Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent

by Dan Hodges

Was Dominique Strauss-Kahn on trial for rape? Or was he on trial for being a banker?

I ask that question because on Tuesday he was declared innocent of all charges, and freed. At least, I thought he’d been declared innocent. That was the story I read in the news reports. But the commentary that followed told a different tale.

In a nutshell: he did it. Forget the evidence. Or lack of it. Forget the fact that the case was so flimsy it never even got within a hundred miles of a jury. Forget ludicrously outdated concepts like presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. The guy’s a rapist. And he got away scott-free.

“What occurred in room 2806 will never be known”, wrote Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, before adding, “What has been proved, on an international scale, is that only women who have led lives as sheltered as Rapunzel and have memory recall as robotic as computers are capable of being raped. The rest are money-grabbing sluts with vaginal bruising”.

According to The Independent’s Joan Smith, “The cards have always been stacked in favour of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but we still don’t know for certain that Nafissatou Diallo wasn’t the victim of a serious sexual assault”. Just for good measure she threw in, “Even if DSK hadn’t been one of the world’s most powerful, well-known men, the chances of his being found guilty and going to prison were always low”.

I hold no candle for Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The guy’s a nasty piece of work. His description of his “ordeal” as a “nightmare for me and my family”, conveniently ignores that he was only in this situation because he decided to fuck his chamber maid. Even assuming the act was consensual, that of itself raises serious questions about the interface between sex and power. Nafissatou Diallo may have been swept off of her feet by Strauss-Kahn’s charm and sophistication, but the nature and duration of their relationship lends itself to a less romantic interpretation.

But being a nasty piece of work is not of itself a crime. Rape, on the other hand, is. A uniquely vicious one. Which makes it all the more important for accused, and accuser, that an allegation of that offence is dealt with seriously and dispassionately.

Fat chance. From the moment Strauss-Kahn was dragged unceremoniously from his first class Air France seat, the jury of popular prejudice had already passed judgment.

We were all guilty of it. “He’s bang to rights”, I confidently informed a friend the day after his arrest, on the basis of absolutely zero evidence. Presumption of innocence could go hang. He was rich, he was powerful, he was an air traffic controller’s clearance away from escaping justice. And now he was banged up in New York’s “notorious” Rikers Island jail. That was enough for me.

Fortunately, it wasn’t enough in the eyes of the law. Since his arrest it has become increasingly clear that Strauss-Kahn’s accusers haven’t had a case against him. All we’ve had is a narrative.

The narrative goes something like this: global powerbroker, with form for abusing women, assaults and rapes poor migrant worker; hires wealthy lawyers to defend the indefensible; his money and influence begin to tell; the case becomes a trial of the victim rather than perpetrator; spineless prosecutors buckle; guilty man walks free.

Except it’s rubbish. It’s just that, a narrative. A fiction.

Firstly Strauss-Kahn had never previously been accused or convicted of any crime. All sorts of allegations have surfaced since his arrest, but that is not uncommon in high profile cases of this kind. The quality of this “evidence” is highlighted, unintentionally, from this passage in Joan Smith’s piece; “Anne Mansouret (a socialist politician and colleague of Strauss-Kahn) claims that he “took me with the vulgarity of a soldier” during a consensual encounter three years earlier”. Seriously? That statement would not be submitted by any prosecutor in any court in any jurisdiction in the western world. But it helps the narrative. So let’s chuck it in.

As far as the actual assault, the physical evidence was inconclusive. That’s not my judgment, but that of the New York district attorney, who I assume has some experience in these matters. And as a result, huge significance rested on the credibility of accuser and accused. According to the narrative, this unfairly turns the tables. But it is not unfair. Quite the contrary. It is a basic element of justice. Is the allegation being made a credible one? And does the accused have a right to test the credibility of their accusers?

This then leads to what has become the most contentious aspect of the case. Or as Hadley Freeman puts it, “her lie about her immigration status was that she had been – gotcha! – gang raped. But the reason she lied then was that she thought it would help her gain political asylum”. If people genuinely feel that it is of no significance that someone who has alleged rape is proven to have lied about being raped, there seems little purpose in arguing the point. But again, Hadley Freeman’s comments demonstrate the difference between truth and narrative.

