Don’t let Dominique Strauss-Kahn become the victim

The French media’s response to Strauss-Kahn’s arrest says much about the country’s tolerance for sexual misconduct

Isabelle Germain

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn walks to his arraignment on charges he sexually assaulted a hotel maid. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AP

The events leading to the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York are not yet known in their entirety. But, in France, the media reaction to the attempted rape charge confirms that when a rape or sexual assault is reported, the alleged perpetrator quickly morphs into victim – and vice versa.

The news of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for allegedly assaulting a housekeeper at the hotel where he was staying immediately prompted astonishment: how could this successful politician take the risk of committing an offence that could lead, in the US, to 30 years behind bars? Conversely, was this in fact a political conspiracy, contrived by his powerful enemies? Friends and allies were certainly quick to rush to his defence: Bernard-Henri Lévy has vouched for his good character and Robert Badinter, husband of prominent feminist Élisabeth, insisted on French radio that he had been unfairly and deliberately "destroyed before any trial". Either way, the spotlight focuses on the potentially ruined politician, and not his alleged victim.

In France, the case has swept to the top of the news agenda. But it has done so with an unequivocal message: poor DSK! The photographs of a wealthy and powerful man slumped and unshaven in the dock have evoked pity and sympathy – Martine Aubry, first secretary of the French Socialist party, said she was "stunned, shocked" after seeing them, and pleaded for the media onslaught to stop. And yet, nothing has been mentioned about the plight of his alleged victim, or about how hard it is to speak out about sexual violence.

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