walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Defending DSK: Ben Stein, Economists, Violent Sex Crimes and Fact Checking as a Sport

I was watching the Daily Show coverage of people trying to defend DSK. Passing quickly over the really obviously dumb arguments (maids arrive in rooms in pairs in NYC and he's too short-fat-old to have done the alleged deeds), Stewart arrived at one worthy of some fact checking.

Here is what Ben Stein wrote:

http://spectator.org/archives/2011/05/17/presumed-innocent-anyone

The relevant passage:

"Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind."

An astonishing number of people have produced a really impressive list of people who meet some or all of these patterns.

Randall Munroe at XKCD points to Paul Bernardo:

http://blog.xkcd.com/2011/05/18/answering-ben-steins-question/

Here's another list that Munroe points to:

http://jamesurbaniak.tumblr.com/post/5586097856/oops

This blogger notes that not _all_ of the cases are violent.

What did The Daily Show come up with?

Richard Nyamwange (former ESU business professor sentenced to state prison for sexual assault)

http://www.poconorecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080201/NEWS/80201019

Robert von der Ohe (former Rockford College economics professor pleads guilty to sexual abuse)

http://www.wifr.com/news/headlines/111151514.html

Robert Maubouche: French economist, worked at World Bank, convicted in 1997 for sexual assaulting a housekeeper.

http://www.gazette.net/gazette_archive/1997/199725/potomac/news/a58087-1.html

While Stewart is clearly being humorous when saying economists are the "rapiest" profession going, Stein's clearly wrong in suggesting this is somehow a one-of-a-kind event and therefore, on the basis of that, probably not true.

I've been very cautious about what I've written about this whole incident. I've been really pleased and outspoken that I am pleased by our willingness as a culture to believe a maid (an immigrant maid, an immigrant African maid, an immigrant African single-mom maid), even when that maid accuses someone who would ordinarily enjoy substantial immunity from the repercussions of bad behavior. I agree that a person is "innocent until proven guilty", and I further believe that that's a _legal_ construct, not a social/gossip/whatever you want to call news-culture construct. I don't have a problem with seeing DSK "paraded in handcuffs" or kept at Riker's (hey, that's what we do to all the other people accused of rape in that jurisdiction, why should he be any different?). While Stein is free to say what he thinks in forums he can get access to -- a soapbox on the street or a column at The Spectator or a letter to a friend or whatever -- I'm overjoyed to see an enormous pile-on to tell him what a fucking jackass he is and how instead of successfully defending DSK or the legal construct of innocent until proven guilty, he's just making it clear to everyone paying attention that he's the kind of guy who would disbelieve an accusation of serious crime just because someone's the head of an "nonprofit international economic" entity and that strikes him as unlikely. Oh, and along the way, he's actually discrediting the idea of innocent until proven guilty by associating it with all the other attributes of sweeping-something-under-the-rug.

Not all judicial systems are based on the idea of a presumption of innocence (and not all of them are adversarial in nature, either). Whatever may or may not be the case with a judicial system, however, the details of the structure of that system DO NOT and SHOULD NOT dictate what can or should be said in the political or social culture of the society it is ONE attribute of. You want to talk about "chilling" effects on free speech or infringing freedom of speech? Telling everyone they can't talk about what some guy is accused of doing strikes me as being _very_ chilling and _very_ infringing. We do have to be clear that this is an _accusation_, and anyone participating in the judicial process (a juror or attorney or whatever) has to abide by the rules of that process.

But that's got nothing to do with the rest of us.

The Maubouche coverage I linked to above is interesting to me because it revolves in part around the complicated terrain that is "consent". An older belief in our culture -- one still held by more conservative participants such as Stein when he suggests that DSK was too short-fat-old to commit rape -- is that it isn't rape if she doesn't fight back. Another belief is that it isn't rape if the rapist has received consent in the past from the victim. The DKE incident was a form of activism in support of these beliefs: No Means Yes is "if she doesn't beat you senseless, what you did was okay". Yes Means Anal is "if she says yes to anything, she's said yes to everything". The young men were out there advocating for an interpretation of consent and a use of language that I find reprehensible and they were doing it in a context in which "freedom of speech" has significant limitations (a college campus which receives federal funding, thus subject to Title IX requirements regarding sexual harassment and hostile environment and so forth). I was pleased to see those limitations enforced meaningfully and overjoyed that some Very Bad People were punished.

These may be "words", but these are not "just" words. Saying "just" words implies that all words are roughly equivalent and/or roughly unimportant. But they are not. Words are how we communicate who we are and what be believe and how we want our world to be. Anyone who uses arguments like the ones Maubouche's attorney uses, or who argues that the Dekes should be allowed to say what they said where and how they said it is _explicitly advocating_ that our society should condone sexual abuse, in particular, sexual abuse by men of women and by people in a position of power of those whose ability to say no is compromised by economic dependence, and that it's okay to tolerate a dangerous environment where young people go to get an eduction.

If the allegations against DSK fail to hold up, nothing I've said will change. I'll still be happy we believed the maid. I'll still be fine with having put an innocent man -- who happened to enjoy a high position -- accused of Very Bad Things in Riker's for a while. We've done that to lots of poor innocent men (and women) and we'll do it again. We lock people up after they've been accused but before they've been tried because we've decided, on balance, that we'd rather be safe than sorry. I'm also happy that the bail negotiations revolved not exclusively around money, but on a way to give DSK a little more liberty while respecting concerns about risk to self-and-others and flight. I hope we'll see more of this in our justice system in the future.
Tags: scandal
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