Sexual assault is not just ‘extramarital sex’: the media talking about Dominique Strauss Kahn

// 10 June 2011

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Amy Roch considers the media coverage of Dominique Strauss Kahn

Lead TypeIn the last few weeks, there seems to be a vast array of commentators worrying about the sexual morals of the world’s powerful men (here, here). Our broadsheets, gossip magazines and tabloids have been providing us, in minute detail, with the salacious indiscretions of the rich and famous. Whether it is ‘he-who-shall-not-be-named‘, Arnie or one of the many other men who have been attempting to cover up the fact that they have been caught with their pants down, the media has had a field day dissecting the details.

I totally agree that there is a useful discussion to be had around the power dynamics at play when rich, powerful men choose to have affairs and there are definitely links between male power and privilege and gender based violence. However, many of the articles I have been reading on this issue have been far too quick to include the accusations made against Dominique Strauss Kahn as one of these examples of cheating men. Strauss Kahn has been accused and charged with raping a woman who worked as a chamber maid in a hotel that he was staying at. This is not a story about a man having an affair. This is a story about a man allegedly raping a woman. However, for some in the media this seems to be one and the same.

Rape is not a sexual indiscretion. Rape is not extramarital sex. Rape is not sex full stop. Rape is not about lust or desire, but rather one person (usually a man) seeking to use power and privilege in order to exert control and terrorise someone else (usually a woman). It is a horrendous crime and should be discussed and treated as such.

The attitudes to rape and sexual assault within the UK are pretty shocking. Research shows that high levels of the general public believe a woman is responsible for being raped if she is flirting or wearing sexy clothes or drinking and our politicians believe that girls being taught to ‘say no’ will prevent child sexual abuse. As has already been discussed on The F-Word (here), the media has been taking a greater interest in the subject of rape, due in part to the proliferation of ‘Slutwalks’. However, it’s not just the usual suspects, like Richard Littlejohn, who are minimizing the extent and impact of rape.

Zero Tolerance, a Scottish organisation working to tackle the causes of male violence against women has a great resource for journalists that gives advice on appropriate reporting of violence against women. And although it can sometimes seem like a useless exercise we should all be challenging these attitudes and use of language within our media as well. Sometimes it does work.

13 June 2011 – Edited to add: Strauss Kahn has been accused and charged with the attempted rape of a woman who worked as a chamber maid in a hotel that he was staying at.


Photo Lead Type (melting in the oven of your mind) from jm3’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons license)

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 10 June 2011 at 4:06 pm

Correction – rape is predeominantly about sex – men’s belief they have the innate right of sexual access to any female 24/7. Otherwise why would men rape women they know, if it were not for fact he believes he has right to use her as his disposable masturbatory aid. As regards men who rape women who they perceive as socially inferior – again it is about male sexual eroticisation of sexual violence. Many men experience sexual excitement and pleasure from raping a female they view as socially inferior but she is always seen in their eyes as ‘a disposable masturbatory aid.’

if it were not primarily because the male believes he has the right to use her as his disposable masturbatory aid.

So correct definition is men rape women because of dominant male beliefs they have the innate right of sexual access to any female and she has no sexual rights whatsoever. The female is just men’s disposable masturbatory toys and men gain sexual pleasure and eroticised sexual power from dominating and forcing her to do his bidding.

Strauss-Kahn is charged with raping a female hotel worker – not because of widespread belief men are entitled to subject women to violence but because men believe it is their innate right to have sexual access to any woman. Men are not ruled by their so-called biological sex drives but men who commit sexual violence make a choice and that choice is to subject a female to sexual violence including raping her. But malestream media cannot understand that male sexual violence is directly linked with widespread belief males have the right of sexual access to any female and hence only certain ‘rapes’ are real rapes.

Once again rape is about pseudo male sex right to women and rape is also about male sexual power and eroticisation of male sexual pleasure by subjecting a woman to sexual violence, including rape.

Mrs Carrothead // Posted 10 June 2011 at 4:46 pm

Did anyone happen to notice Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight a few days ago saying of the IMF coming to Britain “Of course Dominique Strauss-Kahn could not be here after his…. erm….. embarrassing incident.”

I mean I know that Paxman is a misogynist, but that’s surely beyond the pale for even your average Newsnight watcher. I’d consider complaining to Ofcom if only I thought they would listen.

Sarah // Posted 12 June 2011 at 9:17 am

” Strauss Kahn has been accused and charged with raping a woman”.

No he hasn’t. He has been charged with attempted rape, sexual assault, an illegal sex act and three other criminal charges relating to the attack.

What he has allegedly done is an awful and devastating crime. And comparing it to extra marital affairs disgusts me beyond belief. But it’s important that we keep the legal facts straight.

Amy R // Posted 13 June 2011 at 12:07 pm

Sarah – thanks for that. I completely agree, I will edit that to make sure the correct info is on the blog.

Jennifer Drew – I would agree with you that men who rape get sexual gratification, however, I would argue that rape is not “predominately about sex”, but power. Rape is a direct cause and consequence of male power and privilege in society and acts as a tool to reinforce that. I think one of the clearest examples of this is rape used as a weapon in war.

Rape is a form of gender based violence and is used to maintain the patriarchal system with men maintaining power and their position within society. I definitely agree with you that some men believe they have entitlement to sex and women’s bodies and this is a problem that needs to be addressed throughout society and particularly in the way the media portrays rape and sexual assault. However, rather than the eroticisation of male sexual pleasure, I would argue that it is the eroticisation of male violence against women that is at play here.

Sorry it has taken a bit of time for me to respond to comments.

sian norris // Posted 13 June 2011 at 4:34 pm

there was a horrible article by a woman in the telegraph that basically suggested that we brits are uptight about sex and that’s why we’re making such a fuss about DSK, that in France it’s just considered normal. that we should just be more relaxed about it.

Which not only makes out that we should treat attempted rape as sexual indiscretion, but wrongly suggests that French women don’t care about sexism or sexual assault.

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