Looking For Excuses In The DSK Rape Case

New York has published a story that is more or less a profile of Anne Sinclair, wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We learn about her trajectory and motivations, her fortune and her ambitions for her husband, who we learn for the first time (or I did, anyway) is rumored to be lazy.

Along the way we get a fair amount of doubt, or rumor-mongering, or hemming and hawing, about whether Nafissatou Diallo is telling the truth about what happened in the Sofitel. Writer Vanessa Grigoriadis concedes that in the "media battle" that followed, "Sinclair and Strauss-Kahn are among the suavest players of that sport in the world." They kept quiet while the press portrayed Diallo as the perfect victim and DSK as the "horny toad," Grigoriadis writes (sort of — there was that apparently false New York Post report about her living in HIV-positive housing, and the defense quietly alleging that the encounter was consensual and they could dig up a lot of dirt if they wanted). And then things flipped, with the prosecutor sending a letter of potentially exculpatory evidence and someone leaking to the Times that the entire case had fallen apart. This is all pretty trampled ground, though with more detail about how one "source close to the situation" views it:

She may not be a prostitute—when the New York Post reported that, her lawyers hit back with a libel suit-but she seemed to be a bit more familiar with cons than the usual immigrant doing what one had to do to make ends meet in America. "No one in the D.A.'s office gives a shit about her lying on government forms," says a source close to the situation. "What they care about is that after the Strauss-Kahn incident, she sat and told government investigators, with tears, shaking, and conviction, a detailed account of her gang-rape in Guinea. Then she said it never happened. She was an incredibly convincing liar."

Grigoriadis also has her doubts about Diallo:

Did Nafissatou Diallo look like she was not telling the whole truth on ABC News last week, when she revealed her identity to tell her story to Robin Roberts (she also gave an interview to Tina Brown of Newsweek)? I'm sorry to report that she did. It's terribly humiliating for a woman to tell the world she has been sexually abused, which is part of why rape victims deserve the benefit of the doubt, but still, the dramatic hand gestures, the rolling tears, the beating of her breast as she insisted that, as "God is my witness, I'm telling the truth"—it was all a bit rich and clearly calculated as a last-ditch effort to get the D.A.'s office to bring the case, even though it had lost faith.

Calculated and rehearsed? Sure. But what does that tell us about whether or not she was raped? Diallo has been telling this story over and over again for months. Any lawyer worth his salt would prep a client, especially an illiterate one, for a media appearance. Clearly, he should have coached her to be convincing, but not too convincing.

There is also the creepy feeling, reading the piece and the way it dramatizes some of the racial overtones (mentions of the disproven Tawana Brawley case, for example, and the denied "a rumor [going] around" that Diallo's lawyer Kenneth Thompson is paying black protesters outside DSK's door) that we're supposed to wonder (but subtly! in a good liberal I-have-black-friends way!) whether Diallo and Thompson are a pair of greedy hucksters who are initiating a white-guilt-driven shakedown:

Kenneth Thompson, a former federal prosecutor who represented Abner Louima, has made no friends in this drama; even Ken Sunshine, the PR heavy he hired as an adviser, has largely sat back as Thompson has insisted on running this as his own show. "Thompson has one motivation in this situation: to get paid, and he doesn't get a dime unless Diallo gets some money," says a source. "He is working 100 percent on contingency." A source says Thompson will receive one third of any settlement for Diallo (Thompson says this is "a lie") and notes that he needs the criminal case to move forward in hopes of a large civil settlement.

Count me among those who see no problem with a rape victim, if that is what Diallo is, receiving a settlement for the trauma, including the events that followed. The criminal justice system has its limits — Grigoriadis herself says, "It's a sad truth that you cannot take down a man like Strauss-Kahn—even if he's guilty—unless your past is pristine." And there seems nothing particularly pernicious or terrible about a lawyer being paid for his work, or winning his case. (That 30 percent, if true, sounds fucked-up though. Update: Or maybe it's standard. Never mind.) Especially if she was raped.

That's the most unsettling thing about some people's response to this case: The manifest desire to find reasons or excuses that would make this Not Rape. Grigoriadis speculates that Sinclair now has to face the fact that her husband is "if not a rapist, some sort of cretin who behaves in a disgusting way with women." If not a rapist? What evidence is there for a more charitable reading, since Grigoriadis calls "the notion that this brief encounter was purely consensual...too preposterous to even take under consideration." I wasn't in the room and only know what's been reported and stated by the involved parties, which admittedly could be partial or biased. But based on what we do know, this sort of contortion seems bizarre:

There is still no consensus in the city about what happened between Strauss-Kahn and Diallo, and everyone seems to believe that their version of events is absolutely correct. Men, in ­general, think that the idea of forced oral sex is somewhat preposterous, as no man would risk a pair of snapping jaws down there; women, shocked by this assertion, explain that this would be easy enough to force a woman to do in the right physical position, and that the act feels compelled half the time anyway. It seems probable to me that Strauss-Kahn acted violently toward Diallo, or at least disdainfully, whether or not there was a discussion or anticipation of payment before or after the act, and this upset her so much that she was still torn up about it when she saw her supervisor roughly twenty minutes later, with things progressing from there in a way that she never could have imagined.

I don't know who these "men, in general" are, but they don't seem to know much about the psychological paralysis of a sexual assault victim, particularly one who's been raped before, nor about how empowered an immigrant, admittedly on the fringes of the law in more ways than one, would feel to bite off a wealthy man's dick. (Also, I feel bad for these unnamed women whose performance of oral sex makes the account of an alleged rape sound so... familiar.) But why bring up payment if we have no proof of any being offered or discussed, but we do have proof of all this other stuff — bruises, the maid's testimony, DSK's personal history of coercion? If it's preposterous to believe the act was "purely consensual," what sort of "disdain" leads to bruises and the willingness to go to the law? Yes, life is complicated and full of gray areas and confusion, but why try so hard to find another word for something, or five thousand of them, when we have yet to find truly convincing reasons not to use the one we have? Rape, that is.

The Womanizer's Wife [NYMag]