Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Rape Accusations

About one and half months ago, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the (now former) head of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of rape by a Guinean maid in New York. According to the maid, she was in the hotel room in New York where Strauss-Kahn was staying when he approached her, tried to force her to have sex, and then raped her.

Now, it looks like there are serious questions about the validity of the charges. It seems to me that the consensus is that the rape never happened (though we'll never know for sure, one way or another), because the maid was the only witness to this alleged crime, and she seems to have credibility issues. Specifically, she has admitted to lying to the grand jury about the events before, during, and after the rape, having issues with her asylum papers, and being involved in a money-laundering scheme involving accusing Strauss-Kahn of rape. Basically, the prosecution's case has fallen apart.

The issue here is that in reaction to the centuries of men getting away with rape without consequence, American society is such that accusers victimized of rape are automatically believed and accused rapists' names are blackened forever in the eyes of society, whether the rape accusation is true or not (i.e. society automatically makes assumptions regardless of the veracity of the claim). So do we need to find a middle ground?

Well, that would be nice, but I think (and I'm about as far as you can get from a legal scholar here) an easier idea might be to use libel law effectively. In the US, compared to other countries, libel law practically doesn't exist, thanks to a very strong First Amendment. As far as I remember/understand, if a prosecutor wants to have any chance of winning a libel/slander suit, the prosecutor has to show that the defendant put out knowingly false information about the prosecutor with malicious intent. Only then can a case have any chance of proceeding. That's why so many libel/slander lawsuits in the UK, such as the one an association of chiropractors put out against author Simon Singh regarding him calling them a bunch of quacks, would have no chance of going through in the US; those cases are really just the defendant engaging in trivial name-calling or telling hard truths that the prosecutor doesn't like to hear/see. But in this case, a rape accusation is really serious, and here, the maid seems to have accused Strauss-Kahn of rape knowing that accusation was false and did so with malicious intentions, so I think a libel/slander suit would hold more weight in this case.

A very similar case happened in Maryland a couple years ago where a few girls who didn't like their male teacher (I think for correctly giving them bad grades because they did poorly on assignments and tests) falsely accused him of raping/sexually assaulting them. Though the accusations were found to be false and the teacher was acquitted, the damage had been done, as the teacher lost the trust of family and close friends and couldn't find a decent job in a nice place for a very long time (because he was known as a sex offender). At the same time, the girls who did this knowingly with malice got away without any punishment at all for ruining an honest man's life.

So I think in both cases, the accused rapists could and should press libel/slander charges against the accusers for ruining their lives and careers knowingly and maliciously. Rape is terrible, horrible, atrocious thing. False accusations of rape are nearly just as bad.

(UPDATE: I just read an article about an author who accused Strauss-Kahn in 2002 of sexually assaulting her. It appears that the case has come back into the public eye again, and Strauss-Kahn is denying the charges and is planning to sue her for slander. That said, I don't know if that's going to work out here, because there aren't any big questions about the accuser's credibility here (yet).)

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