A Prosecutor's Opinion about the DSK Case and its Outcomes

Christine Herrman, JD, Executive Director of the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force of the Oregon Attorney General’s office, wrote the following in an email to some colleagues in CounterQuo.

She simply, eloquently and persuasively (in my opinion) gets to the heart of the matter of one of the most vexing and troublesome issues in the case of Dominque Strauss Kahn – former head of the IMF – who allegedly raped a hotel maid. It’s a troublesome issue in our culture: we too seldom believe a victim of sexual assault when s/he reports it. It’s important to persuade our society that in fact, victims generally don’t lie about rape. We need to keep saying it, in as many different eloquent ways as possible, until people get it. So, with permission, here’s what Christine had to say.

“I don’t mean to suggest that DSK knew all these facts about the victim; there’s no indication of that. My point was simply that he was rewarded for good victim choice. But let’s look at what he DID know.

He knew she was a lowly maid.

He knew she was a woman of color.

He likely was able to ascertain, if she spoke, that she was an immigrant.

He knew he was the head of the IMF.

He knew he was rich.

He knew he was unlikely to be held accountable (again)

And, sadly, he was right.

As for trying difficult cases … I generally try to avoid stepping into the shoes of another prosecutor. We seldom have the full picture of what the prosecutor knows. In this case, though, it’s very hard to believe that there’s anything we don’t know, thanks to the 25-page motion to dismiss. So, with full knowledge that I am but one opinion and sheltered by the awareness that I don’t have the whole world watching my every move, I’m comfortable with saying that yes, I would have gone forward with this case. This is provided, as has been reported, that the victim was fully apprised of the risks of acquittal and wished to proceed. However, it’s worthy of note that I *do* believe her. And these prosecutors made a point of saying that they don’t.

I’m not naïve, and I can’t for a second argue that the inconsistencies in her various accounts wouldn’t be really damaging. What I can argue, though, is that her report of the assault, as well as her actions after it, are largely consistent. Where they aren’t, a simple education about trauma offers explanation. And jurors can handle this – if we give them the opportunity. A robust voir dire, and an expert in trauma and counterintuitive victim behavior would be essential, of course.

The other lies/inconsistencies in her personal history, if they came in, would also hurt, no doubt. But the account given by the prosecutors in that motion is incomplete. The complete story is damning still – but far less so. And again, well-chosen, well-educated juries can handle it.

And let’s not forget that there can only be two options here: a sexual assault, or a consensual encounter. We cannot discount the absolute absurdity of this being consensual. DSK might assert that he paid her for her services – but if this is the case, where was the money she received? And why, why, why would she tell anyone? As noted by the prosecutors, there’s no indication that she even knew who he was before this encounter. And, of course, in his statements to the police, he never mentioned anything of the sort.

Would a trial result in a conviction for DSK? Who knows (we never will, that’s for sure). But would it be worth it, if for no other reason than to establish that the community will not simply stand idly by and fail to object to this kind of behavior? I absolutely believe so.”

Some Perspectives on Sexual Assault and Workplace Harrasment Among Immigrant Women

By Katie Feifer

The allegations of sexual assault made against Dominique Strauss-Kahn by an African immigrant working as a hotel maid should help focus our nation's attention on the danger and the vulnerability they face working in this country. Our earlier blog post, written and informed by several CounterQuo members, touches on that aspect of the case, as part of our broader perspective on where our public reaction misses the reality of sexual assault.

Two recent pieces, one by CounterQuo founding member Monica Ramirez of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and another by Betsy Reed printed in The Nation, shine the spotlight on how deeply vulnerable immigrant women are to sexual assault and workplace harassment, and how their situation - limited English, lack of credibility with authorities in this country, fear of losing their job or worse - conspire against their ability to remain safe or to see perpetrators of injustice against them held accountable.

We are troubled at reports of victimization of women by men who hold power over them. However, we have a responsibility to use the stories of these cases to help us all learn what these women face.  It's a first step to taking action to remedy a disgraceful situation.

