Dominique Strauss-Kahn, leading French socialist, former head of the International Monetary Fund, husband and father, stayer in $3,000-a-night hotel suites, but nonetheless accused of attempted rape in two countries, is getting ready to walk away from his legal troubles in the United States.
Though the District Attorney hasn’t dropped the charges laid last May that Mr. Strauss-Kahn violently sexually assaulted a hotel chambermaid, the astounding collapse of the accuser’s credibility suggests that he will probably be let go any moment now.
This stunning reversal is an interesting one, because as the chambermaid starts to look worse, Mr. Strauss-Kahn really doesn’t begin to look any better.
His accuser, a 32-year-old widow and mother from Guinea, has gone, in less than a month, from being heroically portrayed as a devout and humble hotel worker, brave enough to report the noontime assault to authorities and credible enough to persuade them to pounce on a senior diplomat, to a sketchy immigrant who lied to get into the country, had unexplained large deposits of cash in her bank accounts, misled police about some details of the alleged assault and its aftermath, and discussed with a bad man in prison how she was handling the case.
According to her lawyer, she has launched a libel suit against the New York Post, which called her a hooker and insinuated that what really happened was a money-for-sex transaction that went wrong. In other words, she was robbed, not raped.
Some might call the DSK case a feminist nightmare. After all, many of us used it to write outraged pieces about powerful men who feel entitled to be gratified sexually whenever they want, and about Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 62, in particular, whose reputation as “the great seducer,” a man who allegedly sexually importuned many females – from the women who worked for him to women who were guests of him and his wife at parties – quickly morphed after his arrest into that of an out-of-control sexual harasser who should have been put in his place years ago.
In France, the hue and cry over American “perp”-style justice was matched by the burgeoning anger of French women who have had enough of the permissive attitude surrounding this kind of behaviour.
I went back and read my original column on this case, ready if necessary to do a mea culpa. After all, I fervently believe in the oft-quoted (but perhaps apocryphal) John Maynard Keynes line and wish more politicians did: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”
But there is nothing to recant (thanks in part to this newspaper’s insistence on using the word “alleged”).
There is, of course, the central point now to be made that if the prosecution cannot prove its case, then Mr. Strauss-Kahn cannot be called or considered a rapist. A CBC radio reporter maintained that this was “still” a man who had noontime sex with a hotel worker in a luxury hotel before lunching with his daughter and flying home to his wife. That may be a shame, but it’s not a crime.
However, to demand that “his honour” be restored, as his staunch defender, media philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, and others have recently insisted, is a load of hooey.
What has struck me about this case, as it became a hot social topic, has been the complete absence of any kind of defence or support of Mr. Strauss-Kahn from the men I know, even after the revelations compromising the credibility of the chambermaid.
One male friend thought that she may have been bought off, and another just snorted when I brought up the question of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s “honour,” replying, “I think he’s taken care of that himself.”
Now there is also the legitimate worry that women everywhere will think twice about reporting a rape if what they get in return is the demolition of their character. There is nothing new about this. Despite laws to limit how their lives are portrayed in court, women have always known that anyone they accuse of rape will seek, in turn, to depict them as a lying slut.
But brave women head into the legal maelstrom anyway, not just to seek justice for the wrong that was done to them, but to prevent the wrong from being done again to another woman.
So there you have it. Unless another shocking shoe drops on this side of the Atlantic – and don’t count it out – Mr. Strauss-Kahn will scoop up his passport and scurry back to France, not quite as a triumphantly restored presidential candidate, but as a man who now has to face a second charge of attempted rape. This time, the accusation comes from a young, privileged writer, whose mother, herself a prominent socialist, has declared her support for her daughter. Very different circumstances, similar charge.
In other words, far from being a feminist nightmare, it is Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s nightmare, from beginning to end. And one entirely of his own making.