Reasonable Doubt

The new information from today’s New York Times (thanks, Observer for the comment) reveals associations and possibly criminal activity in the victim’s past.

Living a life that makes you need to stay away from the law and under the radar does not make you less vulnerable to crime, including rape. But the standard for conviction is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that will be much harder to prove without a credible witness.

It will be a tough call for the jury, but that’s where this will be decided.

Do You Know Who I Am?

A reporter interviewed the neighbors and friends of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s victim and paints a picture of a quiet, religious woman whose social network was the French African community in Harlem, NYC. Via Worldcrunch from Le Figaro…

By Renaud Girard
LE FIGARO/ Worldcrunch

NEW YORK – The alleged sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the now former head of the International Monetary Fund, has been major worldwide news. But it has hit especially hard in New York’s French-speaking African community, home to the Guinean woman employed as a maid at the Sofitel Hotel where she says the 62-year-old French politician sexually assaulted her.

In the heart of Harlem, a small grocery store offers a flavor of Africa. The plump 45-year-old woman owner, Ms. A, who gives her customers a warm welcome in impeccable French, wears a long traditional green-colored African dress, and a turban made out of the same fabric is wrapped round her hair. Born in Guinea, she is a Muslim woman who belongs to the Mandinka ethnic group. The alleged victim is from northern Guinea, and her ethnicity is Fulani.

Reporters have claimed that DSK’s friends are in Africa, trying to bribe and pressure the victim’s family to get her to drop the charges. It’s said that the family is very religious, not susceptible to bribes, and heartbroken about what is happening to their sister. It seems at first glance that she is resolute, and supported by a family that is poor in money but rich in respect.

But Renaud Girard puts a troubling spin on this story. The victim has had the misfortune to embarrass a man whose social power is felt in Africa as well as France– a man whose financial reach allows him to invade every aspect of his victim’s past and find any weakness in her social network that he can exploit…

“Make no mistake, this affair brings shame upon her family. In Africa, the parties involved would have solved this problem in secret,” says [victim’s friend, Amadou] N’Diaye. “From now on, two lives have been unnecessarily ruined, (the victim’s) life and DSK’s life. DSK is a man who the French-speaking African community appreciates a lot.”

At Restaurant 2115, people show solidarity with the alleged victim, but nobody is eager to condemn DSK. Africans who live in New York think that the charges “will not hold up.” “How could a 62-year-old man, who is not athletic at all, have forced a 32-year-old woman, who is tall and muscular from her manual work, to have sexual relations with him?” one wondered.

Amadou imagines a scenario in which “three very different cultures clash.” The French culture of DSK, who made an extremely inappropriate move in suite 2806, but who called the hotel while heading for the airport, unaware that he had committed a crime. The culture of modesty of a pious Funali woman, who did not expose the crime and who did not confide her shame to the Sofitel Hotel’s management, but was rather found sobbing by her coworkers, who then called the police. The “Prussian” culture of the American police in which things are either black or white, with no gray areas.

This is so telling. Some of the French women who have come forward with stories of DSK’s abuse of power were clearly prevented by social pressure from speaking sooner. Great social pressure will be brought to bear on the victim and her family, even if they are not tempted by money.

Although she did no wrong, she and her family are ‘shamed’. That it was such an important man who attacked her is more shame. Did she fight back hard enough? Was it necessary to ‘ruin his life’? Should she have borne her shame in silence? Should he have been set free to victimize more women?

And the American police– was it for them to decide that this affair should be covered up? Show due deference to a very important person? Perhaps take a tip for services rendered? Would that be less ‘Prussian’ and more ‘French’?

I asked someone who knows a lot about sexual assault cases whether the accused can give a victim money to drop the charges. She said that it’s not legal to do that outright, but that the state would have a much harder time prosecuting a case if the victim refused to testify, and it was not uncommon for this to happen in fact. Offering a victim’s family a bribe is witness tampering.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proved guilty. I thought that given the evidence and the conduct of the victim he would eventually be convicted. But considering the misogyny that exists in so many communities, and its power to isolate and blame victims, I have more doubts now. The social power DSK used on high-status French women might be brought to bear on a poor working community until they are willing to sacrifice one of their own.

‘Do you know who I am?’
he allegedly asked as he assaulted his victim. She didn’t then, she only feared for her dignity and her job. This man could do her more harm than she ever imagined. No one should have that kind of power. If the law means anything, it must protect the humble against the arrogant and ruthless.

LEGAL MOVE OR THREAT? DSK’s lawyers, angry about leaks to the press, have sent a letter to the prosecution claiming they have information that will discredit the victim. The DA’s office does not sound intimidated–

Assistant DA Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said in a response letter that prosecutors were “troubled that you chose to inject into the public record your claim that you possess information that might negatively impact the case and ‘gravely’ undermine the credibility of the victim.”
“We are aware of no such information,” she added. “If you really do possess the kind of information you suggest that you do, we trust you will forward it immediately to the District Attorney’s Office.”

