Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, has been pardoned but the complexities of his case and its broader implications continue on. Not withstanding the David and Goliath style nature of the case, a poor Guniean immigrant is sexually assaulted by one of a member of the wealthiest and most powerful on the planet, the case also unveils the deep politics of rape and sexual assault itself. Many will flock to support the victim believing that not only is it entirely possible that a man like Strauss-Kahn would take advantage of his position for his own sexual fulfillment, but that to leave Ms. Diallo in the dust is to be an accessory to his crime. People want to believe victims of sexual assault. It is in our nature, at least those which I know, to seek to protect the sanctity of women from the evils of violent men.
However, all is not which it may appear. Ms. Diallo’s case has been fraught with controversies, from exagerrated and false stories of gang rape in her native Guinea, to her associations with crack dealers and organized crime. The immediate search for dirt in the background of a sexual assault victim is common to nearly all legal cases of rape, though in this case, the search was more efficient, sufficiently funded, and rife with fruit for the taking.
The truth is, we will never know what occurred between Mr. Strauss-Kahn and Ms. Diallo. Many are certain that something did occur, though the level of consent is to be debated. What strikes me, though, are the interviews with Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s associates from his French Socialist Party in France who deny without question that Mr. Strauss Kahn could ever commit such a reprehensible act. I am sure that associates of Josef Mengele would make the same denials, rallying in support for his character. The truth, whatever it may be, seems elusive, not merely due to the lack of evidence, but to that which the principal players choose to see. In this way, this simple case of sexual assualt, becomes vastly complex and reflective of political discussions in general, where people choose what to see, what to believe and how to interpret. Those choices often have little to do with the evidence on hand, but rather are informed by social allegiances and political priorities which parade themselves across the media stage in a Roshomon-like procession of discordant stories.
I read an interesting article this morning in Foreign Affairs by Amber Peterman, calling for the systematic collection of data on wartime rape, and was immeidately struck by the connections between evidence of the magnitude and scale of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the case of Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Impassioned stories of rape victims and the savagery of perpertrators make for nice sound bites and work to move people to act, but there is no substitute for rigorous evidence of crimes, a lack of which exists in both Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s case (a video would have helped) and the ongoing conflict in the DRC. Evidence based courts cannot rely on passionate testimonials, nor can policy be drafted on anecdotal horror stories of war. As long as the haze of uncertainty lingers in sexual assault cases, justice will never done and the perpetrators of disgusting crimes of rape will be free to rape again. The perpetrators are smugly aware of this fact, and since time immemorial have used it to their advantage.