Talk about a reversal of fortune. On Thursday, the disgraced Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, was under house arrest on charges of sexually assaulting an immigrant maid in a Manhattan hotel, his career in ruins. By Friday, the case against him had sunk faster than the Titanic: His strict bail conditions were lifted (except for his passport), and he was dining out on fine Italian food with his ever-loyal wife. On Saturday, the New York Post's front-page headline was DSK Maid A Hooker. By Sunday, nearly half of France said they'd like to see him back in politics.
In a matter of hours, the predator and the victim had changed places.
"He was thrown to the wolves," declared former French prime minister Lionel Jospin. Said Socialist politician Jack Lang: "We need him, we need his talent, we need his competence." Celebrity intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy compared DSK to an innocent man dragged to the guillotine, and demanded that his honour, not just his freedom, be restored.
Just weeks ago, the hotel housekeeper from Guinea was described as a "very pious, devout Muslim woman, shattered by this experience." Now she's the villain of the piece. She's described – by the prosecutor's office, no less – as a con artist who lied her way into the country, cheated on her taxes and consorted with money launderers and drug dealers. The New York Post claims she earned "extraordinary tips" for providing Sofitel's gentlemen guests with extra services – and it didn't mean turndowns. "Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing," she told a boyfriend on the phone, according to one law-enforcement official. (The boyfriend was in an immigration jail in Arizona; she spoke in Fulani, which took a while to translate.)
We now know way too much about the sex act that brought these two together. His semen was on the floor and wall, apparently because she spit it out. The dispute, if there was one, allegedly concerned the tip, or lack thereof. (DSK's lawyers deny that money was discussed.)
Quite a lot of Frenchmen are gloating over the sudden vindication of the Great Seducer, as DSK is widely known. They've been appalled by the media lynching, so typical of those barbarous Americans. Frenchwomen tend to have a different view. Sylvie Kauffmann, a prominent French journalist, told The New York Times that there's a tendency among men "to pretend that nothing has happened. … In the establishment mind, this issue is not very important."
But women know something happened, even if it's not the something we thought it was. Perhaps a married man who has serial affairs, boasts about his irresistibility to women and enjoys casual sex with hotel maids before lunching with his daughter isn't really such a man of honour after all.
The story, of course, isn't over. Tristane Banon, a French journalist who once described DSK as a "rutting chimpanzee," is filing assault charges over an alleged attack in 2003, when, she says, he lured her to an empty apartment and tried to rip off her clothes. She stayed silent for years, she says, because she thought that bringing charges would damage her career. DSK, in turn, is planning to sue her for slander. Il dit, elle dit. We shall see.
Meantime, even though the facts in the DSK case have been turned on their ear, the lesson hasn't changed. If you are a prominent man of influence with career ambitions, having sex with the hotel maid (consensual or not) isn't merely tacky and possibly illegal. It's just plain stupid.