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Protest, Praise After Charges Dismissed Against Former IMF Chief

Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn, center, leaves Manhattan state Supreme court with his wife Anne Sinclair, left, and attorney Benjamin Brafman in New York, August 23, 2011
Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn, center, leaves Manhattan state Supreme court with his wife Anne Sinclair, left, and attorney Benjamin Brafman in New York, August 23, 2011
Carolyn Weaver

Saying that a “nightmare for me and my family” is over with the dismissal of sexual-assault charges against him, former International Monetary Fund chief and potential French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn reportedly plans to return to France soon.

A New York State Supreme Court Justice agreed Tuesday with the Manhattan District Attorney’s recommendation that the charges be dropped because prosecutors no longer believed the hotel maid who accused Strauss-Kahn, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo.

Strauss-Kahn’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, applauded what he called the “courage” of District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., telling reporters, “It is an extraordinary event to have a district attorney stand up in a public courtroom and dismiss an indictment, concluding that the complaining witness is not worthy of belief.”

Vance’s office, which had first aggressively pursued the prosecution, was left to defend itself against protests by some women’s and African-American civic groups. Yasmeen Hassan of the international women’s rights group Equality Now, said Diallo’s admitted false statements to prosecutors, including her lie about having been gang-raped previously in her native Guinea, and her shifting accounts of her actions immediately after the alleged assault, should still not have ruined her chance to seek justice. “The message has been sent very clearly that only certain types of victims, basically who are people who are saints, will be taken seriously by the D.A.’s office,” Hassan said.

Hassan said that Diallo’s account of the details of the alleged sexual attack had not varied. She said a jury also should have been given a chance to judge physical evidence showing Strauss-Kahn’s DNA and semen on Diallo’s uniform and underclothes, and to evaluate the short time frame of about 15 minutes in which the alleged attack occurred. “You believe that a maid would just walk into a room, see a guest and perform oral sex on them consensually, and leave?” Hassan asked, noting that Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers have acknowledged what they claimed was a consensual sexual encounter between their client and Diallo.

However, Stuart Slotnick, a former state prosecutor, applauded Vance’s decision to seek dismissal of the charges. He said that prosecutors had no other ethical choice, given that they themselves no longer trusted the victim’s words, or believed beyond a reasonable doubt in Strauss-Kahn’s guilt. Slotnick said that some cases are impossible to prosecute largely because an alleged victim lacks credibility.

“There may be, unfortunately, cases where there are people that are mentally challenged or have mental illness,” he said, “[and] are so incredible, because they cannot say what happened with certainty, and they change their story, that you just cannot prosecute it – even though there may have been a crime that was committed.” As Slotnick noted, a tenet of the U.S. justice system is that it is better for a guilty person to go free than for an innocent one to be convicted, and so the risk of error is always balanced in favor of a defendant.

Hassan counters that New York prosecutors too often discount sexual-assault victims as not believable, and that after the Strauss-Kahn case, women now will be more afraid to raise the charge. “Nobody is going to come forward after this,” she said. “What we have seen is that a person who has come forward, they have been made into a defendant, and their past has been scrutinized and laid out in the media. Already, Department of Justice statistics are that more than 60 percent of rapes are not reported. I think the numbers will go up after this."

Vance’s office scheduled a private meeting with women’s groups the day after the charges against Strauss-Kahn were dismissed to discuss its handling of sexual-assault cases. Earlier, it released a statement saying it was committed to prosecuting such cases, including those with victims who have, “imperfect pasts,” as long as prosecutors believed they are telling the truth.

For his part, Strauss-Kahn reportedly is considering filing a countersuit against Diallo, who sued him in civil court in July. When he returns home to France, he will also face investigation into another alleged sexual assault that the complainant, writer Tristane Banon, says took place in 2003.

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