Rape case against top banker ‘crumbling’

Sensational new details have turned the rape case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn upside-down. He was accused of assaulting a New York chambermaid, but her story is now under fire.

Former IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been released without bail by a New York judge. He is still due to appear in court, but his lawyers claim that the case against the former French presidential favourite is crumbling.

Until his arrest, Strauss-Kahn was the widely respected head of one of the world's most important financial institutions, responsible for keeping the international economy running smoothly, and dealing with the ongoing global financial crisis.

Then, in May this year, he was accused of rape by a chambermaid in a hotel where he was staying in New York. US detectives pulled him off a plane just before he left the country, leading through the streets in handcuffs like common criminal.

Strauss-Kahn had been expected to run in the French presidential elections in 2012, and would have had a strong chance of winning. His arrest left the French political establishment in shock, as his left wing Parti Socialiste struggled to find a new candidate. Meanwhile, he was quickly dismissed from his job with the IMF.

But this hero to zero story has taken a new dramatic twist. Prosecution lawyers have released new evidence which shows that the testimony of the alleged rape victim may be less trustworthy than was first thought. It now appears that the maid had lied about an earlier incident of sexual assault when claiming asylum in the USA back in 2004.

The maid was also found to have connections with organised crime: in a phone call recorded the day after the rape accusation, she told a friend (who is in prison for drug dealing): 'don't worry. This guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing.'

Strauss-Kahn's guilt or innocence is yet to be decided in court but the new revelations have already sparked bitter controversy. Why? Because this scenario is one that repeats itself in rape cases in courts all over the world. Often, as in this case, it is proved that a sexual encounter did in fact take place. The question is whether or not the encounter was consensual or forced. At that point, it's often just one person's word against another's.

Blame the victim?

Strauss-Kahn's defenders say the chambermaid is a very unreliable witness. Some think she is lying to get money, or even as part of a larger political conspiracy.

But women's rights advocates warn that this attack on the chambermaid's reputation is a classic legal strategy by rape defence lawyers. Women who are raped often face a second traumatic ordeal, when their character is ruthlessly undermined in the courts. This case, they say, is just another instance of a vulnerable victim being shamefully bullied by a rich, powerful man.

You Decide

  1. Which is worse – to allow a rapist to get away with their crime, or to send an innocent man to prison?
  2. Is it fair that the reputation and character of an alleged rape victim should be so important in the outcome of a rapist's trial?

Activities

  1. Rape victims are often very reluctant to appear in court. Write a government leaflet encouraging victims of sex crimes to overcome their fear and try to obtain justice.
  2. Allies of Strauss-Kahn are now hoping he may decide to run for the presidency of France. Class debate: 'This house believes that anyone who has been accused of rape should be excluded from politics.'

Some People Say...

“Those accused of rape should be guilty until proven innocent.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this often happen with rape trials?
Yes. Defence lawyers attack the character of alleged victims in order to call their testimony into question. If it can be shown that the accuser has lied before, or has a history of sexual promiscuity or prostitution, juries will be less likely to believe them.
That sounds bad.
It's definitely a problem. In the UK, over 90% of rapes go unreported and very few of the reported cases result in a conviction. Part of the reason for that is that rape victims are afraid to bring their case to court.
Can something be done to make it easier to get a conviction?
Yes – but we have to be careful. Thereare cases where innocent men are wrongly accused. We need to set a balance between helping rape victims and making sure that accused men get a fair trial.

Word Watch

IMF
The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, oversees international financial markets and lends money to countries which get into unmanageable debt.
Bail
People charged with crimes are sometimes released on bail until their case can be heard. That means they pay a large sum of money which is held until their court date. If they fail to turn up in court, they lose the money.
Consensual
Rape is defined as sexual intercourse where one of the partners does not consent. The problem is that it's very hard to prove whether or not someone gave their consent, especially in cases where drink or drugs were involved.

Subjects

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