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Strauss-Kahn's Accuser Deserves Her Day in Court

Sari Long, PHR intern, and Christy Fujio, JD on July 14, 2011

The French press calls it a soap opera and the US public is similarly enthralled – former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the hotel housekeeper accusing him of sexual assault have each been painted alternately as villain or victim.

Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys are intent on portraying the housekeeper as a shady character with ties to drug dealers, prostitution, and federal crimes including tax evasion and lying to immigration authorities in order to obtain asylum. With her credibility thus tainted, their hope is that her claim against Strauss-Kahn will crumble, and if not, perhaps deportation will silence her. Regardless of allegations about character and immigration status, she deserves a chance to tell a judge what happened to her in that hotel suite.

While there is no doubt that some people embellish their asylum applications to increase their chances of success, many tens of thousands have legitimate cases that meet the criteria allowing them to seek safe haven in the US. They are desperate victims of torture, violence, and persecution, arriving in the US scarred and seeking a new life. The housekeeper possibly has had experiences few of us can even begin to imagine. Guinea, the country from which she fled, has a record of profound human rights abuses, including violent repression of dissenters, mass rape, and torture at the hands of government officials. No matter what her asylum application says, it is likely that she had an extraordinarily difficult life in Guinea and fled to the US in desperation.

If Strauss-Kahn is prosecuted, we will learn more about the housekeeper’s immigration history, but more importantly, we will learn what this powerful man may have done to a vulnerable woman. We cannot lose perspective on the weight and severity of the criminal claims she has made against Strauss-Kahn. These allegations of violent sexual assault are serious, much more so than concerns about the potential civil infractions of an overstated asylum application. Whether she falsified her asylum application or is simply less than a perfect victim, she is entitled to pursue her claim. Justice demands that we allow her to tell her troubling and painful story to a court, while putting aside judgment about her immigration history.

Issues: Asylum
Places: United States