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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  1. #1 Niki 04 Jul 11

    I don't think that this story will do ANY good on the world stage, precisely because it is being treated as if the woman is a liar (mostly because of her circumstances, race and class) and the reporting is entirely lacking in awareness of the problems with disregarding the fact that whatever kind of person she is, she still has the right to consent. The media is in search of the perfect victim, and no woman is is raped is ever perfect enough.

  2. #2 mari 04 Jul 11

    I appreciate yr feelings Niki but there has already been a huge reaction in France where thousands of women have expressed their anger and stated publicly that they have had enough of chauvinist, macho, sexist behaviour.
    I think that means change must and will come.

  3. #3 PAULUS MARIE 04 Jul 11

    Hello Mari
    My feeling about this affair is confused...I thing this guy is so powerful and so proud and so sex addict that he might not have thought that he was doing something ’bad’ to this women...Nothing is clear in this affair. We will never know how it happened but I think that somethiong really happened in this room anyway...and for me, it is already too much...
    bye!
    Marie

  4. #4 Shankar 05 Jul 11

    Thanks Mari. To me what is interesting is how the ’reputation’ of the woman has weakened the case but not the ’reputation’ of the man! Can the powerful can do no wrong?

  5. #5 sarah 05 Jul 11

    Mari, DSK is well known in France for being a sexually violent man. This is not the first time. My first reaction was to think: only in the US could he be arrested and prosecuted for that, not in France. Also, this case gave rise to ridiculously macho comments for this day&age. Comments you'd wish you didn't hear. DSK is already back on his feet and in France, people are talking about his come back into politics. Polls show he stands a chance.

  6. #6 jpp 06 Jul 11

    Hi Mari,

    1. We don't know if he did it. But several women complained. He had to apologize at the IMF for his behavior and there is no smoke without fire...
    2. DSK was the best bet of Netanyahu, after Sarkosy. This is why he gets a lot of support in the US and why some French are so vociferous in his support (newspapers, self-proclaimed philosophers, etc...).
    3. The legal system, like anything else in the West belongs the rich. A rich well-connected guy be punished? Never.
    4. The point is that representative democracy does not work any more. Direct democracy maybe? That may also give a better deal to women...

  7. #7 jpp 06 Jul 11

    Hi Mari,

    1. We don't know if he did it. But several women complained. He had to apologize at the IMF for his behavior and there is no smoke without fire...
    2. DSK was the best bet of Netanyahu, after Sarkosy. This is why he gets a lot of support in the US and why some French are so vociferous in his support (newspapers, self-proclaimed philosophers, etc...).
    3. The legal system, like anything else in the West belongs the rich. A rich well-connected guy be punished? Never.
    4. The point is that representative democracy does not work any more. Direct democracy maybe? That may also give a better deal to women...

  8. #8 Betty 06 Jul 11

    It's always about power, money and political affiliations. Western feminists have firmly nailed their colours to the Left and look the other way and maintain silence when their guys behave badly. Bill Clinton and DSK being but 2 examples. Try explaining women voting for Obama over Clinton. Sighhhhhhhhhhh.

  9. #9 Betty Marcel 06 Jul 11

    It's always about power, money and political affiliations.
    Western feminists have clearly attached their colours to the Left and remain mute when their boys behave badly. Bill Clinton and DSK being just 2 examples. Try explaing women voting for Obama over Hilary Clinton. Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  10. #10 mari 07 Jul 11

    Good to see so many reactions to the DSK blog..this one is from a friend in New York ..

    HI Mari,
    DSK is an all consuming affair here in NYC. Today's New York Times has
    a large write up about the latest information in the DSK saga. Now, the
    State Prosecutor says that they may have rushed to arrest him before
    everything pertinent came out. However, he defends himself and the
    State's rush to arrest DSK, by the fact that he was on the flight back
    to Paris, and then he would be out of ’our jurisdiction forever’. Also,
    the accuser's statement was so horrific, that it ’brought tears into
    the eyes of everyone who heard her’. If nothing else, this has led to a
    lot of America bashing by the foreign press, especially the French
    media, that has ’awakened a dormant Anti-Americanism’ there and called
    DSK's treatment a ’lynching, a murder by media’. In the US, it has led
    to a sort of soul searching that, even though we are supposed to
    believe in people being innocent until proven guilty, it didn't happen
    here, and our harsh justice system has been highlighted. I think your
    experience in the 70's is so valid ,even today, with women being
    targeted
    by any randy male that thinks his power and status protects him from
    being brought to
    justice. However, unscrupulous women who accuse powerful men for
    monetary gain are just as bad. True victims have been marginalized
    here, and as usual, all the sensational and supposedly crude sexual
    practices of DSK have been highlighted by the press and gleefully
    consumed by the public. There has definitely been an obvious attempt to
    label DSK as a lascivious satyr and his accuser a saintly Guinean woman
    who is a widow who prayed ’five times daily.’ Now, as you say, we need
    to allow this to play out to it's conclusion, and see what happens. I,
    for one, believe as you do, that the man, however repulsive, didn't
    force his advances on the woman.
    xx
    Chandrika Sen Sharma

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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