Reports have been circulating that the rape case against former International Monetary Fund managing director Dominique Strauss-Khan is in danger of being thrown out because of questions raised about the credibility of his accuser, a Guinean immigrant who was granted political asylum.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was quoted as saying that the woman made “false” accounts of the circumstances following the alleged attack on May 14. The New York Times reported on other instances of contradictory statements in the woman’s asylum application, uncovering “major holes” in her credibility as a witness.
“Asylum seekers often have inconsistencies in their statements,” said Manhattan immigration lawyer Jonathan Robert Nelson, who handles political and religious asylum cases. It is for the immigration judge to determine whether the inconsistencies are “minor or major,” and if the witness is credible, he said in a phone interview with Fi2W.
Asylum seekers who suffered traumatic events often develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and PTSD can have an effect on a person’s memory, said Nelson, who is not involved in the Strauss-Kahn case. “It can have an effect on the person’s ability to speak with consistency and completely about the traumatic event.”
Depending on how severe the trauma is, Nelson said some asylum seekers who are, “tortured so badly it blocks the memories of certain events from coming to the surface.”
“It can be tricky to get testimony out of a torture victim,” he said.
According to the New York Times, Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, “told investigators that her application for asylum included mention of a previous rape, but there was no such account in the application. She also told them that she had been subjected to genital mutilation, but her account to the investigators differed from what was contained in the asylum application.”
Sometimes, according to Nelson, the inconsistencies may likely be caused by faulty translation or the unprofessional way asylum papers are prepared.
“Someone may wrongly translate ‘sword’ as ‘firearm’, and this can lead to inconsistencies in testimony,” he said.
“One needs to be a sympathetic listener as a way of getting to the truth,” and from there make a judgment on the merit of his testimony “without destroying the person,” said Nelson.
The New York Immigration Coalition issued a statement that “the credibility of the victim’s asylum case should not be linked to a totally separate case of sexual assault/rape.”
Immigration lawyer J.T. Mallonga echoed that sentiment, saying the criminal element of the Strauss-Kahn case is “totally different” from the immigration case. If there is probable cause for assault, it must not be tied to the woman’s application asylum.
However, Mallonga argued that from his experience many asylum cases are “fabrications” made by people who are desperate to remain in the U.S.
There is speculation that the sexual assault investigation might prompt a review of the woman’s asylum case, and if fraud is determined, it could be cause for deportation.
Some immigration attorneys are also worried that the revelations about DSK’s accuser will put a spotlight on asylum applications and could make the difficult process even harder for immigrants with verifiable stories.
Data from the Justice Department show that asylum denial rates have steadily declined over the years: from 89 percent in 1986 down to 50.1 percent 2010.
“One factor contributing to the improved success of asylum seekers is that a higher proportion of the total are represented by counsel,” according to TRAC, the independent data gathering and research unit of Syracuse University.
Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, who is reportedly feeling despondent over the possible outcome of the case, finds staunch support from women’s rights advocates. They argue that lawyers and the courts ought to treat with “sensitivity and respect” all women who report rape.