(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.
Not that I condone DSK’s actions, let me clear about this, he is a horrible little man. But I have to wonder about the victim’s story. Could she be so Americanized already in a few years that she gets so upset about this incident, which is as common a crime in any country in Africa as jaywalking is in the US?
And wouldn’t the hotel where this all happened (Sofitel) rather keep it quiet in order to safeguard their lucrative account with IMF staffers?
Or did someone have dollar signs in their eyes and hope for a far more lucrative scenario?
I take offense to the strong arm the author talks about using with the victim. Also, with the rhetoric that the victim might take a payoff or dive. Many, many women who experience this type of violence report the crime, and then, for their own reasons and their own healing are not able to follow through with prosecution. Let us not forget that the justice system is broken in this country. The idea of justice is not attainable for many. Let us not also forget that it is not this victim’s fault that she is involved in this case, nor is it her responsibility to hold this offender accountable. That is our job, as the public, as the justice system, and as the watchful eye of the media. And, by the way, we are failing miserably.
Looks like DSK’s team are going for the discrediting the accuser path– http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/26/dominique-strauss-kahn-rape-credibility
Lawyers for the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn say they have information that could “gravely undermine the credibility” of the hotel maid who has accused him of trying to rape her.
Brilliant blog post. We need to remember the victim too. I have blogged about the complacency of a culture that tolerates predatory male action. http://ambitiousmamas.blogspot.com
The victim in the Dominic Strauss-Kahn case does not need to prove to me, to you or to anyone, including Wendy Murphy, that she is a heroic victim. She has already done that. She escaped the man, she fought back, she reported. She doesn’t owe anything to us. She is already a hera.
It is most certainly true that the legal system has failed in delivering even handed justice or in protection of victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Rape is one of the least prosecuted cases. But the problem does not lie at the doorstep of the victim – it lies at the doorstep of the police, the prosecutors, the judges, the juries, the politicians, the media, the monied men who make things happen their way. We cannot blame the victim for the failures of a wide-spread and long-lasting system. It was more than 100 years ago that the British judge said rape is a charge easy to make and hard to defend and therefore women should not be believed. That is still the law here in Kenya. But before we jump to criticize, it was the law in the U.S. until very recent memory as well. And still rape cases are not prosecuted. Still another British Lord said just recently that date rape is not real rape and so did Whoopie Goldberg speaking about the film director having anal sex with a drugged 13-year-old.
The blame also lays on our doorstep for every time we stay silent. But speaking out has its price. The income disparity in the U.S. has risen dramatically in the last 30 years. Those at the bottom level of the income disparity can least afford it. Before we criticize another woman for taking money to put food in her mouth or that of her family, let’s walk a mile in her shoes. Why doesn’t Wendy Murphy speak out about the sexism, racism, classism and downright fraud that is Fox News? Let her be heroic. I think she can afford it more than the hotel maid with a poor family in a third-world country.
We can’t judge people for how they are forced to survive. We can judge those who have the resources and ability to make change and don’t. They don’t put themselves at any personal risk. Every prosecutor and criminal defense attorney knows that police officers lie every day on the stand. We don’t charge them with perjury. The bankers who defrauded millions of people around the world and crashed the global economic system with their securities frauds as they pocketed billions are not facing any criminal charges. We don’t force them to testify or hold them accountable when they lie Why is that? It’s easy enough to say let’s put this one maid in prison for perjury if she refuses to testify or lies. Don’t the police already have her statement and the evidence including photos, other witnesses, and DNA? Couldn’t they prosecute without her testimony in what we call evidence-based prosecution? A dead person doesn’t testify. Why should she have to? In gender-based violence cases many prosecutors are finding they do better with this method than calling on an already traumatized victim. But do you really think that this one case will change the course of history? After nearly forty years of this wave of feminism, I would think we all know better than that.
The Elizabeth Morgan case, though she spent two years in jail, didn’t stop judges from giving custody of children to abusive fathers. Vinson v. Meritor didn’t stop sexual harassment. Brown v. Board of Education didn’t stop racial segregation. Anita Hill went through a terrible ordeal and Clarence Thomas is still on the Supreme Court. These battles remain on-going. Women and minorities have paid an enormous price for the tiny steps we have taken. Yes, we need to continue to push for those steps. Yes, we need to continue to speak up. But the way forward is not to jail women for surviving. It is to change the paradigm. That requires more than this one case. That requires us to get out of that ivory tower and work with the women on the ground where they are not jail women for the failures of men.
Dianne Post is an attorney with over 30 years of experience working for victims in sexual and gender-based violence cases and since 1998 has worked in over 14 countries on these issues.