By Corinna Barnard
Saturday, May 21, 2011
A now-former IMF banker, a former governor and former reality-TV star made it a huge week for sex crimes and scandal. Catholic bishops tried to distance themselves from it all by deflecting blame to the permissive culture of the 1960s.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Sex crimes and notorieties ran amok this week.
One upshot was that a popular French politician and global banker turned into a household nickname.
By Tuesday, the now-former IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Khan--facing allegations of sexual assault against a New York hotel worker--had become the notorious DSK.
The monogram lent a subliminal gangsta' rap aura to the accused, who, according to what I read, joined a number of other high-profile men--including hip-hop mogul Jay-Z--on the client list of the same defense lawyer, Benjamin Brafman.
The opening days of the case provided an impressive display of action by New York law enforcement on behalf of the alleged victim, a native of Guinea who has been granted U.S. asylum.
But Nation magazine Executive Editor Betsy Reed reminds us that this shouldn't be mistaken for the typical experience of immigrant women.
In "What If DSK's Accuser Had Been Undocumented?" Reed flags a study of 150 immigrant women who work in the U.S. food industry. Researchers for the Southern Poverty Law Center found that 100 percent of the women--every single 150 of them--reported some kind of workplace sexual harassment. For the majority, this involved a sexual assault. Few made complaints, many lacked immigration papers and the fear of deportation was a widespread reason not to pursue legal recourse.
On the other side of the country, in California, the week also featured former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger playing bad-boy-buddy co-star to DSK. He publicly confessed to siring a secret son by a woman who had worked as a member of the household staff for years.
Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver called on the media to respect her privacy, but our columnist Sandra Kobrin--thinking back on how Shriver had helped stifle women who brought groping charges during her husband's gubernatorial campaign-- took her to task for not spotting an abundance of warning signs.
The Catholic Church faces ongoing criticism for similarly shielding their own. A report out this week by a group of bishops examines the high-profile problem of child-molesting priests. It is far from a mea culpa. In part, the bishops pin some of the blame on the permissive culture of the 1960s and 1970s.
For a major religion based so heavily on the confession of sins it was a stunning display of denial. Victims' groups are reported to be furious.
In a way, however, there is good reason for Church authorities to frown on an era that readily challenged authority. It no doubt helped victims find the courage to come out with the stories that got so many frock coats in trouble.
Two women, meanwhile, offer an antidote to the Church's cover-up complacency. This story involves the case of a priest in Canada charged with violating Inuit children from the tiny Nunavut community of Igloolik. Theresa Braine, a New York journalist and one of our correspondents, forwarded it to me under the subject line: "Awesome story on take-no-crap gals."
If you open it up you'll learn how the women--one Canadian and one Belgian--found each other over the Internet and persistently worked to drag the accused out from under the church's protective wing. Now, according to the story, "he sits in an Iqaluit jail charged with 28 offences alleged to have occurred between 1978 and 1982 in Igloolik."
A less conspicuous story about sexual activity, by economics researchers at the University of Arkansas, also came to my e-mail this week. While under the radar of other events, it's likely to throw a log on the controversy burning over whether to legalize the U.S. market for commercial sex or crack down on it harder.
This study finds that affluent U.S. women are making "rational" choices to engage in various illegal forms of prostitution. Not street walking or brothel work; but as highly paid escorts or over the Internet.
The summary of the study that I read didn't mention the numbers of women surveyed, so it's hard to know how serious a trend this is. The summary focused on the methodology of the researchers in determining how women made their choice.
It didn't say if a deteriorating economy might be affecting this "rational choice" and I wondered about that. After all, a lot of homeowners are in the sickening situation of fearing foreclosure and a lot of grad students can't find jobs. I e-mailed the question to one of the researchers, but haven't heard back.
My point in asking it is not to deny that educated, intelligent women might choose to provide transactional sex. Plenty of self-described sex workers insist on their right to make a living their way and they have a vigorous advocacy movement to support them.
My point was to probe the idea of a "rational basis" in this employment decision. Plenty of people look back on certain parts of their working lives--particularly when quite young--and wonder.
I, for instance, thought little, the summer after college, of working for the university's medical school as a door-to-door surveyor of community sex practices for a major mental-health study. It was all very upright and academic; with a special way of choosing respondents, scripted questions and multiple-choice boxes to fill in.
But one memory--of sitting alone with an elderly gentleman in his living room and asking him about his favorite sex positions--now seems utterly surreal. (In fact, maybe it never happened and I was just watching too many Luis Bunuel movies at the time.)
Speaking of cinema, how about "City Island?" In that film a young woman takes a job in a strip club after her college revoked her scholarship. She doesn't want her parents to learn of her humiliation. Instead of telling them what happened she tries to make up the money by swinging around a pole and striking provocative poses. She wasn't "trafficked" into that job, but you couldn't say her decision was altogether rational.
"I regret" stories also routinely come from young female entertainers who stumble across the fuzzy--but punishing--line between acceptable show-biz and smut. This week's fallen star is Danielle Staub, a former cast member of the reality TV show "Real Housewives of New Jersey."
Staub just suffered the humiliation of having pictures of herself working as a stripper get circulated on the Internet. To her credit, Staub is standing up for her right to make mistakes and move on. She says she has left her stripper job and is seeking treatment for psychological problems stemming from childhood sexual abuse. I wish her well.
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