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Strauss-Kahn Fallout: NY DA Takes Five Steps Backwards For Rape Accusers

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Some people have all the luck and Dominique Strauss-Kahn is one of them. He's had good political fortune. He married a billionairess. Now, it turns out, the 32-year-old housekeeper who accused him of raping her while on the job in the Sofitel Hotel is looking like a terrible witness. In fact, if you listen to all the current cable chatter, you'd think she could be the one heading to jail.

Strauss-Kahn has now been released on his own recognizance, the luxurious restrictions of house arrest lifted. His $6 million bail has been ordered returned. Manhattan prosecutors are now saying the testimony of their alleged victim is problematic. Stop the press.

The woman from Guinea who's been cleaning bathrooms for the rich and famous has a creep of a boyfriend who has possibly involved her in some shady finances, possible money laundering. A phone call from him in jail was recorded and reportedly led to discovery of some untruths in her personal story including the existence of five cell phone accounts, not just the one she revealed to prosecutors.

The first reports of the case "implosion" came just one day after the sudden resignation, after three decades, of Lisa Friel, the current chief of the sex crimes unit for District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. An internal memo said was leaving "to pursue professional options outside of this office," curious timing given the work ahead on the case against this high-profile defendant who, just a few months back, was poised to replace Nicolas Sarkozy as the president of France.

Unfortunately, the experienced and dedicated Ms. Friel was snake bit by reality -- a reality show in the form of a new HBO documentary which allegedly shows her team (in outtakes from unrelated cases) discussing evidence that was not shared with defense attorneys, a breach of law that could lead various dismissals.

What a mess for the district attorney. And what a bigger mess for women who are historically reluctant to report sexual assaults. I hope Mr. Vance can repair the damage, then quickly find a way to rescue the Sofitel housekeeper from under the bus where she has been thrown.

Rape victims, you see, should not have to be Sunday school teachers or virgins. Often, the most imperfect women are the most vulnerable. I'll never forget one case prosecuted by the Florida State Attorney in the early '70s: a prostitute reported she had agreed to have sex with a cop, but was then brutally gang raped by a few of his buddies, all fellow cops. Defying all odds, the cops were found guilty and justice prevailed for a prostitute.

As a young, idealistic newspaper reporter at a time when new laws were enacted to protect rape victims from questions about their sexual history and habits, I believed that case ushered in a new era for the prosecution of sex crimes.

With the questionable handling of the case against Strauss-Kahn, we have now taken five steps backward.

I have just watched the woman's attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, outside the courtroom describing the graphic medical and forensic details of the alleged assault which include damage to the ligaments to her shoulder, ripped stockings and photographed bruises to her vagina.

He also said his client was the one who first came forward to prosecutors to correct her false statements, including those on her asylum application which apparently is a mess.

According to a statement from Cyrus Vance, Jr., the housekeeper changed her written account of a gang rape in Guinea on the application, now saying there was just one offender. Her attorney added that she also now says the female "dependent" listed on the application is not her own child, but rather a young girl she was hoping to spare the ravages of genital mutilation she says as a child she endured.

Outside of the courtroom Cyrus Vance, Jr. insisted prosecutors will continue their investigation into the case, adding "vindication of the rights of sex crimes victim is among the highest priorities of this office." He said the highest duty of a prosecutor is to assure that safeguards of American law apply to all, insuring fairness and justice for all victims and defendants.

No one would ever disagree with that. Let's just hope this one case, regardless of the challenges, will makes its way into a New York courtroom where a fair and impartial jury can weigh all the evidence and, away from the cable pundits, financial and political interests, decide what happened that fateful day in May.

Read this column and more on Shelley Ross' daily Xpress