The prosecutors did what they had to do when they dropped the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn. As they wrote in their motion to dismiss, Nafissatou Diallo had told too many untruths, and told them too persuasively. Supporters have put forward explanations for her shifting stories—rape trauma, mistranslation, distrust of the DA’s office, fear of job loss and even deportation—but what comes through the motion to dismiss is that the prosecutors just got fed up.
It wasn’t just that they didn’t think they could get a conviction with such a flawed complainant. It was that they themselves had lost confidence in her: “The nature and number of the complainant’s falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter between the complainant and the defendant. If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt, we cannot ask a jury to do so.”
I still think it is more likely that DSK attacked Diallo than that, as his lawyers claimed, they had consensual spur-of-the-moment sex after which, or even in the course of which, she instantly and brilliantly fabricated a rape. After all, DSK’s credibility in the coerced sex department is not very high either. But if I were on the jury, based on what we know so far, I would have voted to acquit. “More likely” just isn’t enough to send someone to prison.
Does dropping the charges mean rape victims can’t get justice? My editor reminded me that I said when this started that even though she was then reported to be a pious and upright Muslim widow, there would be things in her life and her past that would make her look bad: a shady boyfriend, a brush with crime, a legal fiddle.
Nobody’s perfect, and no one is less likely to be found perfect than a female—even a child—who claims rape, especially when the alleged perpetrator is more socially powerful. In May, a New York City jury found it harder to believe that a cop raped a drunken half-clad woman in her apartment, leaving the door unlocked and returning three times while his partner played lookout, than that he made all those visits in order to counsel her about her drinking. Jury members seemed shocked at their own decision—but with no DNA, what could they do? It was just “he said, she said.”
The real credibility problems with Diallo shouldn’t make us forget how many women lose out in the justice system because behind them lurks the suspicion that they are lying, or crazy, or slutty or fair game, or a woman scorned, or out for money, fame or “attention.” The onus is always on her to disprove these powerful cultural myths, and it’s remarkable how hard it can be. Something. There’s usually something.
Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime.
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