The abrupt arrest of IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges of sexual assault against an employee at the New York hotel where he was staying are being treated as shocking in France. This is a "coup de tonnerre," a bolt from the blue, not to mention a body blow to the socialist party he was to represent in the upcoming elections. Everyone in Paris claims to be amazed, shaken--and doing some soul searching this Monday morning.
Very few, however, are protesting "DSK"'s innocence. But if the news really came as such a jarring surprise, shouldn't there be a clamour of disbelief? The shameful fact is that this news was not so much a shock as a long time coming.
In 2006, French journalists Christophe Deloire and Christophe Dubois wrote a book called Sexus Politicus about the colorful sexual lives of French politicians. While the American press tended to focus on the revelations about politicians of whom they had heard (Chirac, Mitterand, Sarkozy), the book also contained a chapter on risky, aggressive sexual behavior--titled "L'Affair DSK." As Mr. Deloire wrote in today's Le Monde, the media's code of silence about sexual abuse at the high levels of government may well have permitted, if not enabled, DSK's most recent offense. Egregiously this book was published the year before Strauss-Kahn became head of the IMF--the same year he was accused of attempted rape by French journalist Tristane Banon who just happened to be Strauss-Kahn's wife's goddaughter, not to mention 30 years his junior (the French police declined to press charges in 2007, but may reconsider now). Less than 12 months later, DSK was back in the news, this time for having an affair with IMF subordinate Paula Nagy.
2006-07 also happened to be the period that saw the moralizing witch hunt of Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank over claimed favoritism that advanced the career of his companion, Shaha Ali Riza (claims that the World Bank itself found without merit, but no matter, Mr. Wolfowitz still had to resign). The discrepancies between the treatment of Mr. Wolfowitz and DSK were noted at the time, but DSK kept his job and continued his activities unimpeded by the moral and legal issues constraining the behavior of lesser mortals--and why shouldn't he? Clearly he was well above the law.
Until Saturday night, that is, when DSK found himself not up against the complaint authorities of more sophisticated nations that turn a blind eye to such escapades, and instead at the mercy of the NYPD. Even though DSK's most recent victim was yet another young woman many years his junior in a comparatively weak position, she found solace in the law. For his part, DSK is entitled under that same law to the presumption of innocence as the case unfolds but at the very least it is time to stop calling Strauss-Kahn by the Casanova-like title of "le grand séducteur" and instead understand him, as Ms. Banon declared, as "a rutting chimpanze."
If there is a silver lining to this sordid episode, it is that l'affair DSK provides an opportunity to shine a harsh light on the tacit condonement of sexual abuse in the world's theoretically-charitable institutions ranging from the U.N. to the Peace Corps. While the vast majority of the victims have suffered in anonymous silence, DSK can provide a very famous face and ample publicity to this dirty little secret that has been kept for far too long--and if this case can force some much-needed reform and accounability then Strauss-Kahn may finally do some good, however unwillingly.
Update: More details from the criminal complaint.
Update 2: There is another book on the topic, this one titled DSK: Les secrets d’un présidentiable.