Recently on her Beautiful Struggler blog, black feminist writer and cultural critic Jamilah-Asali Lemieux posed a nuanced question about Dominique Strauss-Kahn accuser Nafissatou Diallo under the blunt headline, “Why shouldn’t rape victims get paid?”:
“One of the many damning charges leveled against Nafissatou Diallo is that she has falsified her account of being raped by Dominique Strauss Kahn for financial gain. Why do we assume that a victim who wants retribution from her assailant has to be lying?
Why do we assume that rape victims who ask for damages are dishonest about the crime or disaffected by what happened? Sh*t, there should be some sort of victims’ fund. A rape scholarship. A survivors’ cruise. Something.”
Lemieux animates her point with a personal disclosure that I’m excerpting at length because it displays a pragmatism rarely associated with sexual assault victims:
“I was raped in July of 2007, two days before I was scheduled to move from DC to Brooklyn. After the incident, I could not help but to have been glad to have more time to pack up my apartment. Would I have been preferred to have been, you know, not raped? Of course. But since it had happened and nothing could make it ‘unhappen’, I acknowledged the one positive consequence: I had a few more days to pack and spend time with the friends I was leaving behind. Does this make me a bad victim? Did I deserve or invite what happened to me because of that? No.
Considering the assailant’s appearance and the fact that he seemed to be a stick up kid, I don’t think I would have had much of a financial reward to come had I been able to sue him. But say he had been a man of means. Would I have taken him to court for everything he has? Absolutely. Would I have been ready to pursue that option in the days immediately following the assault? No doubt. While incarceration is an ideal consequence for a rapist (few victims would be okay with the idea of their assailant raping someone else), people tend to forget that rape is one of the crimes that keeps on giving; it brings with it memories that last a lifetime and fears, insecurities and a number of other challenges that a person should not have to go through.
The aftermath of a rape is often as traumatic as the actual crime; my experience with the police and hospital made me feel as if I had done something wrong and that I was asking them to do me a favor by investigating and treating me. I wish could sue the motherf*cker who put me through that.”
Predictably, at least one commenter pointed out that “paying” her might make a victim seem less credible:
“This could actually be counterproductive and work in the favor of the defendant. It could actually be seen as motive for false accusations, especially if the guy is wealthy.”
I had the same reaction–at first. But then I had to get real and remember that there’s already a pervasive belief that women “cry rape” for material gain, attention, romantic revenge or to cover up their “ho-ish tendencies” without any notable compensation for alleged victims. Millions of megabytes have been devoted to exploring and amplifying the specter of false rape accusations as a feminist means of male persecution. (I’m not linking to these sites. You can find some in the comments about this post.)
And of course, there’s real history lurking under the surface to complicate matters for me. I’ve known since yea high that the false rape accusation, particularly during Reconstruction, was a reliable tool for the white supremacist undoing of black rights and economic growth. (As an adult, I’ve come to realize it was also an efficient way of policing white women’s sexuality.) The reality is that when a white woman “cried rape”–or her family and community insisted that her consensual intimacy with a black man or boy was rape–burning, looting, castration and lynchings were often the result. Whole free black towns were flattened because someone “cried rape.” Every couple of years, another racially charged false accusation emerges. As recently as February, Mary Turcotte, a Brooklyn-based French Canadian nun accused a fictional large black man of raping her in a snow bank to cover up the sex she chose to have.
I believe that legacy, coupled with the persistent (and equally racist) stereotype of the black Jezebel fuels an unhealthy skepticism of rape victims in my community. There’s also the more contemporary “scandalous ho” who will do just about anything to “come up” at the expense of a wealthy or famous man. And then there’s the Steve Harvey-era stereotype I’m naming Cain’t Get a Man (CGAM). A CGAM is an overeducated, overconfident, quasi-feminist, middle class black woman who is so desperate for male attention that she imagines sexual assault and harassment where there is none. I blame the specter of the CGAM for why the girlfriend of the crackhead who grabbed my ass on the crowded F train yesterday defended him with, “Don’t nobody want you! Swearin’ somebody want you!” rather than, “He would never do something like that!”
But I digress.
The bottom line is that I agree with Lemieux. I think we need to have a serious conversation about financial restitution for sexual assault and rape victims. I would also love it if we could spend more time talking about why men use rape as tool of warfare, domestic domination and group bonding and how racism and racial profiling compromises rape investigations and lands innocent men in prison. What I don’t want to talk about are golddiggers, alleged political operatives and attention whores who “cry rape” to “bring men down.” That’s a silly conversation better suited for a celluloid thriller or a trade paperback than real life.
Extra: DSK accuser Nafissatou Diallo appeared at a press conference yesterday at Brooklyn’s Christian Cultural Center. Noted pastor A.R. Bernard and members of the United African Congress had strong words of support.