Wednesday, August 24, 2011

NOW's reaction to dismissal of charges against DSK signals that it should have no voice in the public discourse on rape

There is a widespread international consensus among objective observers -- observers who do not speak regularly on gender issues and have no axe to grind in the matter -- that the sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn were properly dismissed. That consensus was generated not by any sympathy for Mr. Strauss-Kahn, who is not a sympathetic figure, nor by antipathy for his accuser's gender, race, or ethnicity, but because it is painfully self-evident that the charges simply are not sustainable.  Many thoughtful observers, including Naomi Wolf and a host of serious commentators in the European community, viewed with alarm American law enforcement's zealousness in bringing the charges in the first place.  Whatever Ms. Wolf's other views about men, she's been on the right side of some important false rape issues lately.

But the National Organization for Women has issued a statement condemning the dismissal of charges that is so extreme and discordant with fundamental values cherished by our jurisprudence, and that strays so far from the mainstream of serious and reasoned thought, that NOW has lost any rightful claim to participate in the public discourse about the serious issues relating to sexual assault.

NOW's statement said it "deplore[d]" the decision to dismiss the charges against Strauss-Kahn. The decision was, NOW asserted, a "miscarriage of justice" that "exhibits all the hallmarks of a society that tolerates sexual violence by blaming and shaming the survivors . . . ." Further, NOW "applauds Ms. Diallo for bravely coming forward to tell her story. . . . she stands as an example to all women that we can, with dignity, demand justice for ourselves -- that women who are sexually assaulted need not be perfect in order to be believed."  NOW added: "This case underscores the fact that we still have a long way to go in ending violence against women, and NOW will not rest until we achieve that goal. Ms. Diallo's courage gives us inspiration to hold our heads high and keep striving."  (Contact: Latoya Veal w. 202-628-8669, ext. 116, c. 301-660-3447)

Most troubling about NOW's reaction is the absence of even passing concern for the rights of the presumptively innocent. 

Beyond that, NOW does rape survivors and future rape victims no favors by tying its reputation to a sexual assault accusation that, by common consensus, was highly questionable.

The prosecution of sexual assault raises a host of complex issues that require the nuanced balancing of critical and delicate interests: we must, on the one hand, strive to punish malefactors, and on the other, insure that the innocent are not punished with the guilty. The balancing of those two imperatives is difficult enough in the rape milieu without injecting shrill politicization into the discourse. NOW has proven that its voice on these issues is not one that should be taken seriously.