New York – Despite questions about her credibility, the Sofitel maid who is accusing former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault is still a victim and should be treated as one, according to her attorney.
“The victim here made some mistakes, but that doesn't mean she's not a rape victim,” her attorney, Kenneth Thompson, told reporters on Friday.
He claimed that District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was trying to drop the case in order to save face, and stressed that the 32-year-old alleged victim still deserved justice.
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On Friday, Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest in New York without bail, after prosecutors brought documents before the court challenging his accuser's credibility.
Strauss-Khan's lawyers say the accuser confessed to fabricating the details of her asylum application. They also claim that she lied on income tax documents, and fudged the specifics of her whereabouts after the alleged attack.
But many are questioning the relevance of those confessions to the trial.
“All of those things do not have anything to do with whether or not she was raped,” said Human Rights Watch's Marianne Mollman in an interview with IPS.
“I would like to see one single person who has never told a lie in their life,” she added.
Thompson acknowledged the significance of the new information.
“Her credibility is important, any rape victim's credibility is important,” he said, “but you cannot become blind to the physical, corroborating evidence.” The real question, he said, is, “What is true?”
He noted photos of the accuser's bruises, doctor's reports of a shoulder injury, and a pair of stockings, allegedly torn by Strauss- Kahn as the woman tried to escape.
“When he threw her to the floor, he tore a ligament in her shoulder. That is a fact,” Thompson said. “Dominique Strauss-Kahn ripped her stockings. There are holes in her stockings, and the DA knows that. She spit his semen in the room, she spit it on the floor, and as soon as her supervisor came upstairs, she saw that…Detectives of the NYPD, they saw that,” he added.
According to the accuser's daughter, several weeks ago prosecutors met with the accuser and “mistreated” her, repeatedly screaming and yelling at her.
“The way they had treated the victim was no way to treat a rape victim,” Thompson said.
Refugee status: More valuable than truth?
According to Joseph Chamie, director of research at New York's Center for Migration Studies, most migrants will do whatever it takes to get into the United States.
“Many people are desperate to get into the more developed countries, the wealthier countries, for work,” he told IPS.
“There's more than a billion people in Africa. There's more than a billion people in India, as well as China. We have rapid growth in Pakistan, and we have growth in Central America and the Caribbean. These people, many of them want to leave and go to wealthier places,” he explained.
But poverty is not a recognised condition for refugee status.
“Underdevelopment is not legitimate criteria for being a refugee, so if you're coming from a poor country, you can't claim you're a refugee,” Chamie explained.
“The supply for economic migrants – it's enormous,” he said. “Supply is much larger than demand.”
So with the stakes set high, some resort to forging their asylum documents.
And once these migrants are in the country, they will do what it takes to stay. Many immigrants – especially those who are undocumented – face exploitation by employers but “feel reluctant to come forward because they may be identified and asked to return home,” according to Chamie.
“Especially women,” he noted. “They're more likely to be victimised than men.”
Now there are concerns that the handling of the Strauss-Kahn case will hinder other vulnerable women from seeking help.
Human Rights Watch's Mollman pointed to other obstacles in the justice system for migrants, such as language barriers.
“That's something that we've seen with immigrants in other types of cases,” she said, “not just for sexual assault cases.”
As for Strauss-Kahn's accuser, Thompson hopes the judge can look beyond her history and focus on the details of the case.
“She has never once changed a single thing about the account,” he said, regardless of her other admissions.
“What's disturbing is that what we're talking about here is not the evidence of the rape – it's about other parts of her life,” she said.
“Already there are many excuses for rape that have been used successfully that are outrageous,” she said, listing a few: 'It's not rape if she was drunk,' 'It's not rape if it's my wife,' 'It's not rape if it's my daughter,' 'It's not rape if my culture says that I need to do this.'
“There are all kinds of excuses,” she told IPS, “and I just think we need to be careful not to add to that list, 'It's not rape if she's an immigrant' . . . or, 'It's not rape if she lied on her income tax.'”
“I mean, those are not defences in rape cases,” she said.