I think we passed the point where any woman alleging rape had to have her whole life examined for purity. I don’t think there’s much in the victim’s past that will change the picture, but everyone has trouble in life, and the letter from the defense sounds like blackmail.

Timeline of the Alleged Crime

Daily Beast has a source who has described what happened in the hour after the alledged assault of a hotel maid by Dominique Strauss-Kahn…

The luxury-hotel maid who alleges she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn was found by a supervisor in a hallway where she hid after escaping from the former International Monetary Fund director’s room. Hotel workers described her as traumatized, having difficulty speaking, and immediately concerned about pressing charges and losing her job, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

She had to tell her story to 4 different people, 2 housecleaning supervisors and 2 from security. It took an hour to call the police. That seems like a long time, but actually is a quick response. Too many organizations delay and cover up. The Sofitel had nothing to gain but bad publicity, and the maid could possibly been persuaded not to press charges if she thought it would get her fired. The staff did the right thing.

If, as alleged, this maid is a loose woman who agreed to sex and then changed her mind, she must also be a talented actress. If she was a plant from DSK’s political enemies she must have been a master manipulator to arrange events so perfectly.

If she is somehow going to profit from this incident it looks like nothing but loss so far. She’s in hiding, unemployed and most likely her daughter is out of school. I hope that the lawyer who is prosecuting her case will help her find safe temporary housing and work. The trial will not be for six months, and she has to live her life.

UPDATE: according to AlterNet, one reason the maid didn’t have to worry about losing her job is that the Sofitel is a union shop. From what I can see, the management took a crime against an employee very seriously and reacted quickly. Institutional cover-up is so common that it’s really exemplary that the staff there called the police in time for them to catch the suspect. I had suspected that the Sofitel had a work culture of respect for their workers, and this backs it up.

Where Did She Find the Courage?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proved guilty. This long post will take the perspective of victim’s advocate in discussing the issues raised by that case, but ultimately the jury will decide. That being said, I think he’s guilty as hell.

A lot of nonsense is flowing through the internets about the victim’s allegations. Posts dismissing the claims of other women speaking out about past attempted rapes and assaults. It’s a common occurrence that a serial abuser goes unchallenged for decades, and then when the abuser is exposed, witnesses come forward. They are criticized for not speaking out sooner, and sometimes blamed for not helping to stop the abuse. Ignorant people brag about ‘what they would have done’, tough talk being easier than action. This dynamic exists in the politics of bullying and deception, even when sex is not the issue.

Bernie Madoff was beyond reproach, until he was mobbed by betrayed investors. But there were plenty of warning signs, and trusted institutions failed to provide oversight.

A code of silence has traditionally protected politicians who can’t control their sexual impulses. It’s not always a man imposing on a woman.

Conservative writer David Brooks, while talking about dignity in politics disclosed that he had tolerated inappropriate touching from a male politician…

[Brooks] shared an interesting anecdote with Norah O’Donnell and John Harwood.

“You know, all three of us spend a lot of time covering politicians and I don’t know about you guys, but in my view, they’re all emotional freaks of one sort or another. They’re guaranteed to invade your personal space, touch you. I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time. I was like, ‘Ehh, get me out of here.'”

When O’Donnell inquired about Brooks’ dinner companion, the columnist replied, “I’m not telling you; I’m not telling you.”

I find David Brooks annoying, but I don’t judge him for not outing Mr. Friendly. Brooks had a lot to lose if he made a fuss, and more trouble if he made an enemy of a man he needed to deal with in Washington. Maybe Brooks should out him, though. Guys like that often find someone they can really abuse, and they need to be stopped.

This month a church worker lost a court case contesting her firing when she reported a priest she considered a danger to children…

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A Jefferson Circuit Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the archdiocese of Louisville.

The lawsuit filed by Gary and Margie Weiter, of Louisville, alleged the archdiocese violated its own policies on responding to sexual abuse.

Margie Weiter contended a priest who had allegedly been sexually abusive was moving about at the St. Therese Catholic Church in Germantown unsupervised and circulating among children and that she was fired when she complained.

The Weiters also claimed a convicted sex offender, Bruce Ewing, was active in a parish council.

The judge deemed this a Church internal matter, the Weiters may appeal.

Senator Scott Brown disclosed in his recent book that as a child he was sexually abused by a camp counselor. He didn’t name names, but it soon came out that Camp Good News, a religious camp, had problems going back decades. A counselor committed suicide after being accused of abuse.

“There were red flags,” [Mitchell Garabedian, the accuser’s attorney] said. “The questions remain: What did the supervisors know? When did they know? And what did they do it about it?”
A former camp employee, Charles Lewis, told ABC that he notified camp administrators in the late 1990s that Devita had child pornography on his computer, but they did nothing about it. He said he then contacted the police in 2002 and told them the same story, but is unclear what became of the allegations.

