False Rape Claim Sinks Real Rape Case

August 24, 2011

Rape charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dropped yesterday; the wealthy French banker had been accused of raping a housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, in an upscale Manhattan hotel in May. The accused didn't even have to defend himself in this case; instead the accuser's lies caused her case to implode.

Apparently Diallo continually lied to police and was "persistently, and at times inexplicably, untruthful in describing matters of both great and small significance." That included a convincingly delivered story of being gang raped by soldiers in her native Guinea; she later acknowledged that she had fabricated the story, and prosecutors characterized her ability to recount a fictionalized sexual assault with complete conviction as being "fatal" to her credibility. The prosecutors said "the nature and number of the complainant's falsehoods leave us unable to credit her version of events beyond a reasonable doubt, whatever the truth may be about the encounter" at the hotel. "If we do not believe her beyond a reasonable doubt," they added, "we cannot ask a jury to do so."

According to The New York Times, quoting from the prosecutor's motion to dismiss the charges, Diallo "offered precise and powerful details about the number and nature of her attackers and the presence of her 2-year-old daughter at the assault scene, who, she said, was pulled from her arms and thrown to the ground. During both interviews, she identified certain visible scars on her person, which she claimed were sustained during the attack. On both occasions, the complainant recounted the rape with great emotion and conviction: she cried, spoke hesitatingly and appeared understandably distraught, and during the first interview, even laid her head face down on her arms on a table in front of her."

Within a week she admitted that she made up the rape; it had never happened. Diallo claimed that she and a friend had concocted and rehearsed her rape story in case she needed to use it to bolster her asylum claim. Yet a review of her asylum paperwork makes no mention of the gang-rape; Diallo had convincingly lied about being raped, for no apparent reason.

It's not clear if Diallo created the rape hoax specifically for the detectives in this case, or if she told Guinea police the same story. If so, what about the men who Diallo falsely accused of raping her? What were the consequences of her previous rape hoax? Were any of the men arrested, or charged, or even sent to jail because of her lies?

Had Diallo come clean about her past and present falsifications, it might have been a different story. But she told lie after lie and, when she was confronted with the truth she would blame other people instead of accepting responsibility for telling the truth. This creates real problems for the prosecution, and provides mountains of discrediting information for the defense. Credibility is very important in criminal cases; a few white lies won't hurt you (everyone tells them), but if you previously lied about being the victim of a crime that you are now accusing someone of, that's a serious problem. And if you keep lying to detectives about anything and everything, for no particular reason, that's a potentially fatal problem of your own making.

Does anyone really think that Diallo decided she wanted to perform oral sex on Strauss-Kahn in the middle of her housekeeping duties? Of course not. The tragedy and irony is that Strauss-Kahn is almost certainly guilty of sexual assault, but he will not be held accountable.

Some rape counselors and women's rights activists have expressed concern that the dismissal of charges against Strauss-Kahn will discourage other rape victims from coming forward to report their own assaults. However the real message is somewhat more nuanced and complex, borrowed from a fable about a young boy who cried "Wolf!": Don't lie about being raped, and if you are raped, tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.