This week the attempted rape case against French politician and former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn was dropped by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. There were protests outside criminal court downtown on Monday and Tuesday, led by City Councilwoman Letitia James and a broad coalition of feminist activists and victim advocacy groups.
In the simplest terms, the Manhattan DA did not believe his office could make the case against DSK. That is a far, far different thing than saying the crime didn’t happen. Regardless, I believe Nafissatou Diallo. Her story—that she walked into a room and encountered a complete stranger who attacked and injured her—is far more credible than DSK’s version of events, in which a woman, in the course of doing her daily work, decided in a split-second to consent to a rough sex act with a complete stranger, a man who, by many accounts, has a history of predatory and violent behavior towards women. DSK’s story does not make sense, and the reason it does not make sense is that it is not true.
Because his semen was on Diallo’s clothing and in the hotel room, DSK was forced into the “admit what you can’t deny” defense. He and his attorneys had no option but to attack the credibility of his victim. It turned out to be a successful strategy, because Nafissatou Diallo has not lived a blameless life. She lied about being gang-raped in order to gain asylum, which, as Suketu Mehta described in a recent New Yorker article, does happen, because politically motivated gang-rape of women in West Africa is common enough that the INS considers it a legitimate threat. It appears she was not always been honest with the authorities—not a surprising thing for someone raised in a society where the authorities are neither trustworthy nor benevolent. She may have participated in money-laundering. None of this, however, means that DSK didn’t rape her. It only means that a jury might think she’s predisposed to lying.
But you know who else hasn’t lived a blameless life and is predisposed to lying? Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He is currently facing separate charges of attempted rape in France, charges filed after Nafissatou Diallo came forward but based on an attack that allegedly occurred in 2003. Multiple women, including a former co-worker at the IMF, have spoken openly about how they felt pressured or coerced into having sex with him, how he was known for being extremely aggressive. One ex-girlfriend who was interviewed in L’Illustre spilled details of their relationship, which she says ended with ripped clothes, physical injury and a suicide attempt on her part. She also said she was not surprised by Diallo’s story of being attacked by DSK because it’s consistent with “who he is.”
DSK’s treatment of women was loudly openly decried in the press, even as they covered the collapse of the charges against him, and that provided some vindication for his victims. A few examples: Clyde Haberman, in his the New York Times column, said of DSK: “No, Mr. Strauss-Kahn is not an innocent. Maybe if I were French, a word like “cochon” would come to mind. You can look it up.” Vanessa Grigoriadis in a New York magazine article about DSK’s billionaire wife, Anne Sinclair, who is fronting his legal fees, questioned Nafissatou Diallo’s demeanor in her ABC interview, and said Sinclair might have to admit that her husband is “if not a rapist, some sort of cretin who behaves in a disgusting way with women.” Many others in the media reached the same conclusions after other women came forward with ugly stories about DSK.
While all of the above is undoubtedly true, being called a pig and disgusting cretin are not enough. DSK should have gone to jail. He didn’t. In today’s New York Times, prosecutors and victim’s advocates spoke out about their fears that the collapse of the case, DSK’s smear tactics, and the DA’s apparent desertion of Diallo means that rape victims will be even more reluctant to come forward, particularly when the rapist is a wealthy and powerful man. They’re absolutely right to be concerned. Attacking the victim’s reputation in order to discredit her and divert attention from the attacker is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it works far more often than it should. It certainly did for DSK.
Nafissatou Diallo was smart to go on the offensive in the press when it started to look like the DA would drop the case. There is always value in speaking your truth, and her dignified behavior humanized her story, raised public sympathy, and allowed her to respond to the smear tactics by DSK’s attorneys. She has filed a civil suit against DSK, which seems like a difficult case to make—civil court juries are just as susceptible to victim–smearing as criminal court ones—but she’s entitled to vindication by whatever means she can get it. At the very least, with that case and Tristane Banon’s case pending, it would seem that DSK’s rape-related legal troubles are not entirely over. If they don’t kill his political career entirely, his reputation is shredded enough that it will be difficult for him to stand for the French presidency, or lead the Socialist Party. It’s unlikely he’ll have the same close allies as before, political or otherwise.
DSK may go home to Paris instead of to prison, but in many ways, this event and all the fallout will be the end of him. Whether people believe that he tried to rape Nafissatou Diallo or not, the larger truth of DSK’s mistreatment of women can’t be stuffed back into the closet. That will be the top line of his obituary, instead of any of his life’s achievements. It may be the damage caused by glaring media coverage, not the courts, that ultimately will avenge Nafissatou Diallo and DSK’s other victims.