Claims of DSK accuser’s ‘weakened credibility’ whip media into frenzy

New drama over the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault charges turned into a media frenzy over the last week as the credibility of the alleged victim was called into question.

The New York Times broke the news June 30 that prosecutors were finding holes in the woman’s story and that the case was possibly near collapse. The following day, Strauss-Kahn, a 62-year-old French politician and the former head of the International Monetary Fund, was released on his own recognizance.

This story from the New York Times broke the news about prosecutors questioning the accuser's credibility in the Strauss-Kahn case on June 30.

The actual incident in question took place in May when a 32-year-old housekeeper from Guinea entered the Strauss-Kahn’s suite in a New York hotel to clean it. What happened in the next 20 minutes is what’s under dispute. She’s said it was assault while representatives of Strauss-Kahn have claimed it was consensual. (For some of the details of the incident, see “What happened in room 2806” from the New York Times.)

Among prosecutors’ claims regarding her credibility were that the woman had lied about abuse on her asylum application, had ties to people with criminal backgrounds (including a man she visited the day after the incident and spoke with and some “unexplained” deposits in her bank account), discrepancies on tax returns and changes in her account of what happened that day. However, as many sources have noted, prosecutors did not call into question the sexual assault itself.

Her attorney spoke to the press about the allegations as well as pointed out the strong physical evidence that is still present in the case. He also said the woman would come forward and share her story. Thus far, others have come out to speak to the woman’s credibility, including her union, and have pointed out that these claims of her “lying” may not be what they seem. More often, it has been a case of her listening to poor advice. A statement from the Hotel Workers’ Union pointed out that if she did lie regarding her immigration and tax forms it only makes her “one of probably millions of people who have done the same things.” (For more, read “DSK maid fights back” from the Daily Beast.)

From there, the media erupted both at home and abroad. Since these revelations, the story has grown with now other legal suits coming into play.

Most striking from a media standpoint has been a New York Post cover story that claimed the woman was a “hooker.” She is now fighting back by filing a suit against the Post.

Her credibility wasn’t the only being challenged. Shortly after stories came out about the New York case crumbling, a French writer, Tristane Banon, who had claimed that Strauss-Kahn had tried to
assault her in 2003, announced she would officially accuse him. His lawyers responded by saying they would file a counter complaint against Banon.

Dozens of opinion pieces and analyses have been written on the case. A few can be found linked to below.

Some of the key points of discussion have been the dangers of narratives — whether it was that people were too quick to believe the claims of sexual assault were true because it was a typical case of “the powerful vs. the powerless” or that others were grappling with a belief that a victim must be “perfect” or without blemish. Others have simply pointed out that none should be too quick to judge either side.

Concerns additionally have been expressed over what this attention and treatment will mean for future rape or sexual assault victims (and their likelihood to report their experiences). Writers have pointed out that high-profile cases like this feed into the myth that a disproportionate percentage of sexual assault claims are false. In reality, it’s estimated to be between 2 and 10 percent.

Also receiving attention was the fact that U.S. news sources are continuing their practice to not name the woman involved. We’ll be addressing that issue separately in an upcoming post.

Update (July 11): The next court date in the case has been postponed until Aug. 1 to allow time for further investigation, according to an Associated Press article.

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

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