The Strauss-Kahn case is not about winning or losing, but opening a dialogue on rape, violence and gender
The events unfolding in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF accused of sexually assaulting a hotel chambermaid, are both surprising and surprisingly not surprising. The New York Times first reported claims that there were serious problems with the prosecution relating to the credibility of Strauss-Kahn's accuser, who is originally from Guinea.
On Friday allies of the one-time French presidential hopeful welcomed this speculation, expressing hope for his swift return to the political scene. But the collapse of this case is not the worst thing that could happen: that would be for us all to retreat into our corners, to retrench our polarised positions. What is important is what we learn from this global episode, and what dialogue it leads us to.
This is a stream of the questions running in my head all morning.
How do you fight a rape case if you have lied in your past? How do you fight a rape case if you have been sexually active? How do you fight a rape case as a woman who wants a future in journalism, politics, banking, international affairs? How do you fight a rape case and ever hope to be taken seriously again or be perceived as anything other than a raped victim?
How do you fight a rape case as a woman in places like Congo where there are no real courts and no one is held accountable? How do you fight a rape case as an illegal immigrant with no rights in that country?
How do you fight a rape case if you still believe rape is your fault, if you don't even know what rape is, if you are afraid of upsetting your boyfriend/husband, or afraid of getting him in trouble because he will be more violent to you?
How do we get men to stop raping lesbians or independent or highly sexual women as a "corrective act" rather than addressing the forces and powers they are truly angry at? How do we get men to understand the impact of rape: how the external bruises are internalised and remain for ever?
How do you speak out against rape and not be called a man hater, a gold digger, a slut? How do you convince women to speak out when their character is called into public question?
How do you speak out against incest or childhood sexual abuse if your mother is sleeping with the man who is abusing you, and you know she loves that man or will not believe you?
How do you speak out against the adored, handsome, powerful, charming company president/caring psychotherapist/honoured history professor/visionary film director when you risk being despised by those around him? How do you speak out against the charismatic leader of the party or country when to do so jeopardises the standing of the party, the country itself, and could let the opposition take power?
How do you press charges for sexual harassment and not worry about losing your job, or being seen as weak or unable to protect yourself or hang with the guys and "take a joke".
When do we stop separating how we treat women from our vision of a free, equal, just world – ie how do you call yourself a socialist, an intellectual, a leader, a freedom fighter, an anti-apartheid, anti-racism, pro-earth champion, and not make honouring women a central part of that equation?
How do we create a real dialogue between men and woman about violence: what it does, how it hurts? How do we stop saying that women who are opposed to violence hate sex? When do we stop seeing them as the same thing?
The DSK scandal has rocked the world: it has brought into question issues of sex, power, race, class and gender. It is not simply a matter of winning or losing this particular case. The stakes are much higher. This case is a defining moment, a signifier of the direction we move in – towards transformation or more abuse and loss.
By Basil Katz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest on Friday as prosecutors investigated questions about the credibility of the woman he is charged with trying to rape.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, still faces charges over the alleged attack on a hotel maid in New York but the case appears to be shifting in his favor in a turn of events that could upend French politics.
Until his May 14 arrest, Strauss-Kahn was a strong potential challenger to Conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in France's 2012 election. Jubilant supporters in the French Socialist party hoped he might rejoin the presidential race but some analysts saw his chances as too tarnished.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, saying the credibility of the woman had been thrown into serious doubt, want the charges dropped. The judge said prosecutors will reexamine the evidence after they revealed in court documents that the maid had lied to a grand jury about her actions after the alleged attack.
"I understand that the circumstances of this case have changed substantially and I agree the risk that he would not be here has receded quite a bit," Justice Michael Obus told the court as he released Strauss-Kahn.
"There will be no rush to judgment. The people will continue to investigate and reexamine the matter as appropriate."
Strauss-Kahn agreed to return to court as needed, including for a July 18 hearing. His bail payment was returned to him but his passport was not, meaning he can travel only within the United States.
With his resignation on May 19, Strauss-Kahn severed all his ties to the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde, who has just stepped down as French finance minister, takes over the top IMF job on Tuesday.
The case has hinged on the accuser, a 32-year-old Guinean immigrant who cleaned the $3,000-a-night suite at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan where Strauss-Kahn was staying.
Prosecutors found issues with the accuser's asylum application, her tax return and her statements to the grand jury investigating the assault case, court documents show.
Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told the court "the facts of the sexual encounter was and is corroborated" but some details appear to have changed.
The woman initially said Strauss-Kahn assaulted her and she then cowered in the hallway outside his room until he left and she felt safe to seek help. Now, prosecutors say, she admits she cleaned a nearby room and then returned to Strauss-Kahn's suite to start cleaning before reporting the incident.
After the dramatic revelations, Strauss-Kahn's lawyer Benjamin Brafman said he wants the charges dropped.
"We believed from the beginning that this case was not what it appeared to be and we are absolutely convinced that while today is a first giant step in the right direction, the next step will lead to a complete dismissal of the charges," Brafman said.
The woman's brother told Reuters in Guinea that she was the victim of a smear campaign.
Her lawyer, Kenneth Thompson, said after the hearing his client's story had never wavered and that Strauss-Kahn had bruised her badly and tore a ligament in her shoulder.
"The claim that this was consensual is a lie," Thompson told reporters. "She made some mistakes but that doesn't mean she is not a rape victim."
The New York Times quoted law enforcement officials as saying prosecutors found possible links between the accuser and people involved in drug dealing and money laundering.
They also discovered the woman made a phone call to an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him, the paper said.
The conversation was recorded. The man was among a number of people who had made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman's bank account over the last two years, The New York Times said.
(Additional reporting by Grant McCool, Christine Kearney, Paula Rogo and Bernd Debussmann Jr in New York, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Marie Maitre, Catherine Bremer and Geert De Clercq in Paris and Saliou Samb in Guinea; Writing by Mark Egan; Editing by John O'Callaghan)