Does the Reaction to IMF Rape Charges Show Progress?

International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn is being held without bail in Manhattan today on charges of attempted rape, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment. The powerful French politician is accused of confining a maid in an upscale New York hotel and sexually abusing her on Saturday afternoon.

Theories of a plot to defame the beloved Socialist party politician–who was touted to become the next president of France–began swirling almost immediately after the allegations were made public. Just as sexual assault allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were dismissed by his supporters last year, Strauss-Kahn’s allies have argued that the charges against him are part of a sting operation, perhaps by political opponents bent on derailing Strauss-Kahn’s surging career.

Said Christine Boutin, head of France’s Christian Democratic Party: “That he could be taken in like that seems astounding, so he must have been trapped.”

However, previously silent survivors have come forward in the last two days to report stories of sexual abuse by Strauss-Kahn. Tristane Banon, the daughter of a local Socialist party politician, says she was sexually assaulted by the former IMF chief in 2002 after contacting him for a book she was writing. During their interview, she says, “He wanted to grab my hand while answering my questions, and then my arm. We ended up fighting, since I said clearly, ‘No, no.’ We fought on the floor, I kicked him, he undid my bra, he tried to remove my jeans.” Banon says she didn’t come forward at the time of the assault because, “I didn’t want to be known to the end of my days as the girl who had a problem with the politician.” Now she is pressing charges.

But despite the skepticism about the charges from some of Strauss-Kahn’s allies, this case may represent a turn in the public response to international sex crimes accusations. In 2009, when film director Roman Polanski was arrested on 30-year-old charges of statutory rape, celebrity friends rushed to take Polanski’s side, saying the incident couldn’t be consideredrape-rape” and shouldn’t be treated as such. And just last year, when left-wing hero Assange was arrested by Interpol on rape charges, feminist author Naomi Wolf was among the first to come to his defense, dismissing the accusations as “personal injured feelings.”

But in this case, arguments that Strauss-Kahn is the victim of a sting have been quickly dismissed. Gérard Grunberg, a political scientist who studies the French left-wing, says, “If all this was a trap, he wouldn’t have fled in a panic.” The mainstream media have also acknowledged Strauss-Kahn’s poor reputation with women, saying he is too “insistent” and often “comes close to harassment”–a change from many previous cases where rape accusations against beloved figures are immediately assumed to be false. And the IMF acted immediately, removing Strauss-Kahn from his top-level position, which shows that the organization is taking the case seriously. So perhaps this case sends a new signal about rape cases: If charges against an internationally revered figure are to be taken seriously, so too should rapes by average people in regular communities.

Above: IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, photo via Wikimedia Commons under CC 2.0


  1. NY Times says:

    Aren’t you doing what you accused the NY Times of doing? Or is this much more personal?

  2. Rachel W says:

    I am getting rather frustrated with the repeated use of the ‘injured feelings’ quote from Wolf’s inexcusable open letter to Interpol on huffpost. My frustration stems not from a need to defend her letter (she should be ashamed of having thought that worthy of publication), but rather from the impression its repeated trotting out gives; the impression that it was all she had to say on the subject.

    As the facts in the case surfaced, she clearly realized that the accusations were not baseless and the result of ‘injured feelings,’ but rather the result of a man who clearly thought his sexual needs superseded his partner’s right to consent. Her points included Sweden’s appalling lack of worry about sexual assault cases a VAST majority of the time, as seen in her article here: She points out, ‘Sweden has HIGHER rates of rape than other comparable countries — including higher than the US and Britain, higher than Denmark and Finland — and the same Swedish authorities going after Assange do a worse job prosecuting reported rapes than do police and the judiciary in any comparable country.’

    She diminishes the importance of what Sweden terms ‘sex by surprise,’ which I would simply call rape, and I have a HUGE problem with that. But her point about the world and its lack of concern for rape and rape victims is not only true, but highly relevant. She also pointed out that she knows ‘what happens in rape accusations against men that don’t involve the embarrassing of powerful governments.’ That would be nothing most of the time. Her breakdown of world horrors and lack of care can be found here: Ms. Magazine just did an amazing blogpost on just this problem in the United States: The US cares so much about rape kits they let a man rape and kill 5 more women rather than process the rape kit that could have caught him.

    I have a huge problem with some of Wolf’s arguments surrounding this case, and as I said earlier, that open letter was inexcusable. But that said, her arguments surrounding this issue went so far beyond that one comment in her first article (which was before the facts in the case became known), and it frustrates me extremely that Ms. Magazine now has two articles engaged in ‘the cultural power of reiteration,’ which in this case refers to repeated use of this one comment that thusly reduces Wolf’s entire position TO that one comment. Reiterate it enough, and that will be all anybody remembers.

    The other article that engaged in this can be found here:

  3. Clearly Ms Magazine is on another planet. I do not see anything different in the way the barbaric media handles the case. The attorney for this poor rape victim have to keep saying to the press, she is not lying, she is of good character but the rapist is always assumed to be of good character. Nothing is changed. They are still claiming this has to be a conspiracy and you cannot even find articles calling out men for the barbaric rape victim shaming the way there were some articles calling out men with the Lara Logan case.

  4. I think Ms is not being honest when you say ‘arguments that Strauss-Kahn is the victim of a sting have been quickly dismissed’. I just looked at the article you linked and there is just this one line Gérard Grunberg, a political scientist who studies the French left-wing, says, “If all this was a trap, he wouldn’t have fled in a panic.” Nothing about how rape vicitms are automatically believed to be lying. I mean just google feminist on IMF rape case and you have a few articles claiming Strauss-Kahn is a victim of false rape charge and that the feminist media is the reason why he is being charged. Feminist media, my ass more like misogynist media still claiming conspiracy and asking about the integrity of the rape vicitm. Men still accuse rape victims of lying

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