Sex, Lies, and Audiotape
The collapse of the Strauss-Kahn case is a victory for corroboration and justice.
The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is collapsing. And no matter what you think generally about rape, overaggressive prosecutors, or Strauss-Kahn's behavior with women, you should celebrate. This isn't a defeat for women or the justice system. It's a victory for the power of corroboration.
New York authorities arrested Strauss-Kahn on May 14 in part because they trusted his accuser, a housekeeper at the hotel where the incident took place. She had reported the incident right away. Her account was detailed and, according to prosecutors, "compelling." She seemed devoutly religious. She had held the same job for several years. But she also had corroborating evidence. Hotel security officers found semen on the wall and floor of the hotel room. Prosecutors told the judge that an "expert forensic examination of the victim was consistent with her version of events." Reportedly, this included a DNA match between Strauss-Kahn and semen on the woman's shirt. An official says the exam also found vaginal bruising.
But bruising alone doesn't prove rape. And semen only proves sex, which Strauss-Kahn's lawyers never denied. So the case seemed likely to boil down to he-said-she-said. And that's scary, because without corroborating evidence, there's a high risk of terrible injustice. A guilty man might get away with rape. Or an innocent man might be convicted.
We've now been spared that nightmare, thanks to the availability and diligent pursuit of evidence against which to check the accuser's credibility. The government has found external ways to test her veracity. And she has flunked.
The first test, according to a June 30 letter from the district attorney's office, is the woman's previous application for asylum, submitted to U.S. immigration authorities in 2004. * In it, she claimed to have suffered persecution, beating, and incarceration in her native Guinea. After Strauss-Kahn's arrest, investigators asked the woman about her life in Guinea. Her story didn't match what she had reported in the application. According to the letter, she admitted to investigators that what she had reported on the application was false.
The next test is her tax returns. They show that for two years, she has padded her refund by claiming as a dependent a child who turns out to be a friend's child, not hers.
Then there's the income she has reported in order to qualify for public housing. Apparently, it doesn't check out. According to the letter, she has now "admitted to misrepresenting her income" for this purpose.
You can argue that these discrepancies are understandable, minor, or irrelevant. But according to the New York Times, a day after accusing Strauss-Kahn, the woman placed a phone call to her boyfriend. The call was recorded, evidently because the boyfriend was in a detention center after being arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. Apparently, authorities were unaware of the call until several days later, when they learned from another recorded call, between the boyfriend and another man, that the boyfriend's paramour was the woman in the Strauss-Kahn case. The phone call from the woman was conducted in a Guinean dialect, so the DA's office had to get the recording translated. The translation, completed on Wednesday, reportedly shows her saying, in the paraphrase of a law enforcement official: "Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing."
According to the Times, investigators have also found bank records "showing deposits of thousands of dollars in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania to an account" in the woman's name. The deposits were in multiple cash transactions, adding up to around $100,000, and one of the depositors was the boyfriend. They imply a possible drug-running scheme, and they certainly contradict the woman's repeated statements that her housekeeping job was her only income source. According to the Times, investigators met with the woman and her lawyer on Tuesday and "confronted her with the bank records. The woman, silent, turned to [her lawyer], seemingly pleading for direction on how to respond. He seemed startled." One official says the lawyer "was speechless."
As for her initially "compelling" account of the Strauss-Kahn incident, the letter from the DA's office indicates she was equally compelling in her original descriptions of having been gang-raped in Guinea. In two interviews with assistant DAs, the letter reports, she "cried and appeared to be markedly distraught" as she described in detail the Guinea rape. But later, "she admitted that the gang rape had never occurred" and that she had "fabricated the details."
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.