Monday, April 23, 2012

On the credibility of rape victims

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 24 March 2012)

Rape victims are not always ten-year-old little girls who couldn’t possibly have done anything at all to provoke the lust of a grown man (although this week’s headlines have those, too). Those who rape little girls are obviously demented. Rape victims are also grown women.

Sometimes these adult women have consensual sex with men (aghast!) and as such they are often blamed for being raped since they happen to enjoy sex. After all, if a woman enjoys consensual sex, she must also enjoy being forced to have savage intercourse against her will, right?

This means that in sexual assault cases, a woman who has sex has a credibility issue. This is absolutely ludicrous, yet that is life for women in today’s patriarchal society. Women obviously want to be brutally raped, have all sense of security ripped from them and live with emotional turmoil for the rest of their lives.

Then there are women who, on top of having and enjoying consensual sex, may have additional credibility problems. Maybe she has lied or done something immoral in the past (who hasn’t?), or perhaps she had some drinks the night she was raped (being tipsy must mean she wanted to be raped) or maybe she wore a slinky, eye-catching dress (whatever was she thinking?).

In other words, if a rape victim didn’t have a credibility problem from the start simply because she was a woman and enjoyed sex before being raped, she would definitely have one if she is less than perfect in the eyes of law enforcement and judicial systems run by men.

A reader of this column recently sent me a March 5 article entitled, “Alan Dershowitz Convicts DSK,” from Newsweek’s Daily Beast on the credibility issue with the rape victim involving French elitist and former International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK). DSK was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper who was a Guinean immigrant when she went to his room to clean it.

DSK got off scot-free because the prosecutor felt the victim had credibility issues.

What made this article so very interesting is that it describes Alan Dershowitz, America’s famous defence lawyer (think high-profile defendants such as televangelist Jim Bakker, football star OJ Simpson, boxer Mike Tyson and publishing heiress Patty Hearst), as he assumes the role of prosecutor in a mock sexual assault trial against DSK that never happened in real life. This was done for his legal ethics class at Harvard University.

Dershowitz was convinced he could secure a guilty conviction, even with the victim’s credibility problems. However, being the extraordinary defence attorney that he is, Dershowitz did not hold this opinion from the start. He was convinced by Sofitel lawyer Lanny Davis who told him, “Many rape victims have credibility issues. But what does it say to future rape victims if a case with this much physical evidence and credible outcry witnesses gets dropped because the victim lied about how she got in the country and other personal issues?”

This mock trial was Dershowitz’s way of addressing the issue of credibility with rape victims. Here is a portion of the Daily Beast article as it describes the mock trial:

First, Dershowitz would tell the jury they had every right to doubt the accuser. Second, Dershowitz would seek to get entered into evidence a picture of Strauss-Kahn’s naked body, possibly from the police forensic exam after his arrest. If that failed, Dershowitz would have to help jurors picture in their imagination a naked 62-year-old DSK – overweight and slightly hunched, his chest sunken and his skin sagging from the natural progression of age. With the ground rules established, Dershowitz took centre stage.

The classroom was silent, with students hanging on every word.

“What we are asking you to do is to look at all the facts in the case and decide based on all the facts whether she is, in fact, telling the truth about this one instance, mainly that she was sexually assaulted in that hotel room,” Dershowitz bellowed in his usual impassioned courtroom voice. “Ladies and gentlemen, you have seen the photograph of Dominique Strauss-Kahn naked. Now I just want you to imagine for a second him walking out of the shower, stark naked, and this young woman who you see before you, an attractive young woman, looks at him.”

Finally, there are a few giggles from the jurors’ box. Then another hush.

“Now the theory of the defence is that she looked at him and could not resist her lustful temptations to have seven minutes of oral sex with this man. She simply couldn’t control herself,” he continued, a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“She didn’t do it for pay because if she did, you would have heard in the media or this courtroom the theory that this was a financial transaction. She didn’t do it because she was forced to, if you believe the defence. She did it because she wanted to. And why would she want to? The only reason she would want to, according to the defence, is that she was so lustfully driven by this beautiful 62-year-old, white-haired, overweight man’s presence that she couldn’t resist his chops.”

Dershowitz continues, “Now, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if you believe that story you should acquit. But if you don’t believe that – if you say to yourself that there is no plausible basis for that account – then you have to seriously consider the prosecution’s account: mainly that she was forced to submit to his sexual advances. And you can do so whether or not you believe she is a woman who is generally credible in the other aspects of her life, whether or not this is a woman who has previously lied about other important matters in her life.”

The brilliance of Dershowitz in this mock trial has set the stage for successful future convictions of rapists regardless of the credibility of the victim. It should also be noted that the evidence against the rapist in this trial was substantial and he has been accused of this type of thing before. There is no doubt in my mind that DSK should be in jail for a very long time.

Seriously, why on earth would any young, attractive woman in her right mind willingly choose to have sex with an old, wrinkled, overweight dirt-bag? She wouldn’t.

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