The story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF chief who faces charges of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape a maid at a Manhattan hotel, is making headline news at a rapid rate. Major media outlets, such as CNN, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, have feverishly followed this story. This is, of course, a serious matter; but these incidents unfortunately occur everyday — and they don’t make international headlines.
This case becomes “a story” because of stereotypes which re-enforce that this is not to be expected of a world leader. People don’t want to believe — or don’t believe — that an individual in a high-ranking position who works for an organization that sets economic policies for countries all over the world, is capable of such a crime. The media’s response to this case has highlighted Strauss-Kahn’s career, power and political involvement.
CNN, for example, ran the headline, “Dominique Strauss-Kahn: A brilliant career, a stunning accusation.” For many, this accusation is “stunning” because its insidious to believe that people with “brilliant careers” could sexually assault. However, the reality is that people of any class, status, race and gender can, and do, sexually assault.
In another headline, the BBC wrote, “IMF chief sent to tough NY jail.” Most people do not consider that someone in a position of power — the “IMF chief” no less — would end up in a “tough NY jail.” The unfortunate truth is that no one type of person is exempt.
When these stories make headline news, its the duty of advocates to educate communities, so citizens know that these types of offenses can happen anywhere. Class, status, position and power do not make individuals incapable of committing terrible crimes. Bottomline: It’s unacceptable for anyone — regardless of her/his status in society — to behave in this way. Still, it’s an unfortunate reality that people all over the world do commit sexual crimes.
As this case continues to unfold, let’s use the media’s response as a teachable moment to highlight that power, class and income do not exclude one from potentially perpetrating. The work to end sexual violence is far from finished, but the awareness that sexual violence is committed by and against every group of people is a step toward change.