University of Cambridge students plan to protest a debating club appearance tonight by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund who resigned last year after being accused of sexual assault.
The Women’s Campaign, part of the Cambridge University Students’ Union, has invited the lawyer representing Nafissatou Diallo, the New York hotel maid suing Strauss-Kahn in civil court for rape, to speak at the rally, according to Ruth Graham, the women’s officer for the student union. The group has also gathered 700 signatures on a petition asking the club to revoke Strauss-Kahn’s invitation.
Strauss-Kahn resigned as managing director of the IMF in May after his arrest in the alleged sexual assault. Criminal charges were later dropped. He was also held by police last month for questioning about a French prostitution ring. His invitation by the Cambridge Union Society, a private campus club run by students, ignores his treatment of women, Graham said.
“People are really concerned about using this prestigious forum to give a platform to a man to speak simply about the economy without acknowledging these accusations,” Graham said. “People are worried about legitimizing his role in public life.”
While speakers normally take questions, the format of the speech has no formal means for acknowledging the accusations or for confronting Strauss-Kahn about them, Graham said.
Strauss-Kahn’s attorney, Frederique Baulieu, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Strauss-Kahn said there was no violence involved in his sexual encounter with Nafissatou and called it a moral failing in a September interview with TF1 television in France. He denies any wrongdoing in connection to the prostitution ring.
Not an Endorsement
The Union Society, believed to have been founded in 1815, has a history of inviting prominent speakers including Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and Nelson Mandela. Other controversial guests have included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who spoke last year. Strauss-Kahn has been invited for several years to talk about the IMF and French politics, according to a statement from the society.
“An invitation to the Union does not imply support or endorsement, or indeed disapproval, on the part of the Society or any of the individuals in it,” the group said in the statement. “We invite people to speak at the Union regardless of their ideology, background or personal history.”
Strauss-Kahn won’t be paid for his speech and about 600 to 800 people are expected to attend, said Katie Lam, president of the society and a Cambridge student.