This weekend, police apprehended International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on an airplane moments before takeoff over accusations that he sexually assaulted a New York City hotel maid earlier that day. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, is now the center of what the London Guardian is calling “France’s Monica Lewinsky moment” — as well as the same-old, same-old s**tshow that happens anytime a powerful and famous man is accused of sexual assault or rape.
Let’s familiarize ourselves with what’s going on, shall we?
- A former corporate lawyer who also holds a Ph.D. in economics, 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn is the managing director of the IMF, a network of almost 200 countries that work to ensure world financial stability. He’s also a leading presidential contender in his native France. Strauss-Kahn served in the French National Assembly three times and sought the Socialist Party nomination for president in 2006. He served as France’s Minister of Economy, Finance and Industry when the country introduced the Euro. [IMF.org, New York Times]
- Strauss-Kahn is married to his third wife, Anne Sinclair, an American-born French journalist, whose family is extremely wealthy. He is the father of four children. Strauss-Kahn’s salary, according to The New York Times, is an annual $442,000, tax-free. [IMF.org, New York Times]
- A maid at the Sofitel hotel in New York City’s Times Square, who is requesting to stay anonymous, accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her when she came to clean his $3,000-a-night suite. She claims she entered his room and he allegedly emerged from the bathroom naked; she tried to leave, but he followed her and then pulled her into the bedroom and bathroom. He allegedly sodomized her and forced her to perform oral sex on him, after which she spit his semen onto the floor. After she reported the alleged sexual assault to her boss, she was taken to a hospital to be treated for minor injuries. [Guardian UK]
- The alleged victim is a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea who came to the U.S. seven years ago; she’s a single mother and lives in the Bronx with her 15-year-old daughter. She has worked at the Sofitel hotel for three years. Strauss-Kahn may also need to get himself tested, stat: the alleged victim previously lived in a Bronx housing project exclusively for people with HIV/AIDS. [New York Post, Guardian UK]
- Rumors of philandering and accusations of rape and/or general sleaziness have dogged Strauss-Kahn for years. In 2007, the journalist Tristane Banon claimed Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her in 2002. In 2008, he was found to be having an affair — apparently consensual — with a Hungarian economist at the IMF. He was allowed to keep his job, however, because it was not determined that he’d abused his authority. Also in 2008, French politician Aurélie Filipetti said Strauss-Kahn had groped her and that she would “forever make sure” she was never “alone in a room with him.” (Scary.) There is also an entire chapter devoted to Strauss-Kahn in a book called Sexus Politicus, written by two French journalists, about the sexual behavior of politicians. [New York Times] UPDATE: Oh, look, another sketchy story: a 2010 book published in France called DSK: Secrets of a Presidential Contender also claims Strauss-Kahn raped a maid while in Mexico on a business trip, possibly in 2006 or 2010. [Guanabee]
- Yet Strauss-Kahn’s reputation appears Teflon untouchable — in part because he’s a brilliant economist but also because it’s easy for his supporters (as well as those who always have knee-jerk reactions presuming a rape accuser is “after something”) to claim that women want his money. His wife has said this latest rape accusation must be a “set-up.” In response, Jeffrey Shapiro, the lawyer for the alleged victim of Saturday’s incident, addressed concerns that the maid was part of a “conspiracy” to nail Strauss-Kahn, explaining to the Guardian, “[The alleged victim] had no idea who he was in the world until the next day. The idea that she was involved in some form of conspiracy is ridiculous.” And one finance bigwig told The New York Times, “Even the chatter about women was discounted enormously by everyone around [Strauss-Kahn] … The discussion I always heard about him was he’s one of the titans, that he’s such an extraordinarily different person, that rules don’t apply to him in the same way.” Emphasis mine. [New York Times, New York Times]
- Of course, sexism and classism are rearing their ugly heads in this incident. The stereotypical French attitudes that “boys will be boys” and “men can’t help themselves,” as well as the stereotype of French men as Pepe le Pew-style seducers, are particular sticking points for feminist activists, both in France and the U.S., in light of the rape accusations. For rape victims (both male and female), this attitude is dismissive or even outright victim-blaming. Caroline De Haas, a feminist activist with the French group Osez les Feminisme, told London’s Guardian newspaper that only 10 percent of France’s annual 75,000 rape victims go to the police. Consider that in this situation, where the accused is a wealthy, educated, powerful white man staying in a $3,000-a-night suite, while the accuser is a black, working-class female immigrant. [Guardian UK, Gaurdian UK]
- Dominique Strauss-Kahn was charged with attempted rape, forcible touching, sexual abuse, and unlawful imprisonment, among other charges. He was denied the $1 million bail posted by his wife Anne Sinclair on Monday and is currently imprisoned at NYC’s Rikers Island, where he is on suicide watch.
What do you make of this whole scandal?
Original by Jessica Wakeman