On the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Dominique Strauss-Kahn

By Katie Feifer

While the recent headlines detailing both a hotel maid’s account and past allegations of sexual assault by IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn came as a shock to some, for those who work with victims of sexual assault – and victims of workplace sexual violence in particular – these facts are nothing new. Sexual violence in the workplace is an all too common occurrence. It happens with alarming regularity across our country and is perpetrated by employers, supervisors, co-workers and third parties, such as hotel guests and other business clientele. Many victims are met with skepticism, blatant indifference, or a myriad of victim-blaming excuses or accusations. Abuse of power in the workplace can manifest itself through cheating shareholders, harassing subordinates, and yes, sometimes by sexually violating someone with less power. In fact, tragically, far too often women who clean hotel rooms fall victim to sexual violence in the very rooms that they are paid to clean, just like the woman, an immigrant from Africa, who has reported Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault. Immigrant women are especially vulnerable to such abuses of power, whether working in hotels, agriculture, factories, homes or offices. Because they are immigrants and may be isolated, have limited English proficiency, and/or fear law enforcement, few of these victims ever report the crimes that they suffer to authorities.

If we want to end sexual violence we must assure that strong sanctions become the norm. Law enforcement officials must be willing to believe victims when they make a report. We commend the New York City Police Department’s swift and diligent response in this case. Sadly, the NYPD’s response is all too often not the typical response of a law enforcement agency. Victims of sexual violence must have information about and access to existing civil and criminal legal remedies so that they may have the opportunity to seek justice for what they have suffered.

We must also hold the media accountable for their reliance on innuendo and salacious details in lieu of objective journalism. Finally, we must confront the thinly-veiled smear campaigns against reported victims at the same time that we rush to the defense of the accused.

Constant speculation about the motives of those who report these devastating crimes is damaging to the victims in those cases, to anyone who ever finds themselves in a similar position, and to our social understanding of and response to sexual violence as a whole. It is no wonder that the reporting rate for sexual assault is so dismally low.

Unfortunately, Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s recent arrest has brought out the typical responses we’ve come to expect when a wealthy or high-profile man is accused of such a crime. We hear things like, “Why would a successful, powerful, and rich man NEED to rape anyone? He could have almost any woman he chose, or at the very least he could pay for the services of someone.” This logic seems to conveniently and consistently miss the point: Sexual violence is about dominance and abuse of power.

Why is it easier to believe in the intrinsic dishonesty, vindictiveness, and opportunistic nature of alleged rape victims than to believe in a sense of entitlement, and lack of respect and judgment among alleged rapists? In the Strauss-Kahn scenario some are even willing to accept an elaborate conspiracy theory (that this was a set-up by supporters of French President Sarkozy) rather than embrace the possibility that a man with a documented history of sexual coercion, exploitation and – according to recent reports – prior sexual assaults could possibly attack a woman with very little power or status.

Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn deserves the presumption of innocence afforded to all alleged criminals in this country. We long for the day, however, when we show equal restraint before labeling alleged victims as liars and swindlers. So yes, we are willing to suspend judgment on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s guilt or innocence. By the same token, we are willing to look at the mounting number of accounts from women who speak of their own exploitation or abuse by Strauss-Kahn over the years. We hope the truth prevails and the public can stop being influenced by the far too common knee jerk reaction that disbelieves victims as the case proceeds.

Signatories:

CounterQuo

Anne Munch Consulting

ART WORKS Projects

Catharsis Productions

The Feminist Wire

Feministe

Legal Momentum

End Violence Against Women International

Hollywood NOW

The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force

Rape Victim Advocates

RH Reality Check

Sociologists for Women in Society

Victim Rights Law Center

The Voices and Faces Project

Women, Action & the MediaWomen in Media and News

Women’s Media Center

Chaitra Shenoy

Erin Scheick

Gillian Chadwick

Mia Goldman

Roseline Guest