauss-Kahn has a history of sexual violence, that is not so much the center of the conversation again, highlighting the power imbalance of more access to resources, credibility, and power to rewrite history and have it believed in the face of clear evidence. Even after lessons learned from pre and post Antebellum, the justice system fails to recognize that abuse and sexual assault is not simple; cases should not be solved using an equation that fails to factor in critical variables of power, race, class, gender, and social standing. The negotiation of sex in these relationships between the perpetrator and the victim are not necessarily physical but are mental; is it ever consensual when the power imbalance is gargantuan?

The fact remains, a young, black, foreign or U.S. born Black Woman does not have the same social capital to negotiate power like a well off, French man, with trans-national political, social, economic power. In a way, the inherent disposition of women in these relationships makes these relationships fundamentally violent. It is irresponsible to continue to frame these Black women and sometimes girls as young as 12 years old as powerful mistresses, vixens able to negotiate power within the context of the antebellum South, not if one really understands the meaning of power in the real sense. The outcome of this case will have an indelible impact both seen and unseen in perpetuity. The public nature of these cases and constant failure to obtain justice really points to a crisis--women's vulnerability and overall insecurity even in a country with laws. And if I may be radical here, it speaks to the need for communities to develop our own systems for offender accountability and our own means for protecting ourselves against assault. Men are doing this in other countries. In Haiti for example, men have organized and are sleeping in shifts in the tent villages or only sleeping during the day. They stand guard while the women and children sleep at night in order to ward off gangs of men who rove around, completely naked, rip through the tents with knives and rape women and children. Of course this has been happening even before the earthquake; after the last coup, it was women voters who would not sleep and sit up on their roofs all night holding shot-guns, protecting their families from gangs who used rape as a weapon of political repression.

We should ask ourselves – what is the narrative of this story? If the case is dismissed who wins? And what does this victory tell us? The winners: Dominique Strauss-Kahn wins, he also wins the sympathy of many men and women, rich and poor, immigrant or not. He will be seen as the wrongfully accused (white) man who lost his job and dignity. The DA wins too, he tried to pursue the case, however in the name of justice dropped it as the office uncovered details about the victims. The losers: the victim – who will never see justice and all women who have been assaulted and raped. Underlying this story will be the yet another, more disturbing narrative; a narrative that tells Americans that immigrant women of color are not to be trusted, that unjust laws (like the one in Arizona) against immigrants are justified and needed.

Our charge in the next few hours is for as many Black Feminist, feminist, womanist, and pro-feminist organizations to write blogs, op-eds, and letters to keep the focus on the racialized and sexualized violence of women. Creating our own sources of media will be central to our survival. We must ensure that we respond with laser sharp arguments---going toe-to-toe with purest embodiment of patriarchy Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We must join organizations like Black Women’s Blueprint ( who are fighting fiercely to reclaim the dignity of all women however, of Black Women in particular because as writers of the Combahee River Collective asserted it is not until Black Women are liberated will all be liberated “since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” We must pull together resources to support anti-gender violence organizing. We must stop victim-blaming and instead, stand in unwavering solidarity with this woman and in doing so, stand for ourselves, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers known and unknown. And we must unapologetically, speak truth to power through our actions and words.

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