(WOMENSENEWS)--Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the newly deposed director of the International Monetary Fund, is under house arrest in Manhattan, N.Y., and next month his case will formally get under way at the New York Supreme Court.
Charged with sexual assault and attempted rape, among other things, the former head of the IMF, known as DSK, isn't saying much at the moment.
Nor are we hearing much from legions of women who might be considering bringing similar charges themselves. But have no doubt: They and other sex-crime prosecutors are watching this case closely to see whether the merits of the case–and not money–determine the outcome.
As we've seen in too many cases, there's a real possibility that this whole vile story will go "poof" now that DSK is out on $1 million cash bail (plus $5 million in additional surety). Even with an electronic bracelet and armed guards minding his every move 24/7, he is free enough to find a way to influence the alleged victim to develop cold feet.
Already we have a New York Post report of Strauss-Kahn's friends trying to offer the victim's impoverished family in Guinea money to make the case go away since they can't reach her in protective custody.
Influencing a witness not to testify is a crime known as obstruction of justice, but as Kobe Bryant taught us, our legal system has a sick willingness to turn a blind eye to pay-offs in sex-crimes cases when the perpetrator is a man of wealth or power. Recall the way the NBA star's victim filed a civil lawsuit while the criminal case was pending. Shortly before the criminal trial, she settled the civil case and then refused to testify in the rape trial. It helped tone down the public cries of witness intimidation and corruption that her attorney was friendly with Bryant's defense counsel.
Trial Balloons Flying
In this case, the trial balloons are flying about how the whole thing was the victim's fault, was consensual and that Mr. Powerful was dominated and victimized by Ms. Disenfranchised.
For the moment there's a three-letter reality that says everything about why the victim of DSK's alleged crimes will soon be destroyed in the press: DNA.
The Associated Press and other news agencies are reporting that DNA taken from the victim's work clothes matched that of DSK. This leaves DSK with only one defense option--"she wanted it"--and leaves the rest of us with no choice but to sit back and listen to demoralizing nonsense about the victim.
Spin-docs are already working full time to suggest that the hotel worker who reportedly ran from DSK's room and immediately reported the crime either set him up for political reasons, is a prostitute, or both. (Be on the lookout for the stories to unfold about how "West African women" in that area are prostitutes.)
Just Google the phrase "Dominique Strauss-Kahn political set-up" and you'll see a slew of references from seemingly reputable sources suggesting the woman is a modern day Mata Hari.
And because she reportedly suffered injuries, she'll soon be tagged an aggressive whore who "likes it rough." Thanks to mainstream pornographers, that defense might even stick.
It's hard to know what would be worse--watching a million-dollar defense team destroy a vulnerable woman's emotional well-being or watching the alleged victim pocket a bundle of cash in exchange for her dignity and her truth.
Such a result would surely confirm the ugly lesson showcased by the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial: that with enough money, a high-profile man charged with a crime of violence against a woman can walk away scot-free no matter how strong the evidence against him.
Tolerance for Heat
A lot rides on how much heat the victim and the system will tolerate. If other cases involving influential men are any indication, we can expect an uptick in the value of her payoff alongside an increase in the severity of insults and intimidation tactics. Some women's rights advocates are calling for the creation of a fund to offset the financial pressure she might feel, but all that does is indulge the idea that corruption is fair game.
If advocates really believe that justice matters and that it is important for this case to proceed to trial unaffected by DSK's wealth, they should put pressure on the prosecutor immediately, and keep the pressure up for as long as it takes to ensure that even if the victim does take money from DSK, it won't keep her off the stand.
We need a heroic victim for a change, instead of one who takes cash for silence. With the whole world watching this case unfold, the effectiveness of the legal system as a deterrent of sexual violence could change overnight if this one victim dares to stand firm against the power of money. If the bodily integrity of a young African hotel employee can be valued such that the criminal justice system will hold even a man of extraordinary influence accountable, the tide will rise for the benefit of all women.
If she caves, all women will suffer as victims become even more mistrustful of a legal system openly willing to tolerate corruption.
The idea that wealthy men have a better chance of walking away from serious criminal cases should offend anyone who believes it's wrong that our jails are filled with a disproportionate number of minority men.
And yet, the very defense attorneys who enable payoffs are often the same ones who hypocritically lament the way the system unfairly treats the poor.
A Hope for Ethics
The victim's lawyer, Jeffrey Shapiro, is a personal injury attorney, which may not be a good sign. One can only hope that Shapiro is ethical and that he will not trade on the value of the criminal case to win more zeroes in the civil settlement. He is experienced enough to know that he should let the prosecution resolve its charges at trial before breathing a word about filing a civil suit. The settlement will be plenty big enough without the bonus value that gets tacked on when a victim offers to take a dive in the criminal case.
The district attorney knows too well that the influence of money can destroy a prosecution. And he knows that there's only one way to keep the charges on track for trial. He should make his plan clear, now, by issuing a statement to the public that no matter how much money exchanges hands, the victim of DSK's alleged crimes will be forced to take the stand and testify truthfully about what happened.
If she refuses, she should be jailed until she agrees to speak. If she lies under oath and says the crime never occurred, she should be prosecuted for perjury, in connection with which the prosecutor should ask for restitution in an amount that will exactly measure the money she took in the payoff.
I know this sounds harsh, but it's the only way to put the brakes on plans for a payoff that may already be underway.
Here's hoping the same inner strength that inspired the victim to call the police in the first place will help her resist cash-driven efforts to make the case go away; even if her lawyers tell her it's her best option and even if the trial will be difficult for her to endure.
The victim's friends say she is an honest woman of integrity. If so, she will understand that criminal justice, like human beings, is not for sale.
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Wendy J. Murphy, a contributing editor to Women's eNews, is a law professor at New England Law/Boston and a former prosecutor of sex crimes.