Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been accused of sexually assaulting… (Richard Drew / AFP/Getty…)
My column on sexual assault allegations against a prominent French politician accused of attacking a hotel maid struck a nerve with readers this week.
Make that two nerves — two very different nerves.
Most women I heard from were gratified by my willingness to believe the maid's account.
I think the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund now charged with sexual assault, ought to go forward. Let a jury decide whether to believe the woman, whose own past is pockmarked with scams and lies.
But men, by the dozens, weren't buying that. Strauss-Kahn is the victim here, they said.
And they were plenty angry about it.
"You have shown yourself to either have a personal problem (sexual assault perhaps?) or you are delusional," wrote Long Beach reader Mike Wilson. "Today any man can be accused by any slutty nut.... Men are treated WORSE [in rape cases] than the women ever were."
The indignation in their emails surprised me more than the gender divide.
"Clearly you have to know and believe that men with power and money are targets for those who are without," wrote one.
Somehow, wealthy, pampered Strauss-Kahn seems to have become — at least for this group of beleaguered males — an unlikely "everyman."
"I can tell you exactly what happened with Strauss-Kahn," Wilson wrote. "He paid her for sex and she later realized that she could make something more of it."
Several men, in fact, said this — and didn't need evidence to support it. They offered up stories from their own lives instead: They'd been solicited by hotel maids, lied about by angry ex-wives, drained by gold-digging girlfriends who saw them as dollar signs.
It wasn't always about sex, but about being tricked — wily women exploiting their weakness.
"Isn't it at least as plausible that she seduced him, with the ease of seducing any powerful man accustomed to getting his way, in order to frame him?" one man wrote.
No, it's not.
To me, the very question suggests a fundamental difference in perception.
These men see themselves as easy pickings for any woman with an agenda and a willingness to lie.
I see rape victims forced to squirm in the spotlight and find it hard to accept that any woman would knowingly court that scrutiny with a calculated and false accusation.
But I do understand the broader concern: Men may bear an uneven burden in a system that protects sex crime victims by withholding their names, but identifies suspects as soon as an investigation begins.
Former Times television critic Howard Rosenberg weighed in on that via email. A Pulitzer Prize winner, he's taught a course in journalism ethics for more than 10 years at USC.
Every year, his class explores the potential consequences of the media naming the accused and withholding the name of alleged victims. "The former scars the accused for life, even if he, or she, turns out to be innocent. The latter feeds the devastatingly unfair shame stigma attached to rape victims."
He advocates a controversial middle ground: "However painful in the short term, the only way to end that stigma in the long term is to lift the veil of anonymity" for victims of rape and sexual assault.
The notion "horrifies" his students, he said. And he recognizes the downside.
"Remove the anonymity, and likely fewer rape victims will come forward. But I believe it has to be done," he told me. "Either that or we treat the accused and accuser equally, by withholding the names of each."
I can think of at least one young man who would have benefitted from that. He was arrested on the job two months ago, a suspect in the rape of a young woman in a Hollywood parking garage.
But no charges were ever filed. The investigation suggested both parties were intoxicated.
So who was victimized most that time? A young woman who was never identified, but may bear an emotional scar from an unwanted sexual encounter? Or a young man whose arrest in a rape will show up on every Google search of his name for the rest of his life?
One reader responded to my column with a single word of rebuke: DUKE.
He was referring to the 2006 scandal when a stripper hired to perform at a Duke lacrosse team party accused team members of sexually assaulting her. It took more than a year for prosecutors to drop the charges, finding "no credible evidence that an attack occurred."
But for every case like that, there are countless stories like this one, offered up by a reader who asked me not to use her name "because my family is still living and does not know this story."
And because, almost 50 years after the fact, it still shames her.
It was the 1960s, a blind date gone bad, a drunk guy demanding she have sex in his car. "I resisted and he kicked me, beat my head on the steering wheel," she said. "I tried to get out of the car, he slammed the door on my leg."