Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the TISS 'rape'

US prosecutors are about to drop charges against former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn after the accuser's story began falling apart. Seeing no way to a successful trial, New York's District Attorney is cutting his losses.
While it is legitimate to ask if DSK should have been arrested in such haste in the first place, at least he was given bail fairly soon by a judge; and freed about six weeks after the incident. The situation's very different in India.
The same day as the DSK prosecution fell apart, Bombay's High Court rejected the state's plea to appeal a lower court judgement in the TISS rape case. Here's the gist of that case: an American student doing a course at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was persuaded to get drunk in a pub and then join six young men in a flat in Andheri. According to her, she felt woozy after entering the flat, fell asleep and woke to find her clothes undone and two of the guys sleeping next to her. Before dropping her to her hostel, the two bought a morning-after pill and asked her to consume it. She concluded her drink had been spiked, and the six had gang raped her while she slept. This even though:
1) She didn't actually recall any intercourse.
2) Four of the boys hadn't so much as touched her before she fell into that drugged sleep.
3) One of them left the house after letting his five friends in.

Forensic evidence showed no sign of any sexual intercourse having taken place. There was no trace of any date-rape drug in the accuser's urine sample, just some cannabis. It all came down to what the girl inferred had happened while she was supposedly asleep.

On the basis of that inference, six boys were charged under India's super-strict rape law and put away for months without bail in a jail where living conditions are sub-human.

The incident occurred in April 2009. The accused were acquitted in October 2010, which is very quick by Indian standards. What is unusual about last week's High Court judgement is that the judges didn't even admit the state's appeal against the order. The evidence had to have been dreadfully weak for a High Court to decline to hear an appeal.

Here's the clincher from the lower court's verdict: The woman said she was drugged and asleep from about 2 am to 10 am. Yet, her phone records showed she had made twelve calls to two friends in that period, and exchanged messages with them all the while. The prosecution apparently had no response to this glaring inconsistency.
"The victim also deposed that she was unconscious between 2 am and 10 am of April 12, 2009, but the prosecution has offered no concrete explanation for the 12 calls that were made from her mobile phone to that of her two friends - Ahmed Mitha and Rishabh Choksi - during those hours.
Her phone records show that the calls lasted for around two minutes and also several messages were exchanged. The defence harped on this point to establish that she was not unconscious during this period - when she was allegedly raped - and raised doubts over her testimony's veracity."

So here's the deal. Phone records are easy to get; the police will have had them at most within a week of the girl's complaint. If these records demolished the complainant's basic story, why did the police continue with the prosecution? It's as if the Indian police no longer have the right to conclude that any accused are innocent. On the other hand, they appear to suffer no adverse consequences if cases are dismissed in court. The New York DA's career would have gone down the drain if he launched a high-profile trial with a zero-credibility witness. Indian prosecutors obviously face no threat to their careers in proceeding with unwinnable trials.

Shouldn't it be obligatory for police to reveal whether the girl spoke with friends repeatedly on that night or not? This is a question of fact, not opinion, and the police have access to the answer. We appear to have built a system where cops leak whatever information and speculation suits their case, but have no obligation to make the facts of a case public when the accused are innocent.

20 comments:

seana said...

What an odd story. I hadn't heard it.

chandu said...

But its possible that people can message from her phone and even call. The people who attended those calls would have been crucial evidences. While the time court took is unacceptable,there are too many discrepancies too let it go

Girish Shahane said...

That's the other sad point, Chandu. The police did not produce some crucial witnesses, such as Annie Brown, whose friends the boys were and who was with the group till past midnight.

daniel said...

Ofcourse, the clincher is the biological evidence which shows no rape, I'm picking on the points you made.

Some date rape drugs leave the system after urinating, depending on the drug, plus they effect the victim's motor skills and ability to make decisions, and frequently cause memory loss. So 1) the victim may not have any memory of actual intercourse 2) The whole point of date rape drugs is to have intercourse with the victim when they're knocked out or unable to defend themselves 3) The guy could have raped her and then left, so the last point you've made on the number of men that could have raped the victim is just conjecture based on the the boy's version, not the victim's.

Girish Shahane said...

Do date rape drugs also permit those under the influence to make regular phone calls while they're asleep?

daniel said...

Anyone could have taken her phone and made those calls while she was out. It becomes a he said/she case after that.

Girish Shahane said...

The calls were made to friends of hers. They could have clarified. That's my whole point about the police investigation.

daniel said...

And why not, like I said the effects of date rape drugs include memory loss and inability to make sound decisions, perhaps she was calling for help? Unless the police actually know what happened during the call, it's difficult to decide based on that alone (and the other points that you made.)

Girish Shahane said...

You're attributing a lot to date rape drugs. Not only can they knock you out, they can also allow you to make twelve calls while knocked out, and then not remember anything about the calls or anything else :)
But you're missing the point I made. The friends she called could have clarified whether it was she who called and whether they were distress calls or not.

Girish Shahane said...

Daniel, if you want to continue this conversation, it will have to be with a verifiable identity. I don't debate phantoms beyond a point.

Surya said...

