In New York this past weekend, it was reported that an 85 year-old woman was sexually assaulted on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in the early morning hours. In light of my most recent post, I’m linking to the article because it underscores the real issues behind rape and assault.
As we first fleshed out in my post about Ed Schultz and the NYPD officer case – and the reason I’m highlighting this most recent disturbing news story – when reading these news stories that provide brief glimpses into cases without always articulating the underlying issues, rape and assault are about power and control. This isn’t a remarkable revelation for many, but given the cacophony of noise provided by detractors of rape allegations that claim that women are asking for it when they get raped and that men can’t control their sexual urges if encouraged or aroused by a woman. (It’s worth pointing out that this insulting to the men as well as the women – the obvious slam that any woman would “ask for” the trauma, ceaseless anxiety, degradation, pain of assault or rape, and that men apparently have no control over his sexual urges.)
In this most recent New York case, this assaulter – a young man as seen on a surveillance camera – would be hard pressed to articulate how this 85 year-old woman out for her morning walk was being sexually inviting. He saw her as something to be easily manipulated, someone he could easily take advantage of and overpower, and someone he could control. Someone he could easily get to do what he wanted. Sex and the desire to be sexually intimate with someone are expressions of attraction and love. When someone forces someone to complete a sex act, the focus is the force – not the attraction or expression of feeling. The supposed desire lies in the feeling of control one has over another – and that control is itself the attraction for attackers, wanting to be indisputably in the power position in this dyad.
The fact that his victim was 85 years-old is beside the point. It carries its own spectacular horror, but even if his victim had instead been 25 years-old and known to him, the dynamic remains the same.
In intimate relationships – date rape and partner rape, assault that occurs between people who know one another and between people who may have had some kind of physical relationship in the past – the issue of power is still the root of the attack. Someone who consistently pressures and coerces the victim, who presumes they were led on, who continues to push forward despite lack of consent, is no longer focused on the act of sex – they are focused on the desire to now overpower the person who they feel owes them this experience, who they feel should be serving their needs. The anger that occurs in the space between what the assaulter thought was going to happen – what they all of a sudden feel is their due – and in what the other person wants to willingly participate is where the assault lies. In blind rapes, or stranger rapes, the act of the assault could be driven by instances completely removed the individual who is attacked, and they are merely the object on which the aggression is expressed. The victim of the attack is dehumanized in the eyes of the assaulter, an essential element of the rape and a marker of the mind of the assaulter.
Relatedly – and importantly indicative of this power dynamic in sexual assault and rape – since the alleged attack on a Sofitel Hotel maid by DSK, other instances of maids and housekeeping staff being sexually assaulted by guests at some of Manhattan’s premiere hotels have come to light – at the Pierre, an Egyptian banking executive assaulted a maid who brought something to his to his room (he was arraigned last night). These women are service workers who lack the political, social, and financial power that these men command, and they are in positions that cannot individually speak to power without feeling consequence. If these men were after sex, they could have gotten sex – an engaged, willing partner – in a city as big and diverse as New York. But it’s easier to use a woman who may feel trapped by her job duties, who is at the bottom of a management ladder, one who assaulters feel is less likely to report an attack for fear that they would not be believed or for fear of losing their employment – in short, easily manipulated and taken advantage of. They wanted a service performed for them, and so they called upon someone they saw as a servant. It’s the idea that what they wanted that instant could be provided by someone who they didn’t see as a person – again, the dehumanization – but as someone there to execute a duty. It probably never crossed the minds of these assaulters that they were not entitled to take what they wanted when they wanted it, and this is what is at the root of these assaults.
While the stories of hotel staff being taken advantage of and the story of an 85 year-old woman being dragged down a Manhattan street differ in circumstance and setting, the motivations behind each attack and their results are the same. And until these rapes and sexual assaults are examined through this dramatically different lens as opposed to current environment of blaming the victim, we will not be able to appropriately victims in their pursuit of both judicial justice and personal healing.