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.


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Posted by remyshapiro | Report as abusive

Just a point: The policemen will never, ever, be convicted. They’ll go scot free leaving the woman to pick up the pieces. That’s justice when the police are involved.

Posted by Francophile | Report as abusive

Thank you Naomi for making the case for one of your own. That said, I can see why Dominique Strauss-Kahn finds this incident so impossible.
He just finished screwing, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and was just about to get in bed with Spain, another reluctant partner – without much trouble.

Posted by genevo | Report as abusive

Stories like this make me feel like my life is useless, will I ever know the truth around me? Every day there are several stories and things that we see and I am sure lot of them out there do not believe what they see and hear, but we just have to accept. This incident is one of them, it is hard to believe that DSK is being treated like most wanted criminal in the world.

Posted by neozeon | Report as abusive

Sure, I approve of the concept of innocent until proven guilty, but usually the rich and powerful members of high society don’t even get officially accused of wrongdoing.

After three years and relentless public outcry by the minority of Americans who realize what happened in the years leading up to the Collapse of 2007/2008, an investigation of Goldman Sachs may finally produce criminal charges.

If America’s memory had been just a little bit shorter, I believe there would have been no consequences for Wall Street beyond scoldings and fines.

Such a vigorous response to DSK’s crime must have something to do with the sexual aspect of the accusation. Little else evokes such a collective gasp from ordinary Americans.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

I think a lot of responses here are missing the point. This article is not about suggesting DSK has framed. I think it’s very clear that Ms. Wolf has not suggested that. Instead, this article makes a great point about social, political and media responses to allegations about sexual assault. Generally, victims of sexual assault are questioned or blamed when they go (or are made to go) public with allegations of abuse. There is a widespread tendency to disbelieve sexual assault victims in our culture. The social support for the victim of DSK is, in my opinion, extremely outside of the ordinary. I think this article only stands to suggest that the public support here is due to the fact that to villify DSK may be politically useful, whereas it is not politically useful (to those in power) to villify two members of NYPD.

Posted by ktoner | Report as abusive

The policies and procedures have always been held hostage to the whims of those who influence and help shape the outcome to their desired end.These vested interests have an agenda so intense of their own that they forget the norms laid out to ensure due legal process is completed without prejudice.

Posted by schadha100 | Report as abusive

I feel like there is a good chance the man is guilty of this crime given his history. But I feel someone should point this out. DSK is putting together a package to bail out the deadbeats of the European Union’s economy. The EU is one of our principal competitors economically. But 2 plus 2 doesn’t always equal four.

Posted by ronryegadfly | Report as abusive

The whole of this OpEd is flawed. It is written in order to attack the NYPD and current governor. This writer is peppering truth with lies. In a Goebellian writer’s strategy.
We had several facts:
1- People must have rights preserved. No matter if poor, humble or rich and powerful.
2- The accuser have plenty of evidence of Dominick Strauss Kahn all over her. There is body fluid.
3- The defendant – DSK – Dominick was on board plane, en route to leave the United States.

Fact is he even forgot his mobile phone. He left in a hurry. He was alredy aboard an airplane.

The possiblitiy that there maybe a case of allegged crime from the NYPD officers does not exhonerate DSK. Two wrongs does not make any right and BOTH women deserves justice served.
Spitzer disgraced the seat of governor of NY because he lied. Most people does not care for his phillandering. We do care of PERJURY from Bill Clinton. We already know too that if DSK had fled, the same Naomi would write a piece criticizing the NYPD for letting him go easily.
There is enought evidence to see that Naomi Wolf has a special type of reasoning. There is at least two reports of rape on the same DSK. Dominick has disgraced the IMF when he abused his powers to get sex from his assistant. Even more so because it was perpetrated in Davos, while on duty. Dominick has also attacked a newswoman in France.
And yes. He must be as well contemplating suicide. This is the REASON why he has to be strip searched. He is a coward in the sexual real. Must be a coward when facing the reality.
Get your facts straight.

Posted by edharrys | Report as abusive

Wow – I had to check the biography to make sure that this was the same Naomi Wolf….you know, the feminist? What a joke.

What the hell happened, Naomi? This is how you react to powerful men getting their comeuppance? With defense and sympathy? What a nauseating opinion piece.

I understand your argument about “secret world powers are doing constant surveillance on powerful men,” and it fails on the merits – everyone knew about this guy, there was no surveillance necessary. If this guy really wanted to see his policy agenda furthered, he should have stopped raping women awhile ago. (The same goes for Eliot Spitzer and his prostitute problem.) Nobody is making these men act this way, and if they are the only people capable of advancing a progressive agenda, then maybe that agenda should be re-examined.

Also, do you think that maybe, just maybe, the reason the news media were all like “He’s toast,” immediately after the arrest is because they knew that this person was an out-of-control sexual predator? It kind of sounds like everyone was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And I don’t think that hotel maids everywhere will much appreciate your implication that they are all whores.


In contrast to the aspersions cast by Ms. Wolfe, I would like to take a moment to commend the character of this hotel worker: she is sticking to her guns despite being quietly offered huge sums of money to recant the charges and refuse to testify (DSK’s wife is a billionaire heiress).

This hotel worker came to this country as a refugee, and I hope that her dreams and hopes for the promise of this country are upheld by the process of justice. She, unlike the well-connected smug insiderish I’ll-hate-women-too-if-you-just-let-me-i n-your-club pseudo progressivism of Ms. Wolfe, represents the best of America.