Nafissatou Diallo did not claim that she had been raped as party of an asylum claim. Sorry. I know it’s inconvenient to point that out. But she didn’t. What happened was that she was asked by prosecutors if she had ever been assaulted previously. She replied that she had, and recited the claim about gang rape. Two weeks later she repeated it, in greater detail. She explained how her two year-old-daughter had been snatched from her arms during the attack, and thrown to the ground. She pointed to the scars she had sustained during the assault. She wept as she recalled the experience.

And then, after prosecutors began to have doubts about her credibility as a witness, and victim, she admitted it was a lie. It was a story she claimed to have constructed for an asylum application, but had never used.

But we don’t want to hear that. It doesn’t fit the narrative. The fact that New York district attorney Cyrus Vance, a man who has brought successful prosecutions against men who have raped prostitutes, actually broke normal prosecution protocol by dragging Strauss-Kahn off his plane, throwing him in jail and charging him before he had assembled sufficient evidence, is also something we want to ignore. Instead we’ll stick with Diallo’s attorney Kenneth Thompson; “Could an immigrant woman from Africa come to this courthouse and get justice when she says a powerful, wealthy man attacked her? Apparently, the answer is no”.

Of course the answer’s no. We decided that before we even knew the question.

This case, and the reaction to it, hasn’t been about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. And it’s certainly not been about Nafissatou Diallo. As ever: it’s been about us. About our own prejudices concerning those hardy staples wealth, power, race and class.

Justice? Yes, we like a bit of justice now and then. So long as it sees those prejudices confirmed.

I don’t like Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I thought he did it. But I was wrong. We all were.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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5 Responses to “Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent”

  1. Jane says:

    I do not like the man either but unlike you, I think he committed the offence as alleged by the victim. Yes the woman was not truthful or accurate and indeed embroidered some issues. This is not a shock to me as it was her first dealings with the authorities. Nevertheless, my reading of the 25 page document from the prosecution to the judge requesting dismissal (online at the NYT) means that I think the woman told the truth. I do not believe that any woman would consent to oral sex with a man unknown to her for nonpayment. The sex took place in a 6-7 minute period too and this involved attempts by the victim to remove herself. I do not find it reasonable to conclude that the woman enjoyed the experience and therefore would never have consented. No doubt she was contacted by a lawyer who advised that she would get a substantial sum from civil proceedings. She relayed this information to her partner. which was foolish but understandable. She should not have given interviews but was no doubt advised to do so as the press briefings from the defence team slurring her character were in full force.

    The man is wealthy and was able to use his wealth to employ a top notch team of lawyers who did their job beautifully. From the outset, it was apparent that their defence was going to be that the act was consensual which nicely dealt with the scientific evidence of semen. The bruised genitalia could never be proved without reasonable doubt as being done by the man. The defence team now are saying that there were no injuries – manipulating the facts. tThey should have said that the injuries could not be proved to be caused by their client.

    The whole matter stinks. A wealthy man and a poor uneducated maid – it seems obvious in a legal system where wealth matters who was going to win. I just hope that he does not stand as the candidate for the Socialist Party for the Presidency. I could never listen to what he had to say, I would loathe any influence he would have in Europe and resent his presence. He will forever be a sexual predator to me and a man who has clearly abused his position over many years in his use of women.

  2. Anon says:

    The charges were dropped, but DSK was never declared innocent.

  3. Frederick James says:

    Good article – thanks; if your detail about the asylum application is correct a lot of the media (including the BBC) have been materially misreporting it.

  4. Une franglaise says:

    You say: “Firstly Strauss-Khan had never previously been accused or convicted of any crime.”

    Wrong. Check your facts:
    “In 1999, he was accused of corruption in two financial scandals related to Elf Aquitaine and the MNEF, a student mutual health insurance, and decided to resign from his ministerial office to fight these charges.”

    See Wikipedia. (He was acquitted in both cases).

    Maybe I’m splitting hairs, but I don’t think he was declared “innocent” in the rape case, because it never came to trial. I thought the prosecutors decided that even if they believed he was guilty, the unreliability of the accuser meant they were very unlikely to convince a jury of that, and it was therefore wrong to continue to pursue him. I don’t see how anyone else, including you, can know whether he was innocent or not.

  5. Frank MacGill says:

    What a confusing article. I don’t understand what it is saying.

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