By Wendy Murphy
WeNews contributing editor
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The legal system's ability to deter sexual violence could change overnight if the woman bringing sex assault charges against DSK stands firm against the power of money, says Wendy Murphy. "We need a heroic victim."
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.
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.
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