As the sexual assault case against former International Monetary Fund head and potential French president Dominique Strauss-Kahn appears to be falling apart, attention has turned to the woman who accused him of attacking her.
Mr. Strauss-Kahn was initially arrested in May and charged with attempting to rape a maid in his New York hotel room. He was released under very strict supervision and resigned his job at the IMF. Now, the conditions of his release have been dramatically eased, and the case against him appears on the verge of collapse. The reversal came about because the NY Police Department uncovered evidence that the purported victim lied about the incident and has committed various acts of fraud, including filing a phony claim for asylum.
The alleged victim is a Guinean woman who obtained her status in the U.S. in 2004 by claiming political asylum. The Daily Mail reports that the victim admitted to the NYPD that much of her asylum claim had been fabricated:
In her application for asylum to the U.S. for herself and her daughter in 2004 she said that the home she shared with her husband in Guinea was burned by soldiers for the country’s regime. Her husband was then supposedly tortured in jail where he died of his injuries. According to prosecutors, she later admitted this was a lie. Prosecutors also said that she cried when she recounted to them the story from her asylum application of how she had been gang-raped in Guinea, but later admitted that this was also a lie.
The (probably) false asylum application, combined with other evidence of fraud (including a taped phone conversation where the victim indicated she hoped to make money by pursuing charges against Mr. Strauss-Kahn) have led the prosecution to radically re-assess the credibility of the victim and the strength of their case.
If it turns out that the victim did lie on her asylum application, she faces deportation and potential jail time. But in evaluating what happened in her asylum case (and in the Strauss-Kahn affair), there are a few points to keep in mind. First, many asylum seekers with legitimate claims augment their stories with the encouragement of unscrupulous lawyers or notarios. Such asylum seekers do not understand the law and they merely follow the instructions of their lawyers. In this way, legitimate asylum seekers are sometimes denied asylum and (rightly) accused of fraud. Of course, even though such people are naive and are victims of dishonest attorneys, they are responsible for their own actions and they need to be held accountable. As the authorities investigate the Guinean woman and her asylum claim, they should determine who helped prepare the asylum case and–if that person was involved in the fraud–they should prosecute the person responsible. While asylum fraud is a problem, the best way to reduce fraud is to prosecute the attorneys or notarios who prepare fraudulent claims.
In addition, we should keep in mind that the Guinean woman is innocent until proven guilty. After Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s arrest, the press and the District Attorney essentially convicted him before evaluating the evidence. We should not make the same mistake again. Rather than rush to judgment, we should wait for the case to develop and see where the evidence leads. Asylum seekers are often people who have suffered severe traumas. Such people are particularly susceptible to manipulation and intimidation, and might sometimes change their stories under pressure. Maybe that is what happened here, and maybe not. Since we don’t yet know, we should take a lesson from the case of Mr. Strauss-Kahn, and avoid reaching a conclusion until we know more.
Originally published on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
Jason Dzubow's practice focuses on immigration law, asylum, and appellate litigation. Mr. Dzubow is admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Washington, DC and Maryland, the United States Courts of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Eleventh, and DC Circuits, all Immigration Courts in the United States, and the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the Capital Area Immigrant Rights (CAIR) Coalition. In June 2009, CAIR Coalition honored Mr. Dzubow for his Outstanding Commitment to Defending the Rights and Dignity of Detained Immigrants.