Why should only victims need credibility?

The reporting around the Dominique Strauss-Kahn trial has made me absolutely furious this week.  But first, to get a few things straight:  I’m not angry that due process is being followed, I’m not angry that there’s a suggestion he’s not guilty.  Both of those things are important.

But I’m really angry at the media and legal supposition that only victims need credibility.  The victim came forward to prosecutors to show some issues with her immigration status.  She also has some friends who are on the wrong-side of the law.  And somehow, this is damaging the credibility of her account.  On the other side, we have DSK, with allegations of sexual harrassment and bullying, and more than one allegation of previous sexual violence all coming forward.  And yet this isn’t relevant.  These stories aren’t making his counsel consider dropping their defence.  There’s very little suggestion by the media that this adds up to a description of a dangerous sexual predator.  Instead, the media is worrying about what will happen “IF” he is found guilty.  And what the implications are for him if he’s let off.

It’s this double standard that is driving me crazy.  Rape is a notoriously difficult crime to prosecute, because so often it comes down to consent, and then it’s one word against another.  But we’re not fighting on a level playing field.  The victim’s sexual history can be discussed.  The victim’s behaviour earlier in the encounter can be discussed.  The victim’s friends and family are fair game.  And yet the accused is off limits.  Previous allegations of similar attacks?  Not relevant.  Earlier behaviour in the night – harassment, where they went, who they were with – irrelevant.  Accounts from previous partners of violence?  Not relevant.

I’m not a lawyer, and although I’m interested in how the law interprets and balances this it’s not what I’m commenting on.  But for the media, it’s disgraceful that they are showing only one side.  We have no hope of society becoming less suspicious of victims until the media drops this double standard.

Very few people have a spotless past if someone was to comb through it.  All of us make mistakes, big or small, and have to live with the consequences of them.  But the media has a responsibility to examine both sides equally.  The fact that a woman may (or may not) have a shady past is only as relevant as the past of a man.


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