Leading article: Innocent until proven guilty; that applies to the maid, too

Share
Related Topics

When the head of the International Monetary Fund was arrested in New York on attempted rape charges, the reverberations were felt far beyond North America and brought together wildly disparate worlds.

A major international financial institution was decapitated at a crucial juncture in the euro crisis. The French Socialist Party's hopes of recapturing the presidency in 2012 were dashed, and a particularly ruthless side of the US penal system – the "perp" walk, in which a handcuffed suspect is paraded in public – was exposed. And all because of another, far more admirable, aspect of US justice: the right of a low-paid immigrant maid in a luxury New York hotel to invoke the law in her defence against a very rich and powerful man.

Seven weeks later, and the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair has produced new shocks, no less shattering than the first. The IMF may be back on an even keel after the smooth appointment of its first female managing director – another French citizen, Christine Lagarde. But almost every other new certainty has been overturned. The prosecution has admitted that it is now much less sure of its case. Mr Strauss-Kahn has been released from his most onerous bail conditions. Doubt is being cast on the credibility of the maid, whose life in the US may not have been all it seems. And across the Atlantic, French Socialists are back in turmoil, asking themselves whether Mr Strauss-Kahn might not be their presidential saviour after all.

In this roller-coaster of a case, there are two aspects that may, in the end, bring beneficial change to two quite different systems of power. And there is one – central – aspect that will not, or should not, change anything at all.

First, the United States. The extent of international distaste for a judicial system that seems almost to delight in humiliating suspected felons has been brought home to Americans in no uncertain way. That the head of the IMF could be brought to such depths of indignity as he was when he was first arrested and charged not only sent the positive message that everyone is equal before the law, but showed how the very process of arrest, New York style, can place defendants at a disadvantage. Legally, they may be innocent until proven guilty, but they are made to appear guilty at the start. If this is true for such an eminent person as Mr Strauss-Kahn, what hope can there be for the less suave and less confident majority?

Second, to France. After popular indignation about insults to the national honour had died down, the charges against Mr Strauss-Kahn precipitated a discussion of sexual harassment in France – the first such open airing of an affliction from which the country had liked to believe it was exempt. Since then, a junior minister has resigned and been arrested over sexual assault allegations, while women's groups say the reporting of incidents has increased several times over. Sexual harassment will probably not be dismissed as a purely Anglo-Saxon preoccupation again.

As for what will, or should, stay the same. Mr Strauss-Kahn's accuser, the Guinean-born maid, has gone in seven short weeks from being depicted as a wronged woman with the courage to challenge a rich assailant to a professional fraudster and prostitute. Any court case is likely to hinge on her credibility. Yet the charges must stand or fall on their own merits. That the maid – and we have yet to hear her response to any of the attempts to blacken her character – may have lied her way into the US; that she may have used a rape claim as an alibi for her asylum application; that she may have combined chamber-maiding with prostitution do not, of themselves, annul her accusations against Mr Strauss-Kahn. Attempted rape remains attempted rape, however powerful the perpetrator, and however lowly and otherwise discredited the victim.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Middleware Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Java Developer/Designer

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

Domino Developer and Administrator

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)  

London is too rich, and too expensive, for its own good

Simon Kelner
 

Daily catch-up: Cameron’s speech, his place in history, and the Pedant Club

John Rentoul
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?