It seems to me that you are also basing your entire post on what you conjecture/ infer from the court's responses. We all know how notoriously difficult it is to prove rape in any context and especially in the Indian courts.
Early reports on the case in 2009 had suggested that she called a friend for help.

Further the accused were quoted in newspapers in 2009 making statements that suggested that some assault had taken place. See for instance:
DNA of 21st April 2009: http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report_why-was-she-with-six-men-that-night_1249292

and also:
Mumbai Mirror of 17th April 2009.
http://www.mumbaimirror.com/article/15/20090417200904170228569958398b69/We-didn%E2%80%99t-think-shed-cry-rape.html

Girish Shahane said...

So you'd rather believe things reported by newspapers quoting anonymous police officers than the evidence examined by two courts of law. I, on the other hand, prefer to believe solid evidence that qualified judges have looked at and is in the public domain.
If you want to continue this conversation, please use a verifiable identity, not an alias.

Surya said...

Not on anonymous police officers but the accused themselves were quoted in one case saying - we did not think she would cry rape.

I think your position is incredibly one-sided. It does not take into account the fact that the police can be willfully negligent in many cases of sexual assault, that evidence is hard to come by since often reports are made days after the crime is committed, and date rape drugs often leave the system by then.

Girish Shahane said...

'Surya', I'm afraid you don't understand how reports are written. Here's the passage I think you are referring to:
"In fact, during their interrogation, the three boys - who have been in police custody since Tuesday - said that the girl behaved “so normally after the incident that they didn’t think she would file a police complaint”.
“They were so emboldened that they even gave the girl a contraceptive pill after the rape, and the fact that she consumed it without saying anything, assured them that she was not going to file a police complaint,” a Trombay police officer disclosed."

All this information has been given to the reporter by that unnamed Trombay police officer. Civilians, whether reporters or otherwise, aren't present during police questioning of the accused.

I absolutely know the police can be willfully negligent. In this case, they were negligent in not taking into account evidence that absolved the accused. Luckily we have judges to sort out the matter, but even so the six stayed in jail for months.

And this conversation's definitely over if you stay hidden behind an alias. In fact it is clear that you are just 'Daniel' under a new alias.

Surya said...

Are you then suggesting that the woman just concocted the story and went to the police for a lark??
Women do not report rape unless they are reasonably sure of what they are saying even its after awhile when the biological evidence is lost.
I agree the case was badly argued but I'm far from convinced of the innocence of these "boys".

Girish Shahane said...

So you've finally come down to the basic issue: you simply do not believe that a woman will lie about rape. Most women don't; but there are a number of well publicised cases where it has been established beyond doubt that the accusers concocted their stories. Why they did so varies from case to case. Since neither I nor, presumably, you, have any individual access to the personae in the TISS case, it's pointless assigning reasons or motives. If we knew the truth about those phone calls and messages we might hazard a guess.

Surya said...

Presumably your own faith in the judiciary comes from knowing that they never make a mistake that no person accused of rape who is guilty walks free?
I fact the opposite is true - in most cases rape is terribly difficult to establish, not the least because the judiciary works with conservative notions of good womanhood. In this case, the anxiety about the woman's apparent willingness to go with the "boys" or I'd rather say men who whether premeditated or not, then proceeded to assault her, is likely to have directed them to suggesting that she is an unreliable witness. In most situations where one is drugged, one is likely to be an unreliable witness wouldn't you say?

I would rather believe the victim/survivor than blindly trust that the judiciary knows what its doing. Judges are not exempt from the prejudice of society in general and in this case the woman was a "bad victim" ie she was assaulted when she she had been drinking, and hanging out willingly with the accused.

So yes, in this case I would rather believe the woman than trust that the judges know their job!

Girish Shahane said...

Surya, it is you who are blindly trusting something or somebody. The judges, and I, are going by the evidence accumulated. It is rather sad that you can't see the difference, but it is symptomatic of a certain view that's become common in our times.
One of the two judges, by the way, was a woman. I know this will make no difference to you, since you choose to blindly believe the story of a woman who you don't know, and who herself said she didn't know if she'd been raped, and inferred everything about her situation from a pill given to her. So, on the basis of that pill, she decided she'd been drugged and raped, and on the basis of that statement, you decide she must be telling the truth and the judges who considered all the evidence must be prejudiced. Lovely.

Surya said...

I don't think you have read much on this case or indeed much on how rape trials work.
From your writing however, it does not appear that you are a misogynist so I can only conclude that you are a blind believer that the system works.
Unfortunately it only works for those in power - the upper castes, the rich, many men....
In this case it did not work for a foreign student. (And you are right, I don't think women judges make any difference.)
Debates and discussions are good but clearly we're going to have to agree to disagree.
Let me just say, you make your case well even you are barking up the wrong tree! (In case I wasn't clear enough this last is a compliment... or sorts!)

Girish Shahane said...

I've read everything there is to read on the case; unlike you, though, I take what I read in city tabloids with a pinch of salt, and understand the way anonymous leaks work.
Thanks for the compliment. I hope you gather up enough courage in your convictions one day to argue in your own name instead of hiding behind an alias.