How Much Do We Really Need To Know About Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Sexual Assault Accuser?

How much does the world need to know about the woman who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault? Where she’s from? The years of schooling she had? Her romantic liaisons and sex life?

The New York Times did not name the alleged victim. But an article published yesterday provided lots of details on the personal life of the Guinean immigrant who works as a housekeeper at the Sofitel hotel in New York City until she accused the then-chief of the International Monetary Fund of sexual assault. She was born in a mud hut without running water or electricity, married off to a cousin as a teenager, and doesn’t speak English.

On the one hand, the Times piece gives us insight into just how humble this woman’s life has been, which makes the accusations against Strauss-Kahn’s look all the more horrible. But on the other hand, what purpose do any details about her personal life really serve?The article identifies the village that she came from, names two of her brothers, and explains that her late father was a local imam. Even though the Times omitted the surnames of her relatives “to protect the woman’s identity” in publication, I’m concerned that the Times reporters, as well as other international news outlets, have “outed” this woman’s trauma to her friends and family back home in Guinea by doing background reporting on her. In the Bronx, where the alleged victim lived, the article identifies the neighborhood she lived in, the restaurants where she’s worked, and the places she liked to hang out. Even though she herself has not shown her face or made any public statements, those in the periphery of this woman’s life may still be able to identify her.

As some readers likely know, many news outlets, both large and small, keep the names of alleged sexual assault or rape victims anonymous. (Sometimes this courtesy is extended to alleged victims of other crimes as well, FYI.) The justification cited is that victims of such intimate crimes deserve privacy, but there’s also fear of retribution and the sense that when it comes to sex crimes, a victim’s reputation or personal life seems to be more likely to be dragged through the mud. Even though we all know rationally, for example, that prostitutes and sex workers can be raped, some people would automatically assume such a woman must have done something to “deserve” it if they find out that’s how she makes a living.

To that end, one could argue that humanizing and positive press accounts — like the one in the Times about this Guinean woman — make the public and therefore the jury more sympathetic to “an unassuming and hard-working single mother” accusing arguably one of the most powerful men in the world of sexual assault. However, ultimately, I think it’s deeply problematic that so many details of this woman’s life are being made public, without her consent and possibly against her wishes.

What do you think about articles like this, particularly about alleged victims of sexual assault? Do you think the public should know little or no details about them whatsoever? Or do you think the more details, the better? And do you think alleged victims of sexual assault should be named, just like the accusers are? Why or why not?

[New York Times]