Strauss-Kahn case threat to victim credibility: campaigners

23rd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Women's rights groups fear the decision to drop the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York could undermine the voice of sex assault victims already reluctant to blow the whistle.

A judge in New York on Tuesday dismissed all the claims of hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo against the former International Monetary Fund chief and one-time French presidential hopeful.

Prosecutors said the accuser had been "persistently untruthful" in describing matters to investigators and although forensic and medical evidence suggested a sexual encounter, it was not possible to prove that it was forced.

"We'll never know what happened" without a criminal trial, said Carine Favier, president of the French family planning movement.

"Certain factors have shown that rape was possible," Favier said of the encounter at the Sofitel on May 14.

French media quoted earlier this month a medical report which said an examination of Diallo, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea, concluded that she had been raped. Strauss-Kahn lawyers slammed the report as "inaccurate".

Whatever happened in the luxury hotel suite, the dropping of charges leaves "a bitter taste," said Olivia Cattan, president of the Paroles de Femmes Association.

She, like Favier, fears that a woman's word has suffered as a result of the so-called DSK affair.

"It has never been easy to press charges for rape. I'm scared that after this story there will be repercussions," said Cattan.

Research suggests that just 10 percent of France's 75,000 rape victims file a complaint each year. In cases of domestic violence, 80 percent of victims do not report it to police and only about half of those who do file a complaint.

"There is no such thing as a good or bad victim," says the Osez le Feminisme!, or Dare to be Feminist, group.

"Nothing a woman has done or said in the past should take away from the violence she has suffered."

When the case broke in May it may have encouraged more women to stand up and report rape, but there are now fears it could have forced the campaign into a backward step.

Marie-George Buffet, a lawmaker with the French Communist Party, said the decision "runs the risk of returning women's rights back to a time where rape victims were presumed guilty, where rape wasn't considered a crime."

Diallo's lawyers, too, say they are concerned about the effect of the way the proceedings were handled.

"Miss Diallo was treated as a defendant more than a victim," New York lawyer Douglas Wigdor told a press conference in Paris on Tuesday.

"In the future, all sexual victims will unfortunately think twice before coming forward."

Outside the New York courthouse outraged protesters slammed the district attorney's decision as a miscarriage of justice.

"We want the DA to continue to press charges against DSK," said Alison Turkos, from Slut Walk NYC, a group combating sexual violence against women.

Judge Michael Obus agreed to drop all charges and dismissed a last-ditch attempt by the maid's lawyers to have a special prosecutor appointed.

However, Strauss-Kahn still needs to wait 30 days for the ruling to be final as a higher court considers an appeal on the special prosecutor.

© 2011 AFP

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