Delve beyond sensational headlines, on whatever side of the political spectrum, if you wish to consider yourself informed. Funnily enough, the French press that for months has been lambasted for being Islamophobic and partisan, is now celebrated as the voice of truth. On the contrary, for the past six months it has simply been reporting the case, step by step, as new developments have emerged. It has reported information both in favour and against the interests of the defendant; likewise in the case of the plaintiffs. Reporting has been moderately balanced, but you would not know that if you only follow the case via the respective campaigns of the accused or accuser camps.
In the latest twist, supporters of the accused announce far and wide that the first accuser is a clear liar, for she could not possibly have been where she said she had been at the time of the alleged offence, because it is certain now that she was elsewhere. However, if you delve beyond the headlines to the actual proceedings of the court, it is far from a cause for celebration for the supporters of a man believed to be wrongly incarcerated. For the date the plaintiff provided happened to coincide with a cancelled reservation the accused did indeed have at that particular hotel on that particular night. At the hearing, the judge asked the accused how the plaintiff knew of his reservation (which he had cancelled 22 days earlier). The accused merely responded that he could not explain it.
What the judges most likely will establish in time is that the pair were in an intimate relationship — much like the other relationships the accused has already acknowledged — meeting in various hotels at various times. What they will have trouble establishing is whether, at any point, that relationship was non-consensual. That is the problem for the plaintiff, who will find it extremely difficult to prove that a rape occurred.
For the counsel of the plaintiff, it is the case of a forgotten date: they believe that by cross referencing a number of elements, such as the claim that it was raining that night, they will be able to find the date of the alleged incident. For the counsel of the accused, it is a case falling apart at its seams: proof that no such incident occurred. While the sadistic acts she describes as having been perpetrated against her coincide with the testimony of other women reporting to the court — potentially giving them weight in the eyes of the judges — reports such as these have circulated on the Internet for several years now, so could easily have been gleaned by anyone with malicious intent. These are the issues the investigating judges must consider.
As for us mere observers, it is rather too early to conclude either that the first complainant’s story is close to collapsing, or that the accused has a case to answer. Lies — or extreme forgetfulness — have been exposed on both sides. The accused, let us recall, admitted — after previously vehemently denying impropriety of any kind — a string of intimate extramarital affairs in the flesh and many more virtual relationships online. For French legal proceedings, it all comes down to the question of consent. As for God’s law: well, that is rather more fraught.