Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Justice Or Lynching Of DSK?

Anita's frail and gentle 80 year old uncle living by himself in Pune (India) is deathly afraid of changing his maid who has been giving him grief.  He cites many accounts of maids falsely alleging sexual assault by (even elderly) male employers when there were disputes or in revenge for perceived grievances.  He also quoted news of a rising trend of women in ones and twos hitching rides with unsuspecting male motorists and then demanding cash and valuables failing which they'd raise an alarm about attempted molestation.

Many years ago during my own IAS training, Mr. M.K. Kaw, one of our illustrious senior officials cautioned: "If you have a woman in your office make sure there's a third person around."  I took that advice to heart and repeated it to others, including a mid level forest official many years later when I was inquiring into a sexual harassment complaint against him by one of his female employees.  He was lucky to be cleared because of inconsistencies in her statements and evidence of her involvement with his enemies in influential circles.

It's the same in the US.  For example rape accusations were made up and vigorously pursued against three Duke lacrosse players in 2006.  And some may recall the media circus around the 1991 rape trial and acquittal of JFK's nephew, William Kennedy Smith.

We hear much about how difficult it can be for a rape victim to press charges, and how the proceedings questioning her and going into her own background can hurt her twice.  That needs to be balanced with the way improper handling can severely and irreversibly damage the falsely accused even if he is eventually cleared.

I have long had issues with the US justice system per my Sept. 3, '09 post, which coddles convicted criminals while paying lip service to presumption of innocence and needlessly humiliating the accused.  This brings me to the sexual assault charges against IMF (ex-)chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) who's hardly a sympathetic figure. He's widely known to be a womanizer and philanderer, though he may be in an open marriage - his wife has gone to great lengths to bail him out and to support him.  More disturbing is his supposedly consensual affair three years ago with a subordinate and former IMF economist that could involve sexual harassment. While DSK got off then with a reprimand I agree with the view that this made him unsuitable to head the IMF.

But considering just the current allegations there's little doubt that the accusing hotel maid performed a sex act on him - the DNA evidence confirms this and the defense has not denied it.  The key question is whether he forced himself on her or was the act consensual. Polls show a little over half the Americans believe the former while a majority of the French believe the latter (and that DSK was set up by his opponents as he was likely to become the next French President.)

I am with the French and skeptical of the sexual assault allegations.  Here's why:
  •  DSK is a 5'7" flabby, pasty 62 year old who looks like he'd be bested by a younger woman in a physical struggle, leave alone being able to corner, subdue and force himself upon her.  And remain aroused through all this. 
  • Young women have teeth. DSK had no weapons to cow the maid into complying with oral sex.  She could have interrupted proceedings while inflicting serious damage by biting down hard.  Wouldn't DSK be aware of this risk and be deterred by it?
  • DSK has a reputation for seduction, but this is very different from a rapist physically forcing himself on a woman. DSK is rich enough to pay for sex which is what I suspect was the deal that day (or so he thought.)  If so, he still has a problem telling the truth and facing criminal consequences of abetting prostitution.  I favor decriminalizing the world's oldest profession as long as it does not involve minors, coercion or trafficking, but that's not how the law stands in New York.
  • The police cite DSK's previous conduct including hitting on other staff and inviting two receptionists to his room the previous evening for a drink as supporting "proof" of his criminal state of mind.  But the implications can be just the opposite.  If the staff shared their experience with others, it would be widely known that he was seeking out women, and give his enemies a good way to set him up.
  • The maid should not have had this room on her cleaning list because  DSK was supposed to check out that day.  Hotels have routine systems in place that flag rooms for cleaning only after the guest has left.  So did the hotel make a mistake, or was she not supposed to enter in the first place?  Another curious coincidence is that she was not supposed to be working on that floor, but volunteered to do so in place of an absent colleague.
  • The maid further seems to have ignored protocol by not knocking loudly and repeatedly before entering the suite.  By her account she then went deep enough into the suite before noticing it was occupied as to be prevented from leaving when DSK emerged naked from the bathroom.  
The police and prosecutors aware of all this should have been cautious in their approach.  I'd imagine they at least had the maid take a polygraph (lie detector) test to satisfy themselves even though it's inadmissible in court.

We saw the police parading DSK in handcuffs in media glare in a humiliating "perp walk" that is banned in Europe and even by a Supreme Court order in a developing country like India.  Worse, the initial judge Melissa Jackson abused her discretion in denying DSK bail because he is a flight risk.  Is her action stemming from sheer stupidity or pomposity combined with an ego kick at bringing down an international leader and reveling in media attention?

What age are she and the police living in?  With DSK wearing an electronic ankle monitor, under police guard and surveillance, and his passport seized, how did they find the prospect of DSK pulling a Houdini and escaping realistic?  I think this judge is a disgrace and unfit to hold office.  A superior court eventually granted DSK bail with home confinement but I wish there was a system in place for immediate appeal or review of the first judge's decision so DSK wasn't sent to Riker's Island jail in the first place.

Even if DSK is acquitted of sexual assault (and I'd lay the odds on that despite a lot of noise to the contrary) the damage is already done.  He's already had to resign from the IMF and a future presidential bid looks dead.

The solace we can take is that in his case two wrongs may have made a right.  His romp with his subordinate in the IMF in 2008 should have cost him his IMF job, but didn't, and the latest allegations should not have severely damaged him until they were proved, but did.