As Strauss-Kahn Case Crumbles, Names Become An Issue

As lawyers wrangle over what charges Dominique Strauss-Kahn will face, if any, a debate begins over the naming of his accuser.

According to the Times, prosecution and defense lawyers are slated to meet today to discuss a possible plea bargain. The defense may be unwilling to plead guilty to anything, even a misdemeanor, while the prosecution has not yet ruled out seeking a felony charge. Given all this, the two camps don't expect to reach an agreement today. But the tenor of their discussion has been irrevocably changed by last week's revelations about the accuser.

Also changed: the public conversation about the accuser herself, especially her name. The French media have long since named the hotel maid who accused DSK of assault, and now Paul Farhi of the Washington Post analyzes whether we should be naming her too. He writes,

The media's fidelity to anonymity was pushed even further on Tuesday by the alleged victim's filing of a libel lawsuit against the New York Post for describing her as a prostitute. The woman wasn't identified in mainstream news accounts of the lawsuit, even though she initiated the action and it does not involve the rape allegations.

That's true, but it's not all that surprising given that the full text of the lawsuit didn't name her either. And anonymous plaintiffs are far from unheard-of — think Roe v. Wade. Farhi also quotes Alan Dershowitz, who says widespread naming of the accuser might have led to DSK's exoneration: if her name had been released, he claims, "by day three all the information would be out, and this man's reputation might not have been destroyed." There are a couple of problems with this argument. The most obvious is that the data now revealed about DSK's accuser by no means shows that he's innocent. Also, proposing that we release rape accusers' names for better crowdsourcing of information against them is creepy, not to mention unnecessary — as Farhi points out, the media's rape-accuser-discrediting machine is working pretty damn well even without names.

The best argument for naming rape victims is the saddest one: they often get named anyway. Geneva Overholser says of Strauss-Kahn's accuser, "If you want to know her name, you can find it." This is true, and we've previously referred to accusers by their names in cases where those names have become part of public record. That's not yet exactly the case here, and moreover, the story of DSK and the hotel maid has morphed into something bigger and nastier — a chance to confuse veracity with credibility, and to allege that one woman's shady friends say something profound about our society's (alleged) willingness to believe rape victims or our unfair treatment of the accused. They don't. And all those who want to name rape victims so that other cases can even more swiftly sink to DSK-shitshow levels would do well to remember that.

Strauss-Kahn Lawyers And Prosecution Set Meeting To Discuss Dismissal Or Plea Deal [NYT]
We Know Dominique Strauss-Kahn's Name, But What About His Accuser? [Washington Post]