Journalist, Tristane Banon, says she fought off an attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2002 when she was 21 years old, and is being harshly criticized for not pressing charges at the time, though she did discuss the attack in an interview in 2007…

Banon consulted a lawyer, but did not press charges. “I didn’t want to be known to the end of my days as the girl who had a problem with the politician.”

Banon’s mother, Anne Mansouret, told journalists on Sunday night she had dissuaded her daughter from legal action because she believed Strauss-Kahn’s behaviour had been out of character and because of close links with his family. “Today I am sorry to have discouraged my daughter from complaining. I bear a heavy responsibility,” she said.

She said Strauss-Kahn was “an otherwise warm, sympathetic and extremely talented man”, but the attack left her daughter depressed and traumatised. “My daughter, despite the passing years, is still shocked by these facts. Her life was completely upset by this affair and she was depressed for a long time.” She added that it was clear Strauss-Kahn had “difficulty controlling his urges”. She said: “I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist, but there is something violent in this predatory move.”

More from

Banon further alleges that the story was covered up in the media. She decided not to press charges. Her publisher took out the chapter on Strauss-Kahn from the book for which she had tried to interview him. A segment on another talk show where she mentioned the incident was cut out during editing.

She alleges that another talk show host was pressured to cancel an invitation for her to appear, because the show is live.

Agora Vox quotes Banon, explaining why she decided to not press charges and move on (emphasis ours):

Who is to say half the people I’ll meet won’t believe me? So I told myself I had to live with it. And what would I gain? Money? I don’t want his money. … And there is the fact that I live alone in Paris. … He doesn’t have the most refined methods. … I don’t think he would have had me killed, but possibly roughed up.

She was the god-daughter of his second wife, and he had been physically violent enough to justify her fear.

Arnold Schwartzenegger is in the news, with headlines claiming his reputation has been ruined by the revelation that he impregnated his housekeeper ten years ago. Anyone not suffering from amnesia will ask, ‘what reputation’? The Gropinator’s sense of entitlement with women who were in a subordinate position, his bullying manner– that was part of his charm. The women he grabbed and pushed around just had to live with it. From the L.A. Times..

Four of the six women told their stories on condition that they not be named. Three work in Hollywood and said they were worried that, if they were identified, their careers would be in jeopardy for speaking out against Schwarzenegger, the onetime bodybuilding champion and box-office star who is now the front-runner in the Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election.
The other unnamed woman said she feared public ridicule and possible damage to her husband’s business.
In the four cases in which the women would not let their names be published, friends or relatives said that the women had told them about the incidents long before Schwarzenegger’s run for governor.
None of the six women who gave their accounts to The Times filed any legal action against him.

ProPublica has more on what happened to women who spoke to a reporter about Schwartzenegger’s gross behavior…

Election Day arrived and Schwarzenegger was elected by a wide margin. The Los Angeles Times was castigated for smearing Schwarzenegger close to the election. Ten thousand readers canceled their subscriptions. I received a string of vicious calls and emails. The women were branded as liars desperate for a share of fame.

One of the women called me in tears. I’d cajoled her into revealing her humiliations — and here was yet another. The voters, like Hollywood, ignored the star’s troubling behavior. I was devastated and angry, too — and guilty for wasting their courage.

Speaking out has a cost. We’re only a few decades past the time when victims of sexual assault carried the secret their whole lives, because no one wanted to be damaged goods. It is the result of years of advocacy that we have better police work, better laws. All the people mentioned above had far more social status than the maid who was assaulted this week.

Where did she find the courage to come forward, when so many others were unable despite having more social power?

My guess is that she came to the US as a refugee from violence, and had few illusions about her place in the world. The only security she had was earned with her own work– the patronage of important people did not figure in to this situation.

Perhaps her attacker would have used some social pressure, charm and deception if she had seemed connected to anyone who could defend her, but she was a black woman from a poor part of the world, so he tried to terrorize her into submission. She fought him off and escaped.

Very important– she was able to go to her supervisor for help, and the supervisor quickly called the police. Look at the above examples and see how rare it is that institutions and the people in them do the right thing. The hotel had established a hotline to report abuse. That suggests that abuse was a problem, but also that there was a policy to protect employees. If she had not found immediate aid, and a fast and competent response from the police, she would have been without recourse like so many others. But now the law is on her side.

If Dominique Strauss-Kahn is found guilty, it will be because of the courage of a quiet and almost invisible woman, who fought her attacker and sought justice, when so many others let crime go unchallenged.

CONSEQUENCES: The press is already outing the victim as a woman living with HIV, in the process of publicizing where she lives. She is not staying in her apartment, and I hope that when this is over she will be able to find a safe place to live and work.