The first order of business for a man accused of rape is to discredit the accuser. If he can paint her as promiscuous or having some sort of shady background, the strength of her charges will diminish. This doesn’t, of course, mean the man is innocent, but the more dirt that can be dug up on the woman, the better his prospects are for acquittal.
This is the way it has always been and the way our legal system allows these types of cases to proceed. Smear the accuser, and you might just get away with it.
Another ugly little secret about pending rape charges is that if the defense team can’t scare the woman away by telling her what they’ve discovered about her past, they then approach prosecutors. They lay out the negative information they’ve gathered about the woman and make it clear the jury will hear all about it — dimming the prospect for the prosecutor’s success at trial. After this realization hits, the charges are often dropped and the woman feels victimized all over again.
To be sure, everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and there are, indeed, false charges of rape leveled. But once a case goes forward toward court, the woman knows the mortifying medical exam she endured will be the least of her humiliations. She will have to relive the crime in front of total strangers. Her friends and family will be questioned about her character. Her life will be picked over like vultures on roadkill. Women who press forward with rape complaints are rarely doing it on a lark.
Keep the way the system works in mind, and then consider this question: Is there to be no justice for a woman with a past who is raped? How about a woman who once served time for, say, check fraud or who once had a drug-dealing boyfriend, or a woman who was forced to work as a prostitute to survive? When they are sexually attacked, does the man get a pass because of her past?
These are not just cerebral questions. They have real-life application. Remember the 19-year-old hotel staffer who charged NBA superstar Kobe Bryant with rape? She had her sanity questioned, her reputation destroyed and her life turned upside-down by Bryant’s high-paid investigators. Despite her injuries, she ultimately refused to testify at trial and accepted an undisclosed sum in a civil-suit payoff.
Now in New York a similar drama is playing out. A 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea has accused French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a powerful man who once ran the International Monetary Fund, of grabbing her by the arm and forcing her into a sex act inside the hotel where she worked as a maid. She was intensely interviewed by veteran investigators, and because her physical injuries and other evidence appeared so strong, Strauss-Kahn was hauled off an Air France jet and arrested.
He immediately hired one of the most expensive criminal defense firms in Manhattan. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for revelations about the maid’s personal life to surface. Among the allegations: She exaggerated abuse claims to get asylum in America, she had ties to people with criminal backgrounds and she had unexplained deposits coming into her bank account. There were reports she had worked as a prostitute, and suddenly there was a story that whatever happened in that room at the Sofitel Hotel in downtown New York had been a consensual act.
As more news reports about the maid’s so-called past transgressions surfaced — which I maintain have nothing to do with whether she was sexually assaulted — everyone seemed to overlook her physical injuries. After making the charges, she was taken to a doctor who ordered an MRI and found a torn shoulder. How does someone come up with such an injury if they hadn’t just been in a struggle? Strauss-Kahn’s side whispered that maybe she already had the injury. Yeah, right.
The real truth of what happened may never be known, as it now seems unlikely the case will ever get to court. The Manhattan district attorney is reportedly poised to drop all charges because the woman “just can’t be believed.” If we’re going to be looking into backgrounds, it should be noted there is another woman who claims Strauss-Kahn similarly sexually attacked her in France in 2003.
It smells of green justice. Green, as in the color of the money needed to dig up inflammatory information about those who charge rape. Too often men with money simply make their … um, problem … go away by throwing money at it. And sometimes the women ensure this nasty process will continue by taking lump sums to keep quiet. That only allows the perpetrator to roam free to do it again. It’s a travesty all the way around.
No, not every woman who cries rape is telling the truth. And those who bring false charges should and are being prosecuted for lying to law enforcement. But for those who have been victimized, there’s got to be a better, more honest way for the system to help them get justice. We can help by not believing the false spin.