July 6, 2011 / Law & Justice, Safety

The Public Face of Rape


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

Image and statistics provided by RAINN

In an article published by The Daily Beast titled The Problem with Rape Prosecutions, Alan Dershowitz, a writer and law professor at Brooklyn College suggests that one of the ways the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case went wrong was that the woman allegedly raped by him was not publicly outed. If she had, then those who knew her — neighbors, friends, family — could have revealed personal information about her that the prosecutors and defense attorneys did not discover until it was too late. According to Dershowitz,

It is absolutely critical that rape be treated like any other crime of violence, that the names of the alleged victims be published along with the names of the alleged perpetrators, so that people who know the victim or know her reputation can come forward to provide relevant information … By withholding the name of the alleged victim while publishing perp photos of the alleged assailant, the press conveys a presumption of guilt.

In this way, the faces of both the assailant and victim should be publicized. It’s only fair, right? Wrong.

Dershowitz’s voice is not only a man’s voice articulating his position that women allegedly raped must prove their veracity by publicly exposing their faces and their stories, but also the antiquated voice of male privilege that denies the claims of women over the claims of men. Grant it, some men are falsely accused of sexual assault by women who are out for money, vengeance, or shame, but this does not mean that all women who cry rape do so out of vindictiveness or greed, or any other self-serving reason. According to Bruce Gross‘ article on false rape accusations, the FBI has reported that only 8% of rape accusations are either false or unfounded. But as he also points out, because rape is such a complex issue and 60% of actual rapes go unreported (RAINN), not enough research has been conducted on the subject.

The point is, we cannot condemn and crucify every rape victim for the falsehoods of a few. The ¬†justice system is already set up to favor the alleged perpetrator; proof of rape is the victim’s burden. She is guilty of falsely accusing her rapist from the moment she claims, “He raped me.” A rape victim must sit in court and have her dress, her face, her walk, her sexual history, and her proclivities, if any, to alcohol, flirtation, lingerie, and dating patterns exposed as if she were the criminal being judged, not the victim whose body was violated. To then plaster her pictures and bio and history on television shows and news, as Dershowitz recommends, ¬†is a double assault. Reminiscent to George Orwell’s 1984, he proposes inviting Big Brother into the private lives of women who were actually attacked.

What he suggests is that a raped woman should be publicly as well as privately raped. Not only does she have to bear the assault of a rapist upon her body, feeling the powerlessness and shame that this act enforces, that this perpetrator forces upon her, but she also has to become the public face of rape. She not only has to speak of the atrocities committed against her to strangers — police officers, lawyers, judges, and jurors in a closed court room — but then, like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, she has to also stand on an open and public platform with the scarlet “R” stitched to her dress, a symbol, a cautionary tale for other women to know exactly what will happen to them if they dare point the finger at a man who raped her unless she had his DNA preserved and ready for the forensic criminologists to confirm her story.

With Professor Alan Dershowitz at the helm of his law courses, teaching this kind of male-privileged and short-sighted ideologies on rape and rape victims to the younger generation of lawyers, and then writing about it for public consumption, it is no wonder that only 60% of rapes are ever reported. It is no wonder that women and children and 10% of men who apparently do not report sexual crimes committed against them remain silent. They don’t feel safe. They know they will be accused and stand trial for the crimes committed against them.

There is no justice for raped victims with this approach. No justice at all.

Join Our Email List

Be the first to know the latest initiatives from The New Agenda to improve the lives of women and girls.

Thank you for joining our list! Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.

  • Bes

    The only thing that surprises me about the rapist DSK getting off and slandering his victim in predictable ways is that he doesn’t have a woman attorney, I thought female attorneys were standard issue for rapists. Seriously how does this crap they are spreading about the victim make her immune from having been raped? One of her friends or relatives is in prison and she talked to him! (I have a drug addicted relative who has 7 felonies and is in prison and I visit her). She has more than one phone! (I have 5 cell phones which I use to keep track of my children and elders). Someone who is nameless thought she might possibly have been turning tricks in the hotel she cleans?!?, (I’m glad she is suing for slander on this one). So anyway I guess now I could never be raped. What a bunch of vapid drivel and the media blabbers it around like it is THE TRUTH.

  • AnnE

    Good article Marina. Women who say “no” are the stuff of urban myth. No woman has ever said “no.” In addition, if a woman is not a virgin, she clearly has consented to have sex with the entire universe. I love the notion that sex is always consented to—the developmental challenged woman in NJ who consented to sex with a gang and a baseball bat, the drunk and unconscious woman who consented to have sex with half the college baseball team, etc.

    Years ago, when I lived in New England and was going to grad school and working part time in a department store, one of the women I worked with was attacked in her own appartment. She bit her assailant– and the local newspaper printed her name over her objections. She had all sorts of phone calls, men coming to her appartment to threaten her.

    What Dersowitz is saying is that women are not sufficiently human enough to have the right to control their own bodies, and they are not sufficiently human enough to complain about their mistreatment. According to him, women should be coerced into silence and crushed with the heels of a boot as if we were cockroaches. But like so many of these cowards–he doesn’t have the, hmm, stomach to voice these unpalatable ideas.

  • JeanLouise

    I really can’t think of a thing to say except that I wish that all the assholes like Alan Dershowitz would just disappear before I slap them silly. I’m so tired of trying to explain the concept of male privilege and how it informs every aspect of a woman’s life.

  • yttik

    Good article, Marina. I’m not convinced that anything we’ve heard or read about the woman accusing DSK has any truth to it. In fact, she’s filed libel charges against the press.

    The past couple of weeks have been so bad in how women are portrayed, victim, defendant, movie star, candidate for public office, doesn’t matter, the meme has been identical so you can’t even tell one woman from another. Every one of them is a “money hungry slut and a compulsive liar who needs to be locked up.”

  • Bes

    I agree Yttik, but that is what happens when men (and a few women who benefit economically from kissing the hairy ass directly in front of them) run media. There is no concept of authentic woman in media. Women are the people who organize life and take care of everyone on top of giving birth to everyone, while also working in jobs or professions and yet we are portrayed as “money hungry sluts and compulsive liars who need to be locked up.” or victims who are voyeuristicly degraded.