It's no walk in the park for DSK

There are quite a lot of things I admire about the French.  They make great cheese and damn fine wine, which they drink sensibly and often.  They have ensured their beautiful capital city is not overshadowed by horrid skyscrapers and they are, on the whole, pretty stylish.  I also like their devil-may-care attitude to anything they don’t approve of and I even have a grudging respect for their trade unions as they fly in the face of laissez-faire economics.

But the French can display a pretty unhealthy attitude towards women and this has been on public display in the last few months as we have watched the ‘DSK’ scandal unfold in New York.  It has now reached its garish climax as leading French socialists have described their ‘immense relief’ that Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s nightmare is now over.

Well excuse me, but what about the nightmare of Nafissatou Diallo, the maid who accused him of raping her?  I was under the impression that the case against DSK has been dropped because prosecutors have found Diallo to be an unreliable witness.  So as far as I can see he has been freed on a technicality, not exonerated.  And even if he were found to be wholly innocent of the charges against him, he has never denied that a sexual encounter took place, only that it was consensual.  So it’s all rather tawdry whichever way you look at it.

It is pretty difficult to secure a rape conviction whoever is involved, but it is depressing, yet again, to see a case fail even to come to trial because the victim is not the right sort of victim.  She’s not only an immigrant, she is, apparently, a liar, unreliable and a money-grabber.  Sadly her civil case against DSK will only fuel this idea as, if it’s successful (and it may be, requiring a lower burden of proof), she would be entitled to financial compensation.  Personally I think there are probably easier ways to make a quick buck, but then what do I know, I don’t clean hotel toilets for a living.  Either way, I don’t think she is going to come out of this a winner.

I am certainly not alone in having had the feeling that this was bound to be the way this case played out.  Diane Abbott, the Labour MP, tweeted ‘DSK + millions pounds of lawyers, private detectives and PR advisors versus an African maid. Only one outcome likely’.  Sorry to say, I think there is some truth in this.  But I can’t help thinking that there were other problems with this case that have nothing to do with the witness but which probably doomed her case to fail.

The media circus surrounding the DSK case is hardly unusual, although it does have some particularly American characteristics.  The perp walk that started the whole thing off is not a particularly edifying spectacle.  This is a custom common in the US, particularly in New York, of walking an arrested suspect through a public place to enable the media to take photographs and videos of the event.  Proponents say it sends a message that no one is above the law and it deters criminal behaviour, particularly white-collar criminals.  Detractors criticise it as a public form of humiliation, say it violates a defendant’s right to privacy and is prejudicial to the presumption of innocence.

We know what the French think.  When DSK was made to do his perp walk past waiting reporters the French minister of justice found the image ‘incredibly brutal, violent and cruel’.  A former French minister of culture likened the perp walk to a lynching (I guess he doesn’t know what a real lynching entails) and a French senator wrote on his blog ‘the heart can only contract before these humiliating and poignant images’ (I mean, purlease!)

While these responses seem utterly disproportionate (a bit like comparing MPs caught up in the expenses scandal to the holocaust) I would question how the perp walk can really help secure justice.  The French newspaper Le Monde editorialised about DSK’s perp walk ‘When one of the world's most powerful men is turned over to press photos, coming out of a police station handcuffed, hands behind his back, he is already being subjected to a sentence which is specific to him…Is it necessary that a man’s fame deprive him of his presumption of innocence in the media’.

This reaction should be seen in context - it is illegal to show these images of DSK in France under the law of the presumption of innocence.  But it’s rather absurd to suggest that elsewhere it’s only famous people who are tried by media.  Just one example:  Chris Jefferies, the landlord of murdered Jo Yeates, who received substantial libel damages from eight papers for their reporting of his arrest.  Two of them were also found guilty of contempt of court for seriously prejudicing any future trial of Yeates’s killer.

Rather alarmingly, and also peculiarly American, it’s also been suggested by Anne Daguerre on the Guardian’s comment is free site that the decision of Cyrus Vance, the New York county district attorney, to drop all charges against DSK ‘reflects the accumulation of peculiar circumstances, not least of which is the fact that Vance had recently lost a criminal case against two New York policemen on rape charges and could not risk a second humiliation, two years from his re-election campaign’.

I’m not sure what all this tells us, apart from reigniting the debate about rape cases.  But what I do know is that no-one has come out of this well.  Not DSK, who, even if innocent of the rape charges, has been shown to have a pretty antediluvian attitude towards women and to indulge in some pretty salacioius practices.  Not Diallo, who has been equally vilified and who will probably never get another job.  Not the US justice system, which has been seen to pander too much to the needs and wants of the voracious media.  And not the French establishment, which has been tastelessly triumphalist in its exoneration of DSK.  He may be innocent of the charges, but I certainly wouldn’t want him as my head of state.

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