Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Finding the Good Victim: Diallo and Strauss-Kahn

Finding the Good Victim: Diallo and Strauss-Kahn

Binoy Kampmark
August 24, 2011

The dismissal of sexual charges is, as ever, a mixed blessing for the individual charged of them. Unlike other charges, a certain residue is left. ‘He walks free, but…’ The slime remains, and for some, it must be said, the slime is not entirely underserved, whatever the merits of a justice system.

The reality for former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is that US law stepped in to exercise its magical presumption of innocence after his arrest three months ago. Some of Strauss-Kahn’s detractors see it as a shield for the wealthy and the assured – he did preside over, as an Indian comedian described it, the International Molestation Fund. Even the lawyers for Strauss-Kahn had to concede that there might have been ‘inappropriate behaviour’ but this was ‘much different than a crime’ (NYT, Aug 23).

Prosecutors of the office of Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. admitted to Justice Michael J. Obus of the State Supreme Court that they could not prove the case against Strauss-Kahn beyond reasonable doubt. From the mire of sexual accusation, Strauss-Kahn is now readying himself for a career in French socialist politics. He will still have to deal with the civil action against him for monetary damages.

It’s all gone wrong for the hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo, who brought down a once unassailable figure of the international finance community. Initially, it seemed that the 33-year-old Guinean immigrant seemed to possess bagfuls of credibility. Then came the fabrications, which, in the context of sexual allegation, colour accounts and undermine cases, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

People always lie about sex, but to do in this context where the burden is so high – beyond reasonable doubt – was crippling. The prosecutor’s report claims that a ‘hurried sexual encounter’ may well have taken place between the accuser and accused, but that this was no basis to conclude that sexual assault had been inflicted.

What is troubling is that, however dishonest a person might be over such matters as immigration status and a sketchy sexual past, it should not undermine the specific credibility of allegations of wrongful sexual encounter. One might be as pure as the driven slush, but that need not make an accusation inaccurate, let alone untrue. Vance’s admission on Monday was damning – that the truth about the encounter between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo was less important than the ‘nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods’ (Guardian, Aug 22). A comment by a French attorney to the Guardian (Aug 22) says it all: ‘It’s not that he [the DA] doesn’t believe her, it’s that he doesn’t believe her to be a good victim.’

As always, such dramas illustrate broader problems. Strauss-Kahn has had his strong and vocal supporters. If one was to believe former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, economists are not likely candidates to commit sexual offences. ‘Did [Strauss-Kahn] have a knife? Did he have a gun? He’s a short fat old man’ (American Spectator, May 17). Stein’s understanding of the sexual encounter is evidently limited, with such howlers as, ‘If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn’t he ever get charged until now?’ History is replete with men behaving badly and not getting caught, whatever the verdict on Strauss-Kahn. It was left to comedian Jon Stewart to pull up him up over his observations on sexually incapable economists, part of ‘the rapiest profession going’. ‘Yes,’ he quipped, ‘it’s a redistribution of rape.’

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy already had the case decided, for he knew that his friend of 20 years was no ‘monster’ or ‘caveman’. Contra Stein this man was, in fact, ‘seductive’. The accuser, drawing on endless reserves of an American justice system that thrives on accusation had to be at fault. ‘I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory”, meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime – and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact’ (The Daily Beast, May 16).

The onus of proof, in case BHL had not noticed, never shifted from the accuser, though we know him to be rather shaky on grounds of examining sexual assault. After all, in his view (adapting the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas), one doesn’t rape or kill one’s interlocutor after having seen his or her face (Jewish Chronicle, Oct 14, 2006). That history has refuted this claim time and time again (if only lives could be saved like that) seems beside the point to BHL. The point to be made here is that such crimes take place behind closed doors, and are notoriously difficult to prove for an assortment of evidentiary reasons. One is even lucky to see an ‘accusation’ made much of the time.

Kenneth P. Thompson, who is acting for Diallo, was determined not to give up the ghost on the case, and filed a motion on Monday seeking dismissal of Vance’s office from the case. Justice Obus denied the motion. The appeal against the order was subsequently suspended. This is not to say that Thompson was wrong to assume that Vance’s office had been too quick to drop the case. It may well be that the office was too quick on the trigger in the first place, indicting Strauss-Kahn rather than giving them more time to sift through the case. The law might be an ass, but it needs it worthy executioners.

*************

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Boris Johnson At Sea: Coronavirus Confusion In The UK

The tide has been turning against UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Oafishly, he has managed to convert that tide into a deluge of dissatisfaction assisted by the gravitational pull of singular incompetence. Much of this is due to such errors of ... More>>

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really

The four countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in the world are all led by rightwing populists: the US, India, Brazil, and Russia. Throw in the United Kingdom, which has the largest infection rate in Europe, and you have a common pattern. ... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Early Voting Is OK, If You Know Who To Vote For

Early voting is now open which is great for the 80% or so of the population whose vote does not change from one election to the next. They can go out and vote at their convenience without having to wait for election day. But for those who are yet even ... More>>

The Conversation: Biodiversity: Where The World Is Making Progress – And Where It’s Not

The future of biodiversity hangs in the balance. World leaders are gathering to review international targets and make new pledges for action to stem wildlife declines. Depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty person, you’re likely ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog