Lauren Spierer was a pretty, blond, 20-year-old Indiana University college student, with a small stature, but a big smile. She disappeared nearly 3 months ago after a typical American college-student Friday night out (read underage drinking, dancing and partying with friends).
The tragedy sent my small college-town of Bloomington, Indiana reeling. Most folks suspect foul play, especially since most of the young men who were last to see Lauren have clammed up and hired attorneys. In the first few days after her disappearance, dedicated and passionate volunteers showed up by the hundreds, with many even flying in from Lauren's home state of New York to help in the search. Many residents wondered "how could it happen here?"
I was not one of them. The first time someone told me they were shocked that it happened, I was baffled. Was it naivete? Did they not know that as recently as 2009 there were 44 reported rapes in our community and another 11 reported sexual assaults just around campus? Did they not realize that even more young women (and a few men) in our community contact the local crisis line about assaults and rapes that they choose NOT to report? Have they really not heard the murmurs from college girls who were roof-ied at frat parties by frat boys and did nothing more than tell close friends about it because they didn't want to make it a big deal?
No. When a pretty, young, petite college student turns up missing, I feel angry; I feel dismayed; I feel concern; but I do not feel shocked. Not when 25% of college women report surviving rape or attempted rape. And certainly not when 1 in 3 college students reports physically attacking a dating partner in the past year. No one knows what happened to Lauren. Or at least those who know aren't sharing with the rest of us. We don't know if sexual assault was involved. We don't know if drugs were involved. We don't even know whether or not a serial killer was involved.
But Lauren's disappearance and her "friends'" silence surrounding her disappearance seems symbolic of the invisibility and the silence that surrounds violence against women everywhere. Communities often only become outraged and activated when the ideal poster child for victimhood (often pretty young white women from middle or upper class backgrounds) is raped, murdered, or kidnapped. Otherwise, it's glazed over, ignored, or outright disbelieved.
When I lived in a very different community (the ghetto of Coatesville, PA), I heard about rapes and sexual assaults in the bar I tended, but going to the police was never even considered by these women or their friends and families because everyone understood that nothing would come of it or they would not be believed. How many people really believe a strong, poor, woman of color when she insists she was assaulted or raped, and how many do NOT think she "led the guy on" or made it all up? In my experience, it's an unfortunate few.
Meanwhile, Nafi Diallo -- the maid who told police and the world that she was raped and assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn(DSK), the man who was head of the International Monetary Fund and running for the French presidency -- has been discredited so much by salacious media reports of her character and history that all criminal charges against DSK are to be dropped Monday.
We are supposed to believe that Nafi's ethnicity, poverty, and immigrant status has nothing to do with why she waited so long to report it, why she didn't leave noticeable defense wounds, nor with how we as society view her, the victim. We are supposed to believe that she is just a liar (because she lied about her history on a few immigration documents, and because she waited to report the rape) and that the forensic evidence (the quickness with which it happened, the semen all over the hotel room & her uniform, and her vaginal bruising) against DSK is nothing more than circumstantial. We are supposed to believe unfounded accusations that Nafi was a prostitute, and that prostitutes can not be raped or sexually assaulted.
Victims should be believed and the alleged crimes against them FULLY investigated, regardless of who the attacker is, and regardless of who the victim is. I know to many I'm just another "crazy feminist" out here railing against victim-blaming, but why does it feel like this is a mountain that we keep trying to scale only to get knocked down again and again, and no matter how long we advocate - we remain at the bottom.
I wonder how different Spierer's and Diallo's cases would be if they had been switched. What if it was an immigrant maid of color who had gone missing late at night on June 3rd here in my town? Would there have been the same outpouring of support? Would hundreds of volunteers shown up to help search for her any way they could?
And what if it was a pretty young petite blonde college student who had accused DSK of rape and sexual assault in New York City? Would she have been believed? Would she have been demonized and called a whore? Would the charges have been dropped, or would the Prosecution have followed through?
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I have my suspicions.
*If you are in NYC and you think DSK should be tried in a court of law, I urge you to join other women's advocates and activists Monday, August 22nd at 5:00 p.m. at the New York City Criminal Court (100 Centre road) as they demand justice for Diallo.
Resources: 'Dating and Domestic Violence on Campus.' http://www.thesafespace.org/pdf/handout_dv_on_campus.pdf 'Sexual Assault Statistics.' http://www.oneinfourusa.org/statistics.php 'Rape, history, and DSK vs. Diallo' by Janus Adams. http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/adams-rape-history-and-dsk-vs-diallo... 'All eyes are on District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. in Dominique Strauss-Kahn sex assault case' by Michael Daly http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-07-26/news/29834406_1_dominique-str... IUPD Cleary Statistics. http://www.indiana.edu/~iupd/stats.htm Bloomington Indiana UCR Crime Statistics. http://bloomington.in.gov/media/media/application/pdf/254.pdf