At time of writing, it looks like the sexual assault case against former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is about to collapse. He is set to return to French politics (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/22/dominique-strauss-kahn-return-politics) whilst his alleged victim, Nafissatou Diallo, will join the long, long line of women who have reported rape or sexual assault, and never seen their case tried in court.
Since his arrest three months ago in May, we have been treated to a series of bizarre articles about whether the French are more relaxed about 'adultery' (as opposed to sexual assault). We've heard plenty of conspiracy theories about whether Diallo was a honey trap, a plot by his political enemies to destroy him. But most of all we have seen lengthy articles that have set out to discredit and destroy Diallo's version of events.
Now the case against Strauss-Kahn is collapsing, with Diallo accused of being an unreliable witness who lacks credibility. The official reason? She lied on her asylum application to enter America. However, this is just the official version of the many, many suggestions that have been put forward by the press and DSK apologisers in an effort to discredit her. These include that she didn't inform immigration that she had gone through female genital mutilation, that she knows 'dodgy people' including some people who are in prison, and that she was trying to extort money from DSK.
Meanwhile, according to the law, DSK's history of 'sexual misconduct' cannot be discussed. Whilst Diallo's history is raked through the mud, previous accusations against DSK cannot be spoken of. I don't necessarily think that previous accusations should be brought up in court, but I think if we have that rule for the defendant, then we need that rule for the accuser too. Because the question to me now is, who is really on trial here?
The cornerstone of the justice system is innocent until proven guilty. This means that neither me, you nor the editor of the Daily Mail knows or can judge if DSK is guilty. But it also means that we cannot know or judge whether Diallo was lying about sexual assault. And it is this that has been forgotten, both in the reporting on this case, the Assange case and almost every single incident of sexual assault and rape that I have ever heard of. The emphasis is never on the alleged perpetrator. Instead, the woman is on trial. The woman is accused. The woman is assumed to be guilty, before proven innocent.
Forensic evidence tells us that sexual contact occurred on the night of the alleged assault. Diallo was reported to be distressed and upset in the aftermath of the alleged assault. She took the brave step of reporting to the police. The speculation that she had made up the assault in order to extort money from DSK was later proven untrue, when an accurate translation of the phone call was released. In the phone call she explained to her friend that DSK was rich and powerful (which he is), and later on in the conversation she assured her friend that she knew what she was doing in terms of going to the police and finding a lawyer. There was evidence enough to charge him. So surely, for real justice to be served, this case should go to trial. DSK should answer those charges in court. He should defend himself from charges of sexual assault. Diallo should not have to defend herself from accusations that she lied.
Diallo's lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, has this weekend criticised the prosecutor's office, saying:
“[this] is consistent with the unfair way the Manhattan district attorney's office has treated Ms Diallo throughout this process. It's as if she is the defendant and Strauss-Kahn is the victim."
This is not surprising in the rape culture we live in. After all, we're used to this. We're used to reading articles that paint the alleged perpetrators of sexual assault as the victims of 'lying' women. We're used to the cry that a rape accusation can ruin lives, whilst the life-ruining impact of rape is silenced. I'm sure being falsely accused of rape is awful. But, unlike the mainstream media coverage, it is a lot rarer than rape. And lets not forget that even men found guilty of rape do not necessarily find their lives ruined. After all, Mike Tyson is a movie star. Polanski is a hero. DSK is likely to be welcomed home to French politics by Francois Hollande, his wife at his side, two pending accusations and all.
Diallo is said to have lied about rape on her asylum application. Although I don't condone lying about rape, I think perhaps we can attempt to try and understand the desperate circumstances she was in, trying to flee her home country to forge a life away from the horrors of a war that has ravaged her home. And although I don't condone this lie, we need to remember one very, very important thing. A woman who has lied in the past can still be raped. A woman who has dodgy friends can still be raped. A man can still rape a woman who has lied. A man can still rape a woman who has dodgy friends. And if a man is accused of, and charged with, sexually assaulting a woman, and there is evidence to suggest sexual contact took place, and the accusation that she was trying to extort money has been shown to be untrue, then that man should face trial and he should be found guilty or innocent in court. And that woman should not be found guilty in the 'court of popular opinion'. That woman should not be treated as a criminal by the justice system and the media. Because, just like DSK, she is innocent until proven guilty. And unless DSK takes her to court over a false accusation, I doubt very much she will be proven guilty.
When I last wrote about this issue, I was accused by a commenter on my blog of 'not understanding how the world works'. He said that I didn't understand that this was likely to be about 'greater forces' trying to destroy DSK's career and reputation.
So let me lay it on the line. This is how the world works. One in three women will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. Most of the men who commit that crime will get away with it.
I would really really recommend reading Hadley Freeman's post on this case on Comment is Free http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/23/dsk-trial-accuser-not-accused
As a result of the lengthy discussion in the comments section, here are some sources on stats.
Fact #32: Globally, at least one in three women and girls is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. (UN Commission on the Status of Women, 2/28/00)
2. Rape conviction and reporting rates: http://www.crimestoppers-uk.org/crime-prevention/latest-crime-statistics
False accusation stats: Fawcett Society report on 'Rape: The Facts'
Rape rate stats: Fawcett Society report on 'Rape: The Facts' and the BCS figures cited here: http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk/2010/11/29/rape-statistics-what-can-we-rely-on/
More on DSK by me: http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/07/media-reporting-on-rape-daily-mail-and.html
Sources for news and quotes: