DSK, Lies, and the Myth of the Perfect Victim DSK Rape Case and Perfect Victims

Posted by Jaclyn Friedman

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape case has taken a turn for the complex. Actually, media-frenzied sexual assault allegations are always pretty thorny. Perhaps it's more accurate to say the case has taken a turn for the even-more-complex.

News broke today that the Sofitel Hotel maid, who claimed that DSK dragged her into his hotel suite, locked her in the bathroom, and orally raped her on the afternoon of May 14, has been lying to prosecutors about a number of issues. This pattern of lying has seriously threatened the prosecution's chances of presenting a compelling case, because the maid's credibility will be weighed heavily during legal proceedings. DSK claims their encounter was consensual.

The newly revealed inconsistencies in her testimony raise more questions than answers. Did she launder money? Did she lie about a previous gang rape in order to gain asylum? What did she actually say about the case to her incarcerated friend on the day of the assault?

I'm wondering why so few people are asking the most important question of all: How does any of this prove that DSK didn't rape her?

I know this may come as a shock to some, but the U.S. justice system isn't perfect. If it were, black men wouldn't be eight times more likely than white men to be sent to prison, and rape wouldn't be so disproportionately under-prosecuted and even less frequently convicted. Since some commentators are inclined to go all Occam's Razor on this case, why are we so unwilling to consider the possibility that an imperfect, possibly criminally-involved woman, whose status in the U.S. is precarious at best, was raped on the job by a very powerful man?

It's not that hard to hold both of these ideas at once. On the one hand, we've got an international left-wing rock star with a history of harassing and abusing women, who, when first questioned about the incident in the hotel, claimed it never happened. Only when the incontrovertible evidence of his very personal DNA showed up on her clothes did he change his story to claim that something did, in fact, happen, and she consented. This is a guy whose wife has made public statements about how awesome it is to have a hubby who is a powerful seducer of the ladies. So why would he lie to cover a consensual dalliance?

On the other hand, we've got a poor, immigrant woman of color, in the United States on an asylum visa. She's been linked to drug deals. She's got too many cell phones. She receives mysterious financial deposits from felons. You can bet she's attached to her legit hotel job and doesn't want to get tangled up with the authorities. She's also likely smart enough to know that a whole host of personal details make her the less credible witness in a he said/she said case against one of the most powerful white dudes on the planet. All of that adds up to serious motivation to keep those details hidden from the prosecutors she's relying on for justice.

Still, she ran to coworkers and the police in an agitated state to get help on the day in question. Has she done some sketchy things? That seems pretty likely. Are people who do sketchy things still raped sometimes? Yes. They're just a lot less likely to see their attackers brought to justice.

Given the realities of the U.S. criminal justice system, the prosecution may be unable to salvage this case. But just because that system fails victims on the regular doesn't mean we have to, too. French commentators are already calling for DSK to jump back into the country's presidential race and ride a wave of sympathy into office. Really, the stakes are greater than even that political prize. If we accept the narrative that only perfect women are raped, we risk sacrificing justice not only for this woman, but for victims of sexual assault everywhere. After all, nobody's perfect.

Photo via flickr, World Trade Organization, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0