Posted by: dave | July 4, 2011

DSK and rape

The apparent collapse of the rape case against IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn illustrates a point that feminists have been making for years: it’s really, really hard to secure convictions in rape cases.

From the media reports, it looks like the two most damning problems with the case are that the Guinean-born alleged victim made an earlier claim of gang rape which she later retracted; and that she was friends with some suspected drug dealers. On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be much doubt that she and Strauss-Kahn had sex.

Given that Guinea and neighbouring Guinea-Bissau are one of the world’s biggest drug transshipment points and migrants tend to hang around with members of their language group, I’m not sure that knowing some suspected dealers is all that damning. As for inconsistencies in the accuser’s stories: I can’t claim to know much about the state of mind of a rape victim, but trauma often seems to be associated with confusion and even delusion. And I’m not sure why, when told two contradictory stories, the prosecutors were so quick to conclude that the first one was invented, rather than the second.

We can’t really conclude anything about what went on in that hotel room, but I think we can all agree that many crimes would never get prosecuted at all if they turned only on the witness-stand credibility of the victim. The problem with rape is that, given the ambiguous nature of the forensic evidence in all but the most violent cases, the credibility of the accuser and the accused is all you’ve got if you want to cross the bar from legal consensual sex to illegal rape. On that basis, a Guinean immigrant hotel maid with a record of making stuff up doesn’t stand a chance against the now-former head of the IMF.

I don’t really know how we resolve this without either some sort of breakthrough in forensic evidence or a law to put a thumb on the scale of justice in favour of the accuser (a terrible idea, of course–we don’t want to lower the bar of a just trial, even for accused rapists). But I’m worried by the implicit message that, in the eyes of the law, you can’t suffer rape if you’ve got dodgy friends or difficulties with the truth.

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