Italian law once held that a woman wearing jeans couldn’t be raped because removing such form-fitting trousers must require “collaboration and consent” (the law was scrapped in 2005 amid feminist backlash and possibly the advent of Jeggings). It’s now 1102—excuse me—2011—and France has a similar edict: a woman cannot be raped by a powerful man. Or more specifically, Roman Polanski couldn’t rape a thirteen-year-old girl (1977), a member of the Qatari royal family’s entourage couldn’t rape a Paris hotel maid (2010), and Dominique Strauss-Kahn can’t rape anyone at all (ever.) Strauss-Kahn is of course, the former chief of the International Monetary Fund, who resigned this past May when he was charged with allegedly raping a chambermaid in the Sofitel NYC hotel. He was released from custody because of inconsistencies in his accuser’s story, and it appeared the case had crumbled before it began.
But this week brought another bombshell: DSK’s previously anonymous accuser gave her name (Nafissatou Diallo) in an attempt to clear it, appearing on television for the first time since the allegations were made against him. This new development appears to have revived the case. But whether DSK is guilty or not seems irrelevant, because what the French political elite has so clearly expressed these past months—barring a few decent citizens with de Beauvoir hangovers—is that no matter the shifting burden of proof, important people who touch without asking are untouchable themselves. The loi stops for superstars. Or as French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy put it so heart-warmingly in The Daily Beast, following his BFF’s arrest,
“…the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd. I hold it against the American judge who [delivered] him to the crowd of photo hounds…”
Unfortunately for Levy, DSK was likened to a primate long before his New York perp walk. On a Paris television show in 2007, a young journalist named Tristane Banon (the goddaughter of his second wife no less) called Strauss-Kahn a “rutting chimpanzee”, alleging that he tried to rape her five years before. Not surprisingly, DSK’s supporters maintain that Banon’s current charge against him is the opportunistic ploy of a serial attention-seeker, but her back-story, combined with many recent claims of the man’s habitual boorishness (one French publication had a running joke about sending young female reporters to interview him in private) make this highly unlikely.
What is likely is this: DSK is an enormous low-life, and the French don’t care. Since Diallo’s allegations surfaced and the case against him unraveled, his popularity has increased 5% in France; and the occasional murmur about a ‘turning point for women’s rights’ was overshadowed by the French media’s blatant support for him—not to mention the Socialist party’s hope that he’d run against Sarkozy in next year’s election. Most cynical of all though, is the apparent conclusion that DSK’s release amounts to an exoneration; that he isn’t a “rutting chimpanzee”, but one of the falsely accused. DSK, though, is no Dreyfus.
Strauss-Kahn’s semen was found on his accuser’s dress, and Sofitel reception staff witnessed him checking out in haste, with toothpaste around his mouth. His accuser was bruised and suffered torn ligaments; according to Reuters, authorities collected “circumstantial and forensic evidence which ‘strongly suggested something other than a consensual’ sexual encounter between the maid and Strauss-Kahn.” The contradictions in Diallo’s story and lies from her past weakened the legal strength of the physical evidence enough to prompt the District Attorney’s office to back down—not the legitimacy of the physical evidence, which was irrefutable. The trial isn’t stillborn because there’s no case to be made, but because the prosecution doesn’t think it can win it. DSK’s culpability, however, is a whole different ball game. “Not guilty doesn’t mean innocent”, NYC women’s rights attorney Jack Tuckner says. “I don’t know enough to know for sure, but my experience leads me to say that with this type of evidence, where there’s this kind of smoke, there’s usually fire.”
But this story is no longer about DSK’s smoke and fire; it’s about the smoke and mirrors of the supposedly superior, infinitely more sophisticated French attitude toward all things sexual. One neat bit of sophistry has been the French media’s rush to conflate the DSK allegations and the Clinton scandal. The argument goes like this: “France doesn’t care about its politicians’ sex lives the way the Americans do”. But while it’s one thing to look down your nose at America’s ‘accusatory’ justice system, it’s another thing entirely to brush off alleged rape—or at least a gross abuse of power—with a ‘(big) boys will be boys’ attitude. There’s a difference between a sex scandal and a sex crime. The former makes you a bad husband—the latter, a bad person. Electing an adulterer is not the same thing as electing a predator.
One nice thing about the DSK fallout is the fact that his perviness toward women has finally put one in his place (Christine Lagarde, newly appointed head of the IMF). And it’s a place Nafissatou Diallo hopes he never occupies again: “I want justice,” she told ABC News this week. “I want him to go to jail. I want him to know that there is some places you cannot use your money, you cannot use your power when you do something like this”.
French analyst Anne-Elisabeth Moutet doesn’t entirely agree: “The American way of doing things would be, I am so sorry about this, I have a problem, I’m seeking therapy…But the French do not apologize. In this country, we have an ancient Roman attitude—you admit to a weakness and you’re down.”
We have an attitude in this part of the world too: When you ejaculate onto a chambermaid and flee the scene with toothpaste dripping from your jowls, chances are you’re down already.