Wednesday, August 24, 2011

DSK Slithers to D.C.


Oh, so litigious in that European way, newly released Dominique Strauss-Kahn is just beginning to ripple his flab. His lawyers in France are suing a journalist who has brought charges that he tried to rape her. Word is that he is filing a suit against the hotel maid whose complaint led to his rape charges here, and who has filed a civil suit against him in the case.

In Manhattan, DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr.'s office had the trial judge drop changes that he attempted rape and succeeded in other forcible sexual acts against a hotel maid. There is a 25-page filing explaining that. The gist is that his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, had been caught in too many previous lies to be credible.

Whether she ends up with a monetary award from a jury later, Diallo is figuratively screwed as well. Numerous papers report that deportation is in the works. Her pleas to stay in the United States as a Guinean victim of gang rape she admits were false. There is the double whammy of her criminal case slipping into not-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt territory, as well as getting tossed from this country.

In the larger picture, her convoluted circumstances do not necessarily bode poorly for American women claiming rape or harassment.

A true downside is not at all surprising. She was not credible, but he was. She admitted lying to stay here. The DA's folk stretched that as seen in the dismissal filing with glib assertions that Strauss-Kahn's DNA on her pantyhose, including the crotch did not begin to prove he had actually groped her genitals. Moreover, they conclude that three-inch damage ("defects" as they put it) might have come "from normal wear and tear."

The dismissal request also includes such silliness as quibbling over two minutes of a timeline. Writing that the door key-card records and Strauss-Kahn's cellphone history make it impossible to pinpoint how long Diallo was in the suite. This of course assumes perfect accuracy on the hotel computer system and the cell company. Huh and so what?

Such piling on to Diallo is not quite a throwback to rape accusations requiring uninvolved corroborating witnesses, but it's close.

Instead, we see what many initial reports feared. The rich, powerful white guy (with a long history of accusations of sexual harassment and adultery) being believed while the poor black woman (with a short history of self-serving dishonesty) is not. It's a clear case of money talks, but as Strauss-Kahn's civil suits show, he's not through claiming that he is the wronged party here.

Back in France, common response to this may best come from an opinion piece in Le Monde. There, essayist Pascal Bruckner ridicules the prosecution as just more American lack of sophistication in his L'affaire DSK aura révélé une bien triste image de l'Amérique (The DSK affair shows a very sad picture of America).

He starts with a glib apocryphal tale of European tourists in America being hassled by cops for a toddler girl on the beach without a top. He writes that we hicks just don't understand the ways of men and women together.

Touristes français qui partez outre-atlantique, soyez prudents ; si jamais vous prenait l'envie de batifoler avec un ou une autochtone, munissez-vous d'une décharge officielle : que votre partenaire, mâle ou femelle, reconnaisse par écrit qu'il vous autorise à jouir de son corps. Nous avons beaucoup de choses à apprendre de nos amis américains mais certainement pas l'art d'aimer. (French tourists, be careful across the Atlantic if you decide to tumble [frolic] with a native and get a legal release in writing from your partner, male or female, that you had the right to enjoy that body. We can surely learn many things from our American friends, but certainly not the art of love.)

Similar comments from readers in British papers as well lean toward the unfairly accused and maligned Strauss-Kahn.

Even in the DA's filing, he takes note of the pending rape change in France. The dismissal request concludes that, "It appears unlikely, however, that prosecutors would be permitted to introduce in their case-in-chief any testimony by (accuser) regarding this alleged attack."

For the literal, the dismissal certainly adheres to efficacy and strict legal guidelines. The spirit of the law and of, as Bob Dylan wrote in The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, "the ladder of law has no top and no bottom" is not met.

Note that the maid Hattie Carroll was murdered by a rich, powerful white man in front of numerous witnesses, apparently because he just had the whim to throw his cane across the room at her. He got six months for the murder and to his death held that he should not have been convicted. There are far more dissimilarities to these tales than not, but the effects of the power differences remain.

In Manhattan, we see again how messy criminal cases often are. Yes it would be ideal for all witnesses to be utterly honest and impeachable. Likewise, wouldn't it be great if several people, including at least one police officer, were present and alert and accurate when the acts in question occurred.

Those circumstances are as rare as an accused criminal 'fessing up and doing a Edward G. Robinson, "You got me, copper." Those were in books and movies when the bad guy always died or went to prison.

Stauss-Kahn certainly seems sleazy. In this case, the circumstantial evidence, even without his past accusations, suggest at least enough evidence to go to trial. Yet Vance was not willing to risk it. It is likely that the accused lawyers could grind up an inconsistent accuser on the stand. Isn't that for a jury and/or judge to hear and decide?

We won't know and the speculation I've seen in the French press is that the prosecution in his pending attempted rape charges may do the same as Vance. If there's not enough current evidence, forget it.

Few of us can be unimpeachable or have flawless pasts. Yet a huge takeaway here seems to be for women pursuing sexual assault cases to 1) step up immediately and 2) be relentlessly consistent. Those are tough in such circumstances, but a world of reasonable doubt demands them.

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