Friday, July 01, 2011

On the Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case And Its Tentacles

It looks like the case against him has collapsed, in the legal sense, because of the alleged victim's credibility problems:
The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.
Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors now do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.
Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.
Senior prosecutors met with lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn on Thursday and provided details about their findings, and the parties are discussing whether to dismiss the felony charges. Among the discoveries, one of the officials said, are issues involving the asylum application of the 32-year-old housekeeper, who is Guinean, and possible links to people involved in criminal activities, including drug dealing and money laundering.
The concept of "credibility" that is used in the above quote is a legal concept, as far as I understand, and it means that if the woman has lied to authorities in the past her statements in this context have less credibility. The most crucial one of the possible lies has to do with her past experiences of rape:
In addition, one of the officials said, she told investigators that her application for asylum included mention of a previous rape, but there was no such account in the application.
In her asylum petition, she told of being gang-raped but now admits the story was fabricated. However, she told prosecutors she was raped in the past in Guinea but under different circumstances than what she described during initial interviews, the letter said.
All of this has to do with legal interpretations of the case, not with what may have actually happened in this case. But before we go to the speculations part, let me just point out that if an alleged victim's credibility depends on her general past behavior and criminal connections, surely Dominique Strauss-Kahn's past history of sexually harassing women should affect his credibility, too. Unless one believes that it is only women who ever lie about sexual harassment or rape.

So what did actually happen? There is evidence of sexual intercourse between the two. The only question is whether this was a mutually consensual act or not.

There are at least three alternatives:

1. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was framed by his political enemies in France who somehow hired the alleged victim to get Strauss-Kahn into trouble:
Some of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s allies even contended that he had been set up by his political rivals, an assertion that law enforcement authorities said there was no evidence to support.

2. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was framed by the alleged victim, either alone or with her boyfriend/fiancee, because she thought it would be useful for her asylum application or as a source of funds. This seems a view of many on the Internet, and the evidence most often given for it is this:
According to the two officials, the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded.
I assume "within a day" means after the events in Strauss-Kahn's hotel room. Had the telephone call taken place before that time there would be no case against Strauss-Kahn. But discussing the benefits of pursuing charges does not mean that the woman was not raped. Neither does it mean that she was raped.

3. Dominique Strauss-Kahn raped the woman pursuing charges. There is no videotape, there are no eye-witnesses, and this is why the relative credibility of the alleged victim and the alleged rapist come into play in the court system. But even women consorting with criminals can be raped. Women who have lied about rape in their asylum applications can be raped. Sex-workers can be raped.

I am also somewhat concerned that an illiterate (as far as I understand) hotel housekeeper from Guinea is held to credibility standards which may be appropriate to, say, Dominique Strauss-Kahn when it comes to her asylum application. If she really is illiterate, who wrote that application? Did she know what it contained?

It isn't that I want her to be freed of the concept of credibility. But her background, the desperation of people applying for the right to live in the United States and the possible power dynamics that might exist between her and her boyfriend/fiancee could matter here in a way which the simple interpretation of legal credibility fail to pay attention to.

That is as much as I can say about the actual legal case.

I have more to say about the tentacles of the case: There is a slight hint of something about that in this:
The case involving Mr. Strauss-Kahn has made international headlines and renewed attention on accusations that he had behaved inappropriately toward women in the past, while, more broadly, prompting soul-searching among the French about the treatment of women.

The revelations about the investigators’ findings are likely to buttress the view of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s supporters, who complained that the American authorities had rushed to judgment in the case.
Perhaps there is no need to do soul-searching about the treatment of French women, eh? Robert Kuttner puts this much more strongly on his blog:
Instead of a belated victory for French feminism, l’affaire Strauss-Kahn and the French election could be a battle of the womanizers. Plus ca change!
As unreliable a witness as the accuser may turn out to be, there is still the lingering question of what actually happened in that hotel room. Money evidently did not change hands. And as we all know from the date-rape controversy, there is a complex spectrum that goes from consent to seduction to misunderstanding to coercion to outright rape.
From consent to seduction, Robert? Hmmm. He continues:
Last month, stories were making the rounds in Europe that Strauss-Kahn’s aides were in the habit of sending prostitutes to his room when he was in hotels out of town, you know, the way an underling might thoughtfully order flowers. The story is not proven, but it would help explain—not excuse—his behavior.
There’s a knock on the door, a young woman enters. Strauss-Kahn expecting his hooker du jour to emerge naked from his toilette, and despite her protests he doesn’t believe that she’s not there to service him. This could be the parsimonious explanation for otherwise almost inexplicable behavior. On the other hand, image the defense trying to use it in his trial. “You see, your honor, my client was expecting a prostitute and didn’t believe it was just the housekeeper.”

I guess that would be the "misunderstanding" stage of the Kuttner scale on rape.


The even onger tentacles have naturally to do with the insidious impact of cases like this on women who have been raped. Who would want to pursue charges in a climate where the MRAs tell us that women lie about rape All The Time and where the legal system might take your case to court only if you taught Sunday School, never left your home without a male relative in the past and had regular virginity tests which you passed with flying colors?

The overall effect is to discourage women from going to the police, and that means encouragement for anyone contemplating sexual violence, because they would be less likely to be caught and punished.

This is not a desirable outcome.
For important insights from media quotes about the case, go here.