The DSK Case: Gender, Race, Class and Politics
Legal commentator Debbie Hines, formerly a prosecutor in cases of rape and sexual assault, calls on District Attorney Cyrus Vance to continue to pursue the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn despite any difficulties.
The dynamics of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case have all the elements of race, gender, class and politics, all rolled into one, all too familiar story. The case, an immigrant Muslim African hotel maid allegedly sexually assaulted by the rich and powerful former International Monetary Fund managing director, is in danger of following the path of many less prominent rape and sexual assault cases, where the victim is prosecuted by the system. It is supposed to be the defendant that is prosecuted and not the other way around. But too often, prosecutors decline to vigorously pursue the case and throw rape victims under the bus. Studies show non-white rape victims fare even worse than white women in the U.S. criminal justice system.
Rape cases are notoriously difficult to convict without any DNA evidence and only the verbal accusations of a rape victim. They become a credibility battle of he said and she said. And yet even in the Strauss-Kahn case, with DNA evidence, the defendant appears well on his way to a dismissal or dropping of charges on his next court date of July 18, 2011, if not sooner. Rape and sexual assault cases are often held to a higher standard than other violent crimes. The prosecutor—and often the public and the media—is quick to judge the victim, her past and anything negative about her in deciding whether to pursue the case to trial. The only exception appears to be the child abduction sexual assault cases.
In reviewing what has been revealed in the mainstream media and in speaking to sources, the evidence of a sexual assault occurring in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case seems so compelling. First and foremost, there is the undisputed DNA of Strauss-Kahn found on the victim’s clothing and on the carpet floor of the hotel suite. After allegedly having forced oral sex with Strauss-Kahn, she spits out his semen onto the floor. Despite what we see on CSI and other TV shows, DNA evidence is not always present. That’s the very strength of this case. The defense claims the sex was consensual. I find that difficult to accept.
The young immigrant maid was known by her co-workers to have an excellent record and did a good and attentive job. She worked at the Sofitel hotel while struggling to raise her teenage daughter. She had no reason to try to lose her job by having oral sex with a hotel guest. By way of some background, Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of Equality Now, says the hotel maid came to this country with her daughter from Guinea, one of the poorest countries in Africa, where the majority of people earn $1.25 a day. Born in a hut, she is a victim of female genital mutilation like over 90 percent of women in her country. She did not want her daughter to suffer the same fate. To her, cleaning hotel rooms is a dream job.
There is also corroborating evidence of her co-workers who noticed she was stressed and acting out of the ordinary following the incident. These workers know her and her demeanor best. After speaking to her co-workers, she reported the incident. She was taken to a hospital where medical evidence revealed vaginal bruising injuries and a torn ligament in her shoulder further supporting her account about Strauss-Kahn.
Politics are often an unspoken and maybe unconscious consideration in who gets charged or released. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., holds an elected position. His office has recently lost one high profile rape case of two police officers charged in the rape of an intoxicated woman at her apartment. The office is in a tough transition following the takeover by Vance after the former DA’s 25 year term. Losing another high profile sexual assault case may not bode well for Vance. And even with the strong DNA and physical evidence, this case is hardly a slam-dunk for the prosecution.
The victim’s apparent lies on her asylum application, tax records, bank records and inconsistencies of her account of the incident make the case quite problematic for the prosecution. Most troubling is her alleged lie on her asylum application about a prior rape incident in her native country to receive asylum in the United States. While perhaps understandable given her fears for her daughter, it makes the case more difficult to win, even if it still is pursued.
Putting politics aside, however, this case deserves to move forward in the system. As a former prosecutor, I know you take your victims as you find them. And you let the chips fall where they may. Whatever the issues of the victim's credibility that have surfaced or leaked out in this case—allegedly lying, a taped telephone call to an inmate and conspiracy theories—on-the-scene investigators believed her story by all reports. These other issues should be addressed at a trial by the DA and not prosecuted in the media. If the accounts of the victim prove true at a trial, Strauss-Kahn, one of the most powerful men in France, took one of the most vulnerable women in America and sexually assaulted her. And now the prosecutor’s office that should be protecting the victim may deny her access to justice. Call on the Manhattan DA to stand with the victim.
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