Despite its many twists and turns and flaws, this case may be a vindication of the American justice system. The process took its course and evolved to show it cannot be taken for granted or abused. The presumptuous prosecutors in the case had to accede they had jumped to conclusions and further investigations did not support their initial certainties. The hotel maid now has to acknowledge that lying to investigators does not solidify her serious charge of rape. And Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the major player in this show, has to acknowledge that even the rich and the powerful had better not tempt the American legal system. He has paid dearly for his behavior.
Although the New York district attorney's office may have been too quick to accept the accuser's story, it deserves credit for independently investigating the details. And it deserves credit for making it public when the story unraveled, knowing that likely could sink the case.It is worth keeping in mind that, whatever her past, the accuser could be telling the truth about what happened in that hotel room, and Strauss-Kahn may yet return to France a free man even though he might be guilty.
If, as seems likely, the charges against Strauss-Kahn are dismissed, one could argue that the system has worked. But that discounts the damage of a false accusation, particularly when the accused is publicly paraded as a criminal. At least, with Strauss-Kahn, the story is big enough for the exoneration to be equally public. That is not always true.
In 1997, a New York entrepreneur, Paul Krauth, was charged with raping a woman he had met after an online correspondence. His arrest was reported on the front page of the Metro section of the New York Times, with a photo of Krauth in handcuffs. Then, a few days later, the charges were dropped after it turned out that the "victim" had left a message on his answering machine thanking him for a wonderful evening. The dismissal merited a small item inside the paper. The woman's name was not released.
Even today, sympathy for Strauss-Kahn is in short supply. (Of course, he has the bad luck of being a perfect villain for both left and right: a privileged male and an elitist French socialist intellectual.) Many point out that even the defense version -- that the maid targeted Strauss-Kahn after he refused to pay her for a sexual act -- paints him in a fairly unattractive light: he is still a married man who cheated on his wife, and a wealthy and powerful man who mistreated a poor woman.
This echoes comments made several years ago after the collapse of the headline-making rape case against three Duke University athletes accused of assaulting a stripper at a team party. When the young men were cleared, with the evidence strongly indicating that the woman's claim was a deliberate hoax, some feminists argued that they still deserved condemnation for hiring strippers in the first place. But this attitude is a troubling reversal of traditional prejudices under which rape victims found little sympathy if they were not paragons of virtue. A woman who is raped is a victim even if she is promiscuous. So is a falsely accused man even if he is a pig -- or a French socialist.