Monday, May 23, 2011

Sex crimes and those who commit them

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned last week as managing director of the powerful International Monetary Fund after being detained in New York on charges of sexual assault. He has been released from jail on bond.

There are many things about the Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case that makes it a compelling story to watch and follow.

There’s the human-interest angle of course, one rife with all the classic questions of incredulity such as: How could someone so powerful, someone with so much resources at hand, be guilty of the most shameful crime of all? This question has been asked so many times in many similar high-profile cases.

In fact it is amazing that despite the many times the nature of sexual crimes have been analyzed, dissected, and explained to everyone, the same reaction is still prevalent. We still tend to force-fit people into a specific profile of what constitutes sex offenders even when there clearly is no such profile —perpetrators of sexual crimes can look like anyone and can in fact be as handsome as Tom Cruise, as rich as Bill Gates, or as highly respected as the Pope.

In the Strauss-Kahn case, there are attempts to paint the man as too handsome, too successful, and too popular to be guilty of forcing himself on another person.

Others weren’t shy about taking the accusation further: He cannot possibly find a maid sexually attractive to force himself on her.

One Strauss-Kahn defender even took the argument to absurd heights by saying that the maid in question should be lucky to have someone like Strauss-Kahn show sexual interest on her at all.

These arguments have been trundled out far too many times in various sex crimes. Very often, there is the tendency to blame the victim for a sexual crime.

I remember figuring in a very heated exchange of words with an entertainment writer a couple of years back over a similar incident involving a popular matinee idol.

The said matinee idol walked into a bar past midnight drunk and drugged to the gills. Thereupon he started flirting with a group of girls, one of which was the daughter of a friend of mine. My friend’s daughter was also drinking that night, but she didn’t pay attention to the matinee idol—she found him boorish. Irked, the matinee idol took my friend’s daughter’s hand and put it on his crotch. It was all fun to him but my friend’s daughter was offended. She walked out of the bar but didn’t press charges. The entertainment writer wrote that my friend’s daughter should have felt proud and honored that she caught the matinee idol’s attention; even more, that she should have thanked all the saints for having been able to hold the matinee idol’s privates—something many girls would have presumably died for. I disagreed, of course. I insisted that the act constituted sexual harassment and pointed out that the matinee idol should thank his lucky stars my friend’s daughter did not press charges.

Let’s repeat one more time: Sexual harassment is not about sex; it is about power. People who commit sexual crimes don’t necessarily do so because of uncontrollable physical need but more because they think they can get away with it; they have been conditioned to think that they are entitled to it.

It appears that Strauss-Kahn does have some kind of a history of being a sexual predator although his defenders have tried to temper the implications of the label by coming up with a subtler one – sexual seducer. There’s a cache of stories on his capers in the Internet and they are easy to find through Google. There is widespread allegation that the man is a repeat offender. Well, it seems the law has finally caught up with him.

I dread the thought of what would have happened if the case happened here. Would our police authorities have the kind of political will to yank the managing director of the IMF off a plane so he can be made answerable to a sex crime? I highly doubt it. There probably would have been a lot of frenzied efforts to smoothen things out, to make an areglo.

As it is, there is already a pronounced effort to muddle the issue with various conspiracy theories.

There is the political subplot. There are allegations that Strauss-Kahn, who was widely expected to become the next President of France, (in the most recent poll he had 46-percent margin over the incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy who managed to rake up only 17 percent) was framed to ensure that his political career was finished.

There is the economic conspiracy angle. A European has always traditionally held the post of top honcho of the IMF; just as an American has always held the post of President of the World Bank. America has reportedly been unhappy with the way the IMF has reportedly been biased in favor of European countries in allocation of funds to pay off loans. This theory gained some measure of credence with the appointment of an American to temporarily fill Strauss-Kahn’s post.

The prevailing conventional wisdom is that the arrest of Strauss-Kahn could not have happened without the explicit support and approval of Washington.

What all these highlight is that even in this day and age of supposed enlightenment and empowerment of women and minorities, sexual crimes remain a deeply divisive issue. Already, the lines between genders and between social classes have become apparent. There also remains a lot of prejudice directed at victims of sexual crimes apparently because people don’t want to deal with the embarrassing issue—they’d rather that victims just move on with their lives rather than embroil everyone else in painful reflection and self-examination.

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