The Case for Naming Strauss-Kahn's Accuser

To clear his name, some say the press should publicize his alleged victim's identity

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The fate of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's criminal sexual assault charges may shift privately today as his lawyers meet with New York County prosecutors to decide on how next to proceed. They may go for a plea agreement or an outright dismissal, an anonymous source told The New York Times, or the Manhattan district attorney's office may continue to prosecute the case. And while the legal wrangling and compromise continues inside the halls of justice, Strauss-Kahn's trial in the press has also entered a reflective phase: Now that Strauss-Kahn's name has been dragged through the mud in a criminal case that may wind up going nowhere, a few legal experts and journalists say naming his accuser would have led to fairer treatment on both sides. Defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, who has commented extensively on the case, outlined his view to the Washington Post's Paul Farhi.

Disclosure of the woman’s name on day one, Dershowitz says, might have balanced the picture — by drawing out witnesses or relevant information about the woman. “If it had,” he says, “by day three all the information would be out, and this man’s reputation might not have been destroyed.”

The district attorney's office hasn't named the accuser, but pretty much anyone who covers the case, and those who read the foreign press, has probably learned it. U.S. media, Farhi points out, have already reported "her age, where she lives, her native country, her money troubles, her health status and the allegedly false statements she made in her application for asylum." In addition, the woman has filed a lawsuit against the New York Post that is only tangentially related to the alleged attempted rape in the Sofitel Hotel on May 14. In the suit, she is identified only as N.D.

Journalist Geneva Overholser, "the former editor of the Des Moines Register, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for chronicling the story of rape victim Nancy Ziegenmeyer," is among a minority of journalists who think the victim should be named. Here's what she told Farhi about it:

“If you want to know her name, you can find it,” she says. “This is really a conceit” by mainstream news sources.

Overholser further argues that leaving out such an important fact from a story violates one of the basic rules of journalism. “We name names in our stories,” she says. “We know how awful it is to be a rape victim,” but shielding an alleged victim from public disclosure may contribute to the very stigma that anonymity seeks to avoid. “Sunlight,” she says, “is the best disinfectant.

As for Strauss-Kahn, he said through his attorney early on that his main interest in pursuing a trial was to clear his name. That makes it seem unlikely he'll go for a plea bargain, which would involve some admission of guilt. The Times reported today that, "it is possible that any deal would involve a misdemeanor plea in which he would serve no jail time and would be allowed to return to France. But it remains unclear if prosecutors have ruled out seeking a felony plea." In his New York Times column, Jim Dwyer suggested there was still enough evidence for a full-fledged felony prosecution against Strauss-Kahn, despite the recent revelation that his accuser had lied about her background. He points to the physical evidence of a sexual encounter, the key card records of the housekeeper, and the testimony of those who responded when she first made the complaint. All in all, it would appear that while Strauss-Kahn could very easily avoid jail time, but doing so without some acquiescence to misdeeds would prove considerably more tricky.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.