Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Professor believes Diallo treated fairly, credits feminist scholars

Professor Kutz
"I think she was treated extremely fairly at the beginning. There's evidence that she was -- her complaint was taken as seriously as it could possibly be.
And I think that's a tribute both to the professionals in law enforcement, and I think also to a generation of particularly feminist legal scholars and activists who've made -- who've changed the way in which we understand the charge of rape." -- Professor Christopher Kutz, University of California, Berkeley

Sex crime charges against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn have been dropped, but a civil suit against him by his accuser, Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel housekeeper, remains a possibility

So, was Diallo treated fairly and taken seriously by law enforcement officials?  Law professor Christopher Kutz of the University of California at Berkeley thinks so.  On PBS' Newshour, Kutz credited feminist legal scholars and activists "who've changed the way in which we understand the charge of rape."

Later, Kutz added he believes that Strauss-Kahn was also treated fairly. "He got a chance to present his defense, at least indirectly," Kutz said.

In the same Newshour segment, PBS' Ray Suarez asked former federal prosecutor, Allison Leotta if "there (has) been a shift away from the old days, when a woman might have been under attack from the get-go and questioned as to why and wherefore in the encounter with a man, to almost the burden being on the other side now?"

Leotta said that there has been a shift away from the laws of the 1960s where rape charges could not be brought by the victim alone.  In those days, "There had to be corroboration from another eyewitness. Now, obviously, it's not the type of crime that takes place in crowded restaurants, so that alone took out a lot of the rape cases that might have been brought."

She continued, "At the same time, when victims come forward, they are trusted, they are believed, but the prosecutors must look and see where they're coming from. What are her reasons for getting into the case? Is she coming forward because something terrible happened to her, and she wants to tell the truth and bring justice, or is she coming forward for other reasons, to get money or revenge or any number of reasons? "

Watch the PBS segment on the Strauss-Kahn case here:

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

And yet, feminist scholars and activists are still fighting to change how rape is defined at the federal level of criminal justice.

According to Ms. Magazine's Ms. Blog, "Since 1929, the FBI has defined “real” rape exclusively as “forcible” rape. Its definition is the only one that exists at the federal level, and it discounts most types of rape, including oral and anal rape; rape of men; rape with an object, finger or fist; and, for most police departments, rape of unconscious women, physically or mentally disabled women and those under the influence of drugs or alcohol."

Ms. Publisher Eleanor Smeal says it's time for a change because, "The FBI needs a modern definition of rape that reflects a popular understanding of the crime and doesn’t exclude the vast majority of rapes. Rape is rape. Period. Without an accurate definition we won’t have accurate statistics about rape, and without accurate statistics we will never have adequate funding for law enforcement to solve these crimes and stop violence against women."

Ms. Magazine, along with the Feminist Majority Foundation, launched the No More Excuses campaign in April demanding that the definition be changed to reflect modern realities.  Read more and join the campaign here.

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