A different law for IMF presidents

Sandy Boyer and Nicole Colson report on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn speaking at an IMF event in April (Cliff Owen)Dominique Strauss-Kahn speaking at an IMF event in April (Cliff Owen)

DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN, the millionaire former president of the International Monetary Fund and leader of France's center-left Socialist Party, is charged with raping a West African immigrant housekeeper in a five-star Manhattan hotel.

But Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. seems like he wants to make the whole case go away. After initially agreeing to $1 million bail and house arrest, Vance arranged for Strauss-Kahn to be released without any bail. According to press accounts, prosecutors and Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have met about a deal in which the case would be dropped.

The housekeeper stands by her charges. Her attorney, Kenneth Thompson, told the New York Times, "She wants to testify to the world what Strauss-Kahn did to her."

But now her credibility has been called into question--by prosecutors and the media alike. The housekeeper is alleged to have had a conversation with someone in an immigration detention center about the possible financial benefits of accusing a wealthy man. Other charges against her include claims that she lied on her political asylum application and that she had a bank account with irregular cash deposits--though such things are hardly unknown among the immigrant working poor.

Even if everything is true--and the housekeeper, through her lawyer, has strenuously denied the allegations that she was lying or seeking money--there is no reason not to bring Strauss-Kahn to trial. There is abundant evidence to substantiate the accusations made by the housekeeper.

DNA tests found Strauss-Kahn's semen on the housekeeper's shirt. In fact, all sides agree that a sexual encounter took place, but Strauss-Kahn's lawyers claim it was consensual. Yet four hotel workers who spoke to the housekeeper right after the encounter with Strauss-Kahn all said she was extremely distressed. Two of these workers are retired New York City police officers. As a hotel worker told The New York Times, "You had two former police officers who didn't think she was making it up."

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BUT ALL this has disappeared in a media circus where the accuser has had every detail of her life thrown open to public scrutiny. As usual, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post stooped to the lowest point with a front-page headline attacking the woman as a "hooker"--claiming she had traded sex for money.

The French press, not to be outdone, published the woman's name and photos. Paris Match, a French society magazine, reported that Strauss-Kahn's lawyers regarded the accuser as "not very alluring" ("tres peu seduisante"), before going on to relate details of the woman's supposed physique--as if this were evidence of Strauss-Kahn's innocence.

Meanwhile, a number of women have come forward in the wake of Strauss-Kahn's arrest to say that they were sexually harassed by him. French writer Tristane Banon, the daughter of a Socialist Party officeholder, has accused Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her in 2002.

From the breathless media coverage, you might think there's an epidemic of false rape allegations leveled at powerful men in order to ruin their lives. In reality, according to the American Prosecutors Research Institute, false reports of rape in the U.S. are between 2 and 8 percent--on par with false reports of other crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, some 60 percent of rapes and sexual assaults are never reported to police--in part precisely because victims are hesitant to have their supposed motives picked apart and their lives subjected to intense public scrutiny.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, when unreported rape cases are factored in, only about 6 percent of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.

The media frenzy surrounding the Strauss-Kahn case sends a disturbing, if familiar, message to women: If you are going to come forward to report a sexual assault, you better be sure there's nothing in your past or current behavior that could be used against you. If you are not a "perfect victim," don't bother seeking justice.

The dynamics of race and class are also crystal clear in this case--as people from New York's African American community who rallied last week to demand that Strauss-Kahn be brought to trial pointed out. "This is a very powerful white man--this is a very poor African woman," said state Sen. Bill Perkins. "For us to ignore race would not really be looking at reality."

Even Strauss-Kahn is entitled to be presumed innocent until a jury finds him guilty--this is a constitutional protection that ordinary working people need far more than wealthy international bankers. But this doesn't entitle him to avoid going on trial for rape.

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FROM A very early stage, Strauss-Kahn's treatment has been a case of the special law that exists for the rich.

Imagine for a moment that the accused wasn't Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the president of the IMF who was staying in one of New York's most luxurious hotels, but Frank Smith, a Detroit autoworker in New York City on vacation and staying in a Holiday Inn.

Strauss-Kahn was initially released on $1 million bail and placed under house arrest in his wife's Manhattan penthouse. Frank Smith would still be in jail on Rikers Island.

Strauss-Kahn has the best attorneys money can buy. William Taylor III is a senior partner in the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder, which is ranked as the top white-collar crime firm in Washington, D.C., according to Chambers USA, which researches and ranks U.S. firms. Benjamin Brafman is one of New York City's most prominent--and no doubt most expensive--defense attorneys. Frank Smith would be lucky to have a Legal Aid lawyer who was juggling dozens of other serious cases.

Prosecutors appear to be preparing to drop the charges against Strauss-Kahn. In all probability, they would be pressuring Frank Smith to plead guilty and agree to a prison sentence. People who can't afford bail face months on Rikers Island, one of New York's most horrific jails, if they insist on going to trial.

None of this proves that Strauss-Kahn is a rapist. But it does illustrate the very different way that the law works for the wealthy and influential--compared to ordinary working people.

Strauss-Kahn is a leader of the Socialist Party in France. If the charges are dropped, he may return home and run against right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy for the country's presidency, as he was expected to before his arrest.

But if the president of the IMF can be a socialist, a skunk never sprays anything but the most fragrant perfume.

The IMF's structural adjustment policies have forced poor nations to slash spending on health, education and nutrition to pay debts to international lenders. The IMF has consigned millions of people, especially children, to poverty and malnutrition.

Socialists believe working people can abolish poverty when we own and democratically control our own societies. We are proud to stand with the working women and men of the world against the international bankers and bureaucrats.

When Dominique Strauss-Kahn is called a socialist, we socialists feel like we're being slandered.