Sex, Lies, and Audiotape
The collapse of the Strauss-Kahn case is a victory for corroboration and justice.
The woman now says she didn't want to contradict the story she had told in her asylum application. She says she told the story that way in the application order to get asylum. She says she really was raped, just not in the way she had originally reported.
But now we're talking about a rape accuser who admits to having lied about a rape, apparently with the same compelling detail and conviction she originally showed in this case.
The June 30 letter also says she has changed her version of the Strauss-Kahn incident. Originally, she told detectives and the grand jury that after the assault, she fled to a hallway and waited until her supervisor arrived. Now, according to the letter, she has "admitted that this account was false and that after the incident in Suite 2806, she proceeded to clean a nearby room and then returned to Suite 2806 and began to clean that suite before she reported the incident to her supervisor."
Unfortunately for her, investigators found a way to test her new story: the card key she carried as a hotel employee. On Friday, they procured records showing that according to her card key, she didn't go to the other room till she had finished Strauss-Kahn's room.
Then there's the phone problem. The woman told investigators she had only one phone. But the Times says they've found records indicating that she "was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies." The June 30 letter says she "was untruthful … about a variety of additional topics concerning her history, background, present circumstances and personal relationships."
None of this makes the semen or the bruises go away. Prosecutors say there's still evidence to suggest that the encounter was coercive. Maybe. But it would be a travesty to send anyone to jail based on the evidence we've seen so far. On Friday, I still thought Strauss-Kahn was guilty. Today, I don't. And that was before the New York Post leaked the defense team's allegations that the accuser received "extraordinary tips" of a suggestive nature. That, too, can presumably be checked.
Already, there are cries of concern that if the case disintegrates, it will destroy the credibility of rape victims or immigrants, while powerful abusers will go free. That's the wrong conclusion. The unraveling of the Strauss-Kahn prosecution is a victory for justice, because investigators found ways to check the accuser's credibility. Other accusers will pass such tests. This one didn't. What the collapse of this case proves is that it's possible to distinguish true rape accusations from false ones—and that the government, having staked its reputation on an accuser's credibility, diligently investigated her and disclosed her lies. The system worked.
None of this would have been possible without the layers of electronic surveillance and record-keeping—card keys, phone taps, tax returns, public housing forms, bank and billing data—that pervade our lives. We often complain that these devices and databases impinge on our freedom. Today, they have given a man his freedom. And they have given all of us hope that even when only two people were in the room, we can find ways to ascertain who's telling the truth.
Correction, July 6, 2011: The June 30 letter from the New York District Attorney's office says the accuser submitted a Dec. 30, 2004, asylum application to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Originally, I repeated this description of the application. However, the INS was abolished in 2003, with its functions dispersed among three immigration agencies. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Dominique Strauss-Kahn by Jessica Rinaldi/AFP/Getty Images.