So Dominique Strauss-Kahn, one time head honcho at the IMF and no longer favourite candidate for the French Presidency, walks free. An American court decides there is little prospect of a guilty verdict in respect of allegations that he raped Nafissatou Diallo, a maid at New York’s Sofitel hotel. And that’s pretty much that.
In the end, and i write this with little enthusiasm, it was possibly the right legal result: though what that says for the state of the US legal system is something else entirely.
Its the right result because, with a premier league defence team in tow and advance publicity around the case already working overtime to trash Ms Diallo’s reputation, continuing the legal process is unlikely to have achieved much more than her further very public humiliation.
She’s fibbed about her tax returns and she may have fibbed about an earlier assault. That means whatever went down on the charge sheet, she was always going to be the one in the dock. Maybe she would have coped with that: my suspicion is that however ready she thought she was for such an assault, she wasn’t.
The defence team made it very clear this was going to be about HER credibility, her reputation: and whilst some may condemn the judge for denying her her day in court, an alternative view is that he actually saved her from far worse.
All the same, its a result that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Personally, i have no doubt that past history, both of victim and accused, should be admissible where it is directly relevant to a case.
That, though, is an important proviso. In UK law, such admissions are covered by the status of “similar fact” – and before they can be laid out in open court, prosecution or defence are supposed to ask the judge for permission to do so.
That’s no guarantee that a lot of rubbish won’t be brought up “inadvertently” – but at least it provides some sort of safeguard. At base, it means that neither the victim, nor individual on trial, can be hauled over the coals just because their lifestyle may go down badly with the jury.
It means – or should mean – that the defence don’t get to bring in stuff that amounts to little more than “she’s a slut” because “she dresses provocatively” or she drinks or even, shock! horror! is occasionally known to take drugs.
Character, where it is directly relevant, is relevant: but trawling through someone’s character on the basis of proving that they’re a bit of a bad person and therefore not to be believed is outrageous.
There is a move afoot in the UK courts to direct prosecution and defence to argue rape cases “on the case”, rather than on the personalities. We shall wait to see whether that happens – or whether the really clever lawyers find ways round that too.
In the meantime, Ms Diallo may yet be thankful that she has been spared a monstering, at the hands of Strauss-Kahn’s defence team. US women, in general, may, however, be left wondering just how “pure” they need to be in order not to be raped.
Because if nothing else, the message that has gone out loud and clear from this distressing episode is that the victim WILL be on trial for their life and lifestyle – and if they don’t measure up to saintliness of Mother Theresa like proportions, they had better watch out.
That’s not a good result – for anyone.
Meanwhile, a head of steam is building up behind a US political campaign to have the alleged Lockerbie bomber extradited from Libya to stand trial in the US.
Ironic, really: when it comes to dealing with the rights of an alleged victim, the US courts regard reputation as king; yet US politicians are seemingly impervious to the thought, very well-rehearsed this side of the atlantic, that US hysteria over Lockerbie makes it very unlikely that anyone tried for that offence could possibly obtain a fair trial.