French women’s groups are criticizing what they say is the lack of attention the hotel maid at the center of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged rape attempt is getting from politicians and the country’s media.
They point out that the torrent of reaction has all but ignored the 32-year-old woman because of a so-called code of silence when it comes to the alleged victims of powerful men like Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund.
“The maid is invisible and the IMF chief gets the support,” Clementine Autain, who was raped at the age of 23 and co-founded Paris-based feminist group Mix-Cite, wrote on her blog. “The decency that everyone talks about would require that they have at least a word for the woman.”
Comments like Autain’s are forcing politicians to note that beyond presuming Strauss-Kahn’s innocence, they need to spare a thought for the housekeeper at the Sofitel hotel in Midtown Manhattan who Strauss-Kahn is charged with attempting to rape in his suite. Prime Minister Francois Fillon said yesterday that there should be “respect and compassion” for “the alleged victim.”
The case, with its image of a haggard Strauss-Kahn handcuffed and led away by New York police officers, has shaken France. A former finance minister, Strauss-Kahn, 62, is being held without bail at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex while awaiting his next court appearance on May 20.
Strauss-Kahn, who had been the leading Socialist Party contender for the French presidential elections in May 2012, didn’t enter a plea at his May 16 court hearing. He denies the charges, his lawyer Benjamin Brafman said.
“It’s traumatic,” Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande said today on Radio Classique. “In France it’s not possible to broadcast images of a trial. In the U.S., it’s the rule. With the images circulating, they have force. They create a shock.”
Several French politicians have questioned the allegations, saying it was unlikely the man they know would have done what he’s accused of, effectively challenging the version of the alleged victim, a native of Guinea who has been in the U.S. for seven years.
Her lawyer, Jeffrey Shapiro, from New York’s Jeffrey J. Shapiro & Associates LLC, said she has a 15-year-old daughter and, until the attack, lived in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. She speaks English and French.
“She did not know who he was and did not see him before,” Shapiro said yesterday. “This is a woman who does not have an agenda. She did what she was told to do, which was report this.”
‘Can’t Believe It’
According to the criminal complaint, Strauss-Kahn “engaged in oral sexual conduct and anal sexual conduct with another person by forcible compulsion.” He allegedly closed the door of the room to keep the woman from leaving, grabbed her breasts and tried to pull down her pantyhose, according to court papers.
“I, who have known him for 30 years, I cannot believe it,” Pierre Moscovici, a Socialist lawmaker, said on France 2 Television yesterday.
Immediately after his arrest, Strauss-Kahn’s Socialist Party colleagues asked that he be treated with decency and respect without once mentioning the hotel maid.
“I didn’t hear Martine Aubry, Elisabeth Guigou, Segolene Royal express any compassion for the victim,” said Gisele Halimi, 83, a prominent former feminist lawyer. “It’s a pity because if there is one thing that should prevail over friendship and clan spirit, it is respect for women.”
More than half of French people think that Strauss-Kahn is the victim of a conspiracy, according to an opinion poll carried out by the CSA agency.
Fifty-seven percent said there was a plot against him while thirty-five percent said that this wasn’t the case. Eleven percent didn’t reply.
The survey was carried out on May 16 by telephone with a sample of 1,007 people, the CSA said on its website, giving no margin of error.
Mix-Cite, the feminist group that launched a campaign called “shame must change sides” in November to bring more openness to issues surrounding rape, yesterday denounced the lack of sympathy for the alleged victim, Agence France-Presse reported.
“I am very surprised that politicians and commentators never cite the possible victim,” Arnaud Leparmentier, a senior politics correspondent for Le Monde newspaper, said in an interview. “They don’t do it because they are so France-centered that they can’t even think of a modest, black, maid victim.”
Thalia Breton, a spokeswoman for “Dare Feminism,” another feminist association, said sexist remarks in the blogosphere have “minimized” the gravity of the case.
“In France there is a tradition of libertine habits and respect of one’s private life, but rape is a crime,” she said.
“Dare Feminism” published a statement yesterday on its website on the Strauss-Kahn case. Breton said she received several e-mails that noted the ”unease” some felt with the silence surrounding the maid.
Breton says there are 75,000 rape cases every year in France and that with “a real taboo surrounding rape in this country,” only 10 percent of those women file complaints.
Following criticism from feminist groups, the tone of the case’s coverage in France is beginning to change.
French Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told Le Figaro’s website yesterday that “when we talk about this case, we must mention that there is an alleged victim.” In a May 16 interview on Canal Plus television, she had said that “France’s reputation” was “a forgotten victim.”
Socialist Party First Secretary Martine Aubry called for “respect” for the victim, and Green Party chief Cecile Duflot called for “justice for the young woman” and “justice for Strauss-Kahn who has the presumption of innocence,” Agence France-Presse reported yesterday.
The afternoon newspaper Le Monde dated May 19 showed the quandary confronting Strauss-Kahn’s allies with an article headlined: “The Socialist Party No Longer Knows Which Victim to Defend.”
Television journalist David Pujadas opened last night’s much-watched 8 p.m. France 2 news show by saying, “Strauss-Kahn spent his first night in jail. He is silenced. Meanwhile, there is a victim, a young mother of 32.”