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Lesson of DSK? Be careful who you're alone with

By Pepper Schwartz, Special to CNN
  • Pepper Schwartz: New DSK developments show many rushed to judgment
  • She says truth is hard to get at; his accuser's past and motives are now subject of questions
  • She says even if the accuser has sordid past, it doesn't follow that the assault didn't occur
  • Schwartz: Truth will out, and men should take a lesson: be careful who you're alone with

Editor's note: Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington, is the author of "Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years" and 15 other books on sexuality and relationships. She writes the Naked Truth column for the AARP and is a senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization that gathers research on American families.

(CNN) -- Well, I have to admit, there was a rush to convict.

Not that we weren't assured that this was a slam-dunk case. But even beyond that, there was a certain satisfaction in believing that because Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now-former head of the International Monetary Fund, had a checkered past with women, and because of course New York prosecutors would have done their due diligence, that this was one powerful guy who wasn't going to get away with sexual harassment and assault.

Of course the truth is not yet clear, but what is clear is that the story is complicated and may include a woman who had sex willingly and was not forced.

Here's the rub in these kinds of cases. Not all women who report assault are honest; not all accused are guilty. It is hard not to have a runaway train on these stories when the facts seem, on their face, damning, and when the crime involves the powerful over the powerless. Most of us are champions of civil rights and personal liberty. How can we not seethe at the idea of a maid being overpowered in a hotel room by a man who is used to taking what he wants -- and getting it one way or another.

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We still don't know what the situation is (hence the hypnotic power of high-visibility trials). Is this a woman who is being tarnished by an expensive legal machine's clever PR? Is she a woman with a criminal past with monetary motives? Or is she simply a woman with an unstable and unsavory life, with less than high motives, who was nevertheless a victim? The problem with these cases is that they become a "she-said/he said" struggle and getting past female stereotypes ("helpless maid," "conniving slut," "egomaniac power broker") isn't easy. We don't really know if the guy was set up, or the woman abused.

So we have to do what we should have done in the first place: Wait. See what the facts are and hope that those involved in the legal proceedings are honest and diligent.

What I do think is progress is that there's reason to believe that justice will be done, whoever the culprit or victim is. Not too many years ago, this woman could not have made the charge and be taken seriously. She has been taken seriously this time. However -- and just as important -- if she is lying, then Strauss-Kahn will be freed and she will be in a heap of trouble.

One last thought: Lawyers have been very careful in framing the issue of whether or not there was sex. Strauss-Kahn's lawyer, for example, maintains there was "no element of compulsion in this case."

Still, let me just say this to Mr. Strauss-Kahn or other horny men who think a quickie with someone they don't know at all seems like a good idea: Be careful who you have sex with. Be careful who you are with in a room, alone.

Whatever the facts of this matter, having sex with someone you don't know, can't trust, and who may have motives you haven't even dreamt of, is extremely risky.

When will we learn this simple lesson: It's not just your flesh you expose when you take off your clothes. It's your safety, health, reputation, primary relationship -- and yes, even your prospects for the presidency of France .

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Pepper Schwartz.

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