Nuts and Sluts

By Susan Estrich

July 5, 2011 5 min read

Actually, I called this one. Ask my son. Whore, she said, she being me. It was the only defense. Rich guy has sex with hotel maid. What can you say? True love. Not likely. Quote Bernard Shaw. What was her price?

OK, so half the people think he's been put through the wringer, and half think she has — at least when they aren't thinking about how a woman who very clearly killed her child, but probably didn't mean to (a.k.a. prosecutorial overreaching), gets away with murder. What a wonderful world. Injustice is gender neutral.

What I care about is all the other women: the women who really were raped, the women who are afraid to report, the women who will turn away from all of this coverage, who will tense up when men start talking about the poor Frenchman who thought he was doing it with a prostitute and not a woman with a right to consent. I know what these women will do next, or rather, what they won't. They will not tell anyone what really happened to them.

I'm not trying to defend women who lie; they should be put, smack ready, in exactly the category of men who lie, usually about other things, like life or death or money.

But most women don't lie. Matter of fact, they don't tell the truth in the first place.

Year after year, I write these words. Rape is not the crime most lied about, quite the contrary. If you look at the statistics, rape is the violent crime least likely to be reported. The danger is not that so many women lie (painful though it is to watch), but that so many are afraid to tell the truth.

What do you say to them? The real victims. The women who have been casually or cruelly or violently stripped of their self-esteem, their faith in anything, their souls.

They come to my office all the time, close the door, lower their voices, and then we cry. Do I tell them this won't happen to you, unless the guy you're accusing happens to be a powerful and well-connected IMF guy? That you won't be put through the wringer, too?

Wringers come in many sizes. You don't have to be in the middle of a tabloid explosion when you're living in a small world — small town, big university, it's all the same.

I will never forget what those Boston police officers said to me when I was in the back of the car, a nice girl, raped at the point of an ice pick. Is there anything about you that you wouldn't want some lawyer digging into?

Anything about me. What did I have to do with it?

Sometimes I turn it into a joke. How could there possibly be anything for me to hide when I spent the past three years at Wellesley? Everyone laughs. Wellesley is a women's college.

Sometimes I just shake my head. Exactly who is supposed to be on trial here?

Over the years, I have learned a very painful lesson. In most rape stories, everyone lies a little. Sex between strangers is rarely very pretty. Truth be told, a rich Frenchman shouldn't be having sex with a poor and desperate hotel maid. Can we agree on that? Crime or not, it is horrendously bad judgment for someone who is supposed to be managing the world's money.

But you don't go to prison for bad judgment. If that is all that can be proved, you don't go to trial. Over and done. The Frenchman may not get his reputation back (and he will never be alone in this lament), but it remains to be seen just what reputation he deserves.

In the meantime, there is the matter of the other women. And men. Men underreport rape even more than women do. Stigma is gender neutral, as well. Indeed, if there is anything worse in the rape world than being a female victim, it is being a male victim.

So the message goes out yet again: Watch out. Men, watch out for those women you think you can treat like toilet paper; they may come back to catch you. Watch out when you have sex with someone you don't know, don't trust, wouldn't, say, lend your wallet to. Watch out, indeed. You should be doing that anyway.

And what is the message to women?

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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