Sisterhood Blog

In the DSK Case, a Silver Lining?

By Elissa Strauss

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Strauss-Kahn, after being released from house arrest, with his wife, the journalist Anne Sinclair.

The sexual assault case against the former I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn seems to have all but unraveled. The credibility of the hotel chambermaid who accused DSK of forcing her to perform oral sex and attempting to rape her has been called into question by the defense team, which says that the accuser has been inconsistent in her account of the alleged assault, spoke some damning words to her boyfriend after the incident, and lied on her asylum application. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is said to be considering dropping the case.

While we still don’t know what went on that afternoon — John Eligonin in The New York Times goes through three possible scenarios based on the evidence — we do know that DSK has a history of being a lothario and there is still something fishy about what happened in his luxury hotel suite, even if it wasn’t outright assault.

But the fact that there is a big chance DSK will walk away from these charges does not mean that this case has been a total loss for the way sexual violence is spoken about and acted upon overall.

In France this case is being seen as a watershed moment, as reported by The New York Times, and French women who were previously hesitant to report harassment and assault are starting to speak up. This is an important shift considering that France ranked 46th in a recent report on gender equality from the World Economic Forum, below Kazakhstan and Jamaica, and French government surveys conclude that only 10% of the nation’s rape victims of press charges. One junior minister who allegedly insisted of giving female colleagues foot massages, which then turned into groping was forced recently to resign.

And perhaps more importantly, the novelist Tristane Banon has now decided to file charges against DSK, whom she says attempted to rape her back in 2003. Many are speculating that such charges will cramp his plans for a political comeback that he may try to make, should the case in New York get dropped. Even if nothing happens with the Banon charges, the fact that the writer is pressing them now, eight years later, is a powerful symbol in a society that has been so accommodating of the wide-range in which men express their sexual appetites.

Another positive outcome of the case is the replacement of DSK with Christine Lagarde as the new managing director of the IMF. Lagarde is the first-ever woman to lead the organization since its founding in 1944, and vows to introduce more diversity in terms of gender, background and culture.

The I.M.F. under DSK had a reputation as a exclusive boys club, where a blind eye was turned towards sexual harassment. But now that seems primed to change.

And in New York, the fact that the D.A. took so very seriously the accusations of an immigrant maid against a very powerful man makes a strong statement on how accusations of sexual assault can and should be taken. As the A.P. pointed out, hotel maids are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, though, due to fears over losing their job and immigration status, they are often hesitant to speak up. But perhaps now, with this case behind them, they will be less reluctant to do so.


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