‘Maids’ deserve protection against sexual assault

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(NNPA)—On Saturday, May 16, the western world was shocked to learn that a world banker, Dominique Strauss Kahn, had been arrested for allegedly attempting to rape a woman and sexually assaulting her in an upscale hotel room in Manhattan, N.Y. However, the reporting of the story rang all-too familiar for working-class and immigrant people in the United States and around the world.

Nearly every report on the incident provided a career biographical sketch on Mr. Straus Kahn, but referred to the nameless victim as merely a “maid,” “chamber maid,” “cleaning woman,” or other less than dignified titles. The effect of such titles on the victim reduces her to a status lower than mother, daughter, and human being.

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One thing we know about her is the victim is a 32-year old single mother from West Africa, who falls into the economic category of “working poor.” Regrettably, the history of colonizing countries such as France, England, and the United States includes countless instances of poor Black women being routinely raped by wealthy White men. In most cases, the Black woman was portrayed as a “jezebel,” “prostitute,” or some type of wanting whore.

On the other side of the story most White wealthy rapists have been somehow given victim status. Immediately after his arrest, Dominique Straus Kahn was portrayed in French newspapers as a potential “victim of a political set-up,” notwithstanding that Straus Kahn was widely known as “The Great Seducer” in French tabloids. In France, and many other European countries media outlets glorify sexual promiscuity of elected officials, who are rarely brought to justice.

Currently the International Monetary Fund—Straus Kahn’s former employer—has very loose regulations on sexual assault by high-ranking diplomats on employees, with no mention of “lowly chambermaids.”

However, there is an eerie irony in world history for the impunity of rape by White men against Black women, predicated on the false notion of White supremacy; and the inferiority of Black women (and women of color). During the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, African and African-American women were routinely raped within prevailing law.

Conversely, imagine if a wealthy Black man stood accused of raping a White hotel employee? First, the woman would not be called a “chamber maid,” but rather referred to by a more dignified title. The Black man, of course, would not be allowed to post bail and live in a luxury condo while awaiting trial.

Therefore, the United States Congress and the United Nations should pressure the International Monetary Fund to: 1) Elect the first woman to head the IMF; and 2) Establish strict policies and regulations against the sexual brutalization of women. Out of this tragedy perhaps new rules will be enacted.

(Gary L. Flowers is the executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)

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