A tale of two rape charges

May 23, 2011

By Naomi Wolf
The opinions expressed are her own.

With the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, New York City has abruptly become the scene of two very different official approaches to investigating sex-crime cases, one traditional and one new. The new approach so far appears to be reserved for Strauss-Kahn alone.

Consider the first case: the ongoing trial of two police officers, Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata, charged in the rape of a 27-year-old Manhattan woman. She was drunk, and, after helping her to enter her apartment, Moreno and Mata allegedly made a false emergency call so that they could return to her. At that point, the woman says, she woke periodically out of her intoxicated state to find herself being raped, face down, by Moreno, as Mata stood guard.

The alleged rape of a citizen by a police officer — and the alleged collusion of another officer — is surely a serious matter. But the charges and trial have followed an often-seen pattern: the men’s supporters have vociferously defended their innocence (the presumption of which has been scrupulously upheld in the press); the victim’s pink bra has been the subject of salacious speculation, and her intoxication has been used to undermine her credibility. As the wheels of justice grind unglamorously forward, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made no public statement supporting the victim’s side.

Moreover, Moreno and Mata have not been asked to strip naked for “evidence” photos, were not initially denied bail, and were not held in solitary confinement, and are not being strip-searched daily. Their entire case has followed the usual timetable of many months, as evidence was gathered, testimony compiled and arguments made.

Then there is the Strauss-Kahn approach. After a chambermaid reportedly told her supervisor at the elegant Sofitel hotel that she had been sexually assaulted, the suspect was immediately tracked down, escorted off a plane just before its departure, and arrested. High-ranking detectives, not lowly officers, were dispatched to the crime scene. The DNA evidence was sequenced within hours, not the normal eight or nine days. By the end of the day’s news cycle, New York City police spokespeople had made uncharacteristic and shockingly premature statements supporting the credibility of the victim’s narrative — before an investigation was complete.

The accused was handcuffed and escorted before television cameras — a New York tradition known as a “perp walk.” The suspect was photographed naked, which is also unusual, initially denied bail and held in solitary confinement. The Police Commissioner has boasted to the press that Strauss-Kahn is strip-searched now multiple times a day — also unheard-of.

By the end of the second day’s news cycle, senior public officials had weakened the presumption of innocence, a cornerstone of any civilized society’s justice system. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was calling for Strauss-Kahn’s resignation from the IMF, and Bloomberg remarked, in response to objections to Straus-Kahn’s perp walk, “don’t do the crime.” Whatever happened in that hotel room, Strauss-Kahn’s career, and his presumption of innocence, was effectively over — before any legal process had even begun.

If Strauss-Kahn turns out, after a fair trial, to be a violent sex criminal, may his sentence be harsh indeed. But the way in which this case is being processed is profoundly worrisome. In 23 years of covering sex crime — and in a city where domestic workers are raped by the score every month, often by powerful men — I have never seen the New York Police Department snap into action like this on any victim’s behalf.

Harriet Lessel, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, agrees that this case has seen “a very quick and targeted response,” and points out that rape is “a grossly underreported crime” in New York. Worse, she says, many victims under other circumstances believe that the criminal justice system is unresponsive to their needs and more oriented toward ensuring that the innocent are not convicted.

While Lessel is quick to add that New York has “some great police officers and prosecutors who really care,” she says that the police do not normally issue public statements supportive of victims’ credibility, let alone early on, as they did with Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. Nor has she ever heard of someone being photographed naked as part of the evidence.

So what is happening here?

We now live in a world in which men like former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was investigating financial wrongdoing by the insurance giant AIG, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and Strauss-Kahn — whose efforts to reform the IMF gained him powerful opponents — can be, and are, kept under constant surveillance. Indeed, Strauss-Kahn, who had been the odds-on favorite to defeat Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s French presidential election, probably interested more than one intelligence service.

This does not mean that Strauss-Kahn is innocent or that he is guilty. It means that policy outcomes can be advanced nowadays, in a surveillance society, by exploiting or manipulating sex-crime charges, whether real or inflated.

In other words, ours is increasingly an age of geopolitics by blackmail. Why, after all, were U.S. operatives asked to secure the “biometrics” and DNA of subjects abroad, as some of the U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks were revealed?

After Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, a caller to a New York radio talk show, who identified herself as a domestic worker in a New York luxury hotel, reported that “every week” a man in a towel accosts her, seeking sex. Another caller, a hotel manager, confirmed that this is a common way for male hotel guests to solicit sex. The New York Times flagged on its front page a report that hotel domestic workers are often targeted with clients’  requests for sex in exchange for money.

Are these men disgusting predators soliciting desperate, underpaid women? Yes. Is knowing about this economy relevant to the charges against Strauss-Kahn? Maybe.

Unfortunately, such questions may never be investigated, much less answered, for this is not being treated as a typical New York City sex-crime case. The authorities, perhaps with their own agenda, have publicly asserted a foregone conclusion; and that kind of intervention ultimately diminishes the chance of any one of us being able to rely on what used to be real American due process of law.

66 comments

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@ BajaArizona, as a responsible citizen I would be truthful and recuse myself as a jury member if my remarks didn’t do it for me. I am well aware of my bias and reasons for my opinions to be so. I am not shamefully ignorant, however…

I allow my impartiality to show and I also allow that he may be found innocent in a court of law should the evidence not back up the story.

Although that same jury will not be able to hear of his past offenses and attempted rapes, I have and I make my opinion based on that. His lecherous behaviour makes him deserved of my dislike and presumption of guilt.

Let the lawyers duke it out in court, where his presumption of innocence and the law that allows him that privilege will take place. In my individual court of law, he would be castrated as he laid a hand on me.

Are you one of the same lawyers of friend of the accused that would proclaim or buy his innocence or pay for his lawyer or bribe the family or the judge to ensure it?

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

G. Orwell

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

hsvkitty, no I’m not impartial. I’m not the legal system, I’m not on the jury, so I don’t need to be.

DSK somehow got his DNA all over the victim, her injuries are consistent with her story, the police only knew what flight number was because he called the front desk.

There is no conspiracy.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

I grant Naomi Wolf’s point that DSK is being treated differently than the usual accused rapist in NYC.

Which is right? — the treatment the police gave M&M or the treatment of DSK?

Did Naomi Wolf listen to Harriet Lessel?

“Rape is “a grossly underreported crime” in New York. Worse, she says, many victims under other circumstances believe that the criminal justice system is unresponsive to their needs and more oriented toward ensuring that the innocent are not convicted.”

Naomi Wolf seems perfectly happy to give a kid-gloves treatment to someone accused of rape. She seems perfectly happy to be unresponsive to the victim’s needs.

Naomi Wolf should know better. In these two cases the accused already have a massive power advantage. Not just that of rapist over victim but also the advantage of being a part of the power structure itself. I’m with Harriet Lessel.

Time to treat accused rapists like folks accused of other crimes. And time to remove the kid gloves when the accused culprit is someone “important.” Rebecca Solnit in yesterday’s New America Media makes that last point beautifully. I’ll close with her opening lines about the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

“How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.

“Her name was Asia. His was Europe. Her name was silence. His was power. Her name was poverty. His was wealth. Her name was Her, but what was hers? His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he thought he could take her without asking and without consequences. It was a very old story, though its outcome had been changing a little in recent decades. And this time around the consequences are shaking a lot of foundations, all of which clearly needed shaking.”

Stephen Voss

Posted by Zapata | Report as abusive

Yet another example of the two Americas, one for the wealthy, where powerful interests move quickly, so quickly in fact that they are able to make an arrest within hours of the supposed crime, and the America without money, where crimes drag on for months without any progress.

Posted by lhathaway | Report as abusive

I am certain that the cops raped the woman because they had no business being in her apartment. If she was to drunk and needed medicinal assistance they would have called 911. It’s common knowledge by the way that cops commit crimes all the time. My father was a cop and he told me that about half of them where corrupts. There is also nothing like cops solidarity and judges giving cops the green light 99% of the time. In my case the cops made forgeries in order to frame. Search google with: Turku police forgeries . But lets go back to Dominique Strauss-Kah. It is also common knowledge that the rich and wealthy can get away with anything 99% of the times but in this case not? I don’t say he did or not because I wasn’t there but everything points to a setup to frame for sex crimes. “If” the maid had his DNA over her body I do not know but even if she had this still would not be a sign for rape nor any scratches on her body since she could have made them herself but he is already condemned before any investigation started? I am certain it’s political and most likely a setup. “You are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty under a court of law”. I grow up with this. So what happen since my school days? Accusations = guilt? Reminds me of the fake rape charges towards Assagne, founder of wikileaks.

Posted by Demetrenos | Report as abusive