New Internationalist

L’affaire DSK: An affair to remember

L’affaire DSK [Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former IMF boss – ed.] has hit the headlines again. A few weeks ago I talked about the issue in this blog. Did he? Did he not? Could anyone be so foolish? New evidence is  casting doubt on the reliability of the alleged victim’s story. Newspapers are reporting that the Guinean chambermaid talked about making money out of the incident, and lied about her past.

I spent many years in hotel rooms all over the world, during the 1970s, as a stewardess. Our pampered, protected, globe-trotting world was rudely shattered when a couple of colleagues were raped, one in a really upmarket, five-star hotel in Frankfurt. The man followed her into the elevator, got off at her floor, walked past her as though going to another room, then turned back and pushed her in. Laden with shopping bags as she opened her door, she was an easy target.

It was surreal. Just like a scene out of a film. Obviously, all of us, 20-something-year-olds then, lived with a fear psychosis for a while after. It had happened to one of our own. Could have been any of us. I myself always spent hours walking alone along the Rhine, near the hotel in Frankfurt. Could have been me.

It made us think about self-defence, pepper sprays, karate, judo. We looked over our shoulders frequently. But it also made us think about the details and how exactly you could fight off a rapist.

I interviewed many rape victims and their families while writing about violence in Gujarat in 2002. Most women were gang raped. When you watch films involving rape, there is force. Knife point. Gunpoint. Risk of death or injury.

When discussing the DSK case, I wondered whether a man in his position, who could pay for sex any time he wished, and had sophisticated French women at his feet because of his power and wealth, would risk losing so much – his entire, extremely ambitious political career. Especially in the context of remarks he made in an interview to the press about obstacles to the French Presidential throne.

I considered his defenders’ remarks ridiculous and offensive. Why would he want to sleep with a maid, they asked. But I wondered. He might want to sleep with anything that moved at that particular point when he was horny. But would he risk raping someone, especially a hotel employee, in an upscale New York hotel? At the risk of having my head chewed off by feminist friends – it sounds implausible.

Reports about DSK’s sexual style sound disgusting to most women. As does the supposed attitude of French society and media to his previous, sexually harassed victims. But if the claim against him is spurious, then that is a totally different ball game.

Women who seek to cry rape falsely for money, revenge or any other motives, put into jeopardy all those millions of women the world over, rape victims who are fighting so desperately for justice, in difficult hostile situations. It undermines and trivializes the entire issue and sets the battle back for every woman who needs help. It is absolutely unforgivable.

It’s possible that the truth will never come out. And that justice, the courts, the law can all be turned into one massive cruel joke. We know that only too well. History has hundreds of examples for us. The only good thing emerging from this sordid affair is that it has thrown open the debate in a manner that the world’s best anti-rape campaigners would find hard to match.

Hopefully, the debate will go centre stage in countries where it’s most needed, in places where it’s still cool to be a playboy. It’s going to be an interesting affair to follow. And whatever the outcome, this one will go down in history as definitely an affair to remember.

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