Dominique Strauss-Kahn's naming, shaming and the rush to judgment
As he refunded Dominique Strauss-Kahn's multimillion-dollar bail bond, and freed him from having to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet, and lifted his house arrest, and relieved him from the necessity of paying for his own security guards, Judge Michael J. Obus remarked that "there will be no rush to judgment in this case."
The judge said that with a straight face, looking at a defendant who'd been forced to resign from his job heading the International Monetary Fund, and whose political career — he was until May 14 considered a strong candidate for the presidency of France — lies in ashes.
Outside the court, Strauss-Kahn's lawyer looked at the pack of reporters and made just that point.
"I want to remind all of you," he said, "that at each appearance in the last six weeks, we asked you and we asked the world not to rush to judgment in this case, and now I think you can understand why."
Now, it may well be that Strauss-Kahn is guilty. The charges against him stand, for now. And his accuser, a hotel maid from Guinea, may be telling the truth about what happened in Strauss-Kahn's suite at the Manhattan Sofitel last May.
If she is, though, it would seem to be pretty much the only thing she is telling the truth about.
According to the prosecution, she lied to immigration authorities in applying for asylum here, concocting a long story about persecution and torture in Guinea.
She lied to prosecutors about having been gang-raped in the past.
She lied about what she did after the alleged attack in the hotel room that day: Rather than waiting fearfully in the hallway until Strauss-Kahn exited, then calling her supervisor, as she had testified before a grand jury, it turns out she cleaned someone else's room, then returned and cleaned Strauss-Kahn's room, then sounded the alarm.
She lied to tax authorities about her income. And, according to the New York Times, she called an imprisoned drug dealer who'd been depositing hundreds of thousands of dollars in her bank account, and, not knowing calls to prisons are recorded, proceeded to discuss the possible benefits of pressing charges against such a famous man.
She also, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said, lied about several other unspecified things.
Again, none of this means the 62-year-old Strauss Kahn didn't attack her and force her to perform oral sex on him, as she claims.
But this much is clear: Because of the system here (which, incidentally, mirrors the system in Canada), she has been allowed to accuse, and lie, from behind a shield of anonymity. Society recognizes sexual crimes carry a powerful stigma, and therefore protects an accuser's privacy.
No such courtesy is extended to the accused, though, and like every other suspect, Strauss-Kahn was perp-walked, named, shamed, humiliated and ruined before a single piece of cross-examinable evidence had been entered against him.
There has been, in other words, a rush to judgment.
In an earlier column in this space, I argued that the time has perhaps come to consider, at least in cases of sexual assault, a policy of not publishing the name of the accused, either, at least until he (or she) is convicted. Then, by all means, name and shame.
That suggestion provoked quite a backblast from some readers. I was accused of being a smug white man, rushing to the assistance of a fellow smug white man. Accused rapists must be named, cried some readers, so that their other victims might be encouraged to come forward. Privileged white men, said others, have a rich history of violating vulnerable members of underclasses.
A prominent Canadian feminist with whom I have dealt professionally for years told me: "I expected more from you, and partly because I thought we had finally made some progress on this question and your column makes me think we haven't."
The hotel maid's lawyer, Ken Thomson, evidently belongs to the same school of thought.
Outside the courthouse, after Strauss-Kahn's bail restrictions were lifted, he brushed aside his client's lying, accused the prosecution of planning to drop the case, and proceeded to try it on the courthouse steps.
He reeled off graphic detail of her accusations: He'd "grabbed her vagina with so much force that he bruised her vagina."
"She'd run for that door, and started spitting Dominique Strauss Kahn's semen out of her mouth in disgust, all over the hotel room." Strauss-Kahn had "torn a ligament in her shoulder" when he flung her to the floor. Thomson even revealed, for some reason, that she'd been genitally mutilated against her will in Africa.
It being the courthouse steps, as noted, there was no cross-examination. The accusations were all recorded and broadcast, in amazing detail, on the cable networks. Watching, you'd almost think a rush to judgment was happening.
Furthermore, he said, his client would soon be going public, voluntarily, to give the public her account in her own words. One suspects that having lied to immigration authorities, she is now quite concerned about deportation, and might intend to enlist public sympathy in that cause.
Meaning this will get a lot more lurid. Without any rush to judgment, of course.
In any event, as stated, she may be telling the truth about being attacked. Strauss Kahn may be lying when he says the sex was consensual. Or not.
For the record, I accept that most women who press charges of sexual assault are likely telling the truth, and that my Canadian feminist friend is right — privileged white men almost certainly do indeed take advantage of vulnerable women.
But it is also true that women do, occasionally, cry rape falsely. Such accounts appear from time to time in newspapers. When it happens, the accused invariably goes through hell, mostly because of the publicity — from which the accuser is protected. And, in fact, Vance, the Manhattan district attorney, vowed Friday to keep protecting Strauss-Kahn's accuser, even as he detailed her lies.
We shall see, soon enough, if Strauss-Kahn is guilty.
Meanwhile, here's a question: Would naming and shaming false accusers perhaps lead to fewer false accusations? And if Strauss-Kahn's accuser does not go public, and he is exonerated, should she be named? And walk the perp-walk?