Now it is the hotel maid who is on trial

There are two kinds of criminal trials in which the alleged victim, and not the alleged perpetrator, are put on trial.  One is murder.  The other is rape.

I reported on a number of the first kind back in the 1960s, when I covered the criminal courts (among other things) for The Daily Mail in Hagerstown, Md.    I reported on several murder trials in which a wife was charged with murdering her husband, one in which a son was charged with murdering his father.  In all cases, the defense was that the dead person was so abusive that the accused was driven to the breaking point, and could not be blamed for the killing.  The juries agreed, and maybe they were right—but the dead person never got to tell his side of the story.  That is one of the serious disadvantages of being dead.

In a rape case, the alleged victim gets a chance to tell her side of the case, but the burden is on her to prove she is worthy to be believed.  The defense is almost always to attack her reputation so that the jury will believe the defendant and not her.  This is what is going on in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape trial except that it is the prosecution, not the defense, who is attacking the alleged victim’s behavior.  This is highly unusual behavior for a prosecutor.  I never before heard of a prosecutor publicly trying to undermine his own case before it goes to trial.

The prosecutor says that the victim lacks credibility because she told conflicting stories about her life in Guinea, in Africa, before being admitted as a refugee into the United States, and because she has unsavory associations in the United States, including a convicted drug dealer to whom she allegedly made a phone call about the case.  There are two things to note about this.  One is that the maid’s lawyer does not deny them.  The other is that they have nothing to do with the only relevant issue, whether or not Dominique Strauss-Kahn committed rape.

I am content to let the jury weigh the facts in the case.  If there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed rape, he should be acquitted.  But Strauss-Kahn’s narrative is so far outside my frame of reference that I can’t process it in my mind.  He says that he emerged naked from a shower, saw a hotel maid in his room, threw her down on a bed and had oral sex with her, and that she consented to it, but later changed her story.

I try to imagine what would happen if I were in a hotel, saw a maid in my room when I came out of the shower, and decided to grab her and have her perform oral sex.  Maybe it is because I am a product of American small-town life in a past era, but I can’t think of this as normal and acceptable behavior.

Nobody is a perfect person.  If I happened to be mugged and robbed of my wallet, nobody would investigate anything except the facts of the case.  Nobody would try to dig up dirt about my past life, and use that to imply that I am fair game for robbery.  But the equivalent happens all the time with women who bring charges of rape.

Click on Strauss-Kahn Prosecution Said to Be Near Collapse for the New York Times account of the prosecution’s leaks.

Click on Alleged DSK Rape Victim Knows Bad People and Also Drinks for a critical analysis of the prosecution’s leaks.

Click on DSK Rape Case and Perfect Victims for more analysis.

Click on The NY Post Makes DSK’s Alleged Rape Victim an AIDS Predator for a report on an earlier smear.

Click on DSK Rape Case Explained in 20 Quotes for a clever and pointed summary of what is at issue.

Click on Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the hotel maid turns into a PR battle for a good article in The Guardian of London which puts the situation in context.

[Update 12/3/11]  I don’t think the full story of what happened will ever be known.  Click on What Really Happened to Strauss-Kahn? for Edward Jay Epstein’s account in the New York Review of Books of unanswered questions.  Both the accused and the alleged victim behaved in ways that are hard to explain based on the known facts.

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