Posted by Seneca_Falls | Report as abusive

In the historical contest many the top tank people, has ben protected or executed like in Imperial China, or strangled like in Europe from Roman Empire to Medieval period, for different type of crimes .
Today to establish some connection if difficult, but we must concentrate in values, as when money and power became the only source of a narcissistic society , this is the result. Probably DSK, developed a charming personality, part of a mental disorder. Nobody around him suspected ?? perhaps !! May be he was i victim of his grandiosity.

https://mail.google.com/mail/?hl=en&shva =1#inbox/13011c454f511e73

Posted by xuande | Report as abusive

Naomi: there are huge differences between the cases you discuss. There’s no ADN evidence at all showing that the “victim” in the NYPD case was raped. However, there’s plenty of it in the Strauss-Kahn case. THere’s no evidence that the “victim” in the police case had any sex. The scene for the Strauss-Kahn case is very favorable to the hypothesis of violence and unlikely for a hypothesis of consent. Strauss-Kahn has a history that is quite compatible with the hypothesis of violence. The claim about violently forced sex came much earlier in the case of SK than in the case of the NYPD case. SK has tried to rape his daughter’s best friend! Even trying to seduce one’s daughter’s best friend would be considered a beastly behavior. SK has a history of making passes at female receptionists, trying to rape a socialist representative in France. He’s not normal.

Posted by voltairianskep | Report as abusive

Funny, I never thought of the two NYC Police Officers as flight risks. Nor do they have an entire nation out there willing to shelter them for a lifetime. But of course the analogy is the same…

Posted by shedemon | Report as abusive

I would have preferred to see the 2 police officers who were charged with raping the woman in the east village succumb to a body search. Since their duty is to protect her, not rape her… in terms of DSK I was bothered by the denial of bail, as bail is standard in these types of cases, The judge was swept away by all the cameras… The only reason Port Authority and NYPD arrested him so quickly is because he called the hotel looking for his cell phone and asked the hotel to bring the phone to the airport and gave the hotel is flight information. Its not because the police are efficient far from it. They treated him differently because of his stature and position. Its all politically motivated. Don’t get me wrong I do believe he attacked the maid and he does have a pattern in his past of using force against women sexually. But i believe the degree in which his rights were so trampled over is disturbing…..I have no doubt the maid is telling the truth 100%. Look on another level, when a person has a serious character flaw in their makeup and his violent, disrespectful and sexually assaults women, its just a matter of time that eventually this will turn around and bite him in the ass, his time has finally come…….! Justice is for all…Where is Al Pacino when you need him?

Posted by BPF | Report as abusive

The French have a right to be pissed. This could very well be a scandal meant to take out the probable future president of France.

Posted by kc10man | Report as abusive

The solid facts/evidence about this alleged sexual assault are still unknown. So any statements here to that effect are sheer speculation. The only thing we have are the 7 charges filed by the D.A.’s office- all based on the believability of the chambermaid’s words. Nothing else.

Posted by Ceciboloca | Report as abusive

Ms. Wolf comes shamefully down on the side of those described by a commentator in Le Monde this weekend, who said “Once again, the French elite are outraged at the workings of the justice system when it is applied to one of their own.”
I can make no sense whatsoever of the garbled references to former Gov. Spitzer, who was misusing his privileges and could have been prosecuted. Would Ms. Wolf have had him or other violators not under surveillance?
Ms. Wolf criticizes the tenor of public debate about the cases of the police officers and of Mr. S-K. Does she presume people do not have opinions, or suggest that there be no public debate?
Had the NYPD dragged their feet in the investigation Ms. Wolf would have been the first to accuse them of being dilatory. Would she have had the case handled by less-experienced officers? She is perhaps hoping for another botched case on the model of O-J.
Ms. Wolf has clearly determined that the police officers are guilty. Unlike Mr. S-K, neither of them has a history of the sort of behavior they are on trial for.
Had Mr. S-K been allowed to leave the country there would have been no way to return him to the jurisdiction, whereas the officers could have been forced to return.
Prisoners under suicide watch are routinely searched for their own good, as required by the rules of their incarceration. What would Ms. Wolf have said if Mr. S-K did indeed manage to commit suicide while in NYPD custody?
What in the world is meant by “geopolitics by blackmail?” Should justice not be the goal?
Since some chambermaids and men may solicit favors from hotel guests, does this in any way justify the alleged behavior of Mr. S-K? Was he only “doing what everybody else does,” so it was OK?
I could go on, but it would only further dignify this absurd diatribe.

Posted by RichardNYC | Report as abusive

Naomi, you have convincingly described your misgivings about the handling of two separate accusations of rape in New York City. With respect to one case, you raise the possibility of overzealous prosecution; in the other, you suggest a lack of interest in convicting anyone at all.

So… what is the moral imperative?

For now, I have to take my usual path and assume the women are telling the truth, the cops are guilty, so is DSK, all the authorities in both New York and Paris are incurably corrupt, and that if justice is done in either case, it will be purely coincidental.

More I do not know.

Posted by Ralphooo | Report as abusive

Naomi made the same excuses for Bill Clinton – who had numerous women come forward to say he did more than abuse his power with an intern, but groped and flashed and raped just like DSK.

And the bail issue is a joke. DSK would fly the coop given a chance and everyone knows it.

Posted by Parker1227 | Report as abusive

two thoughts on the story: any other female would have hurt him instead of pleasuring him, cause she (the victim) is in control (doing the action) while he is still!

with the cops, they should be charged twice, once for committing the crime and once more for betraying the trust.

Posted by nouh | Report as abusive