Why Strauss-Kahn Arrest and French Reaction Shouldn't Surprise Us

By Sanbonmatsu, John | The Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 2011 | Go to article overview

Why Strauss-Kahn Arrest and French Reaction Shouldn't Surprise Us


Sanbonmatsu, John, The Christian Science Monitor


Many French have leapt to defend former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn after his arrest for allegedly raping a hotel maid in NYC. This rush to defend powerful men accused of sexual violence isn't uniquely French. It's a symptom of the deep-seated misogyny that exists around the globe.

This week's arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, on charges that he sexually assaulted a maid at a chic Manhattan hotel, has led prominent figures in France to dismiss the victim's allegations as "impossible" or even a political "set-up." But neither they nor we should be surprised that politically powerful and respected men are capable of acts of sexual violence against women.

Just last December, an Israeli court convicted Moshe Katsav, the former president of Israel, for raping a woman while still in office. When the accusations first came to light, Vladimir Putin, then-president of Russia, caused a minor scandal by calling Mr. Katsav a "mighty man" and joking that "we all envy him."

Making light of claims of violence against women is nothing new. Nor is blaming female victims for the violence they suffer at the hands of men, which remains the norm across the globe.

A history of dismissing victims

In 2005, Jacob Zuma, then a rising star in the political firmament of the African National Congress, was put on trial for having raped a young AIDS activist. Mr. Zuma, who was acquitted, is now the president of South Africa. But many South Africans believe that Zuma was given a pass by the courts, and women's rights activists at the time rightly faulted Zuma's attorney for putting his accuser on trial for her past sexual behavior.

Here in the US, our own culture never seems to tire of the pornographic myth of "Girls Gone Wild" - that girls and young women "ask" to be sexually abused and objectified. Yet nowhere in our lexicon do we have an expression for "men gone wild," to describe the pervasive abuse of women and girls by men. When a woman claims to have been attacked by a powerful man, her accusations instead are typically met with public skepticism.

In February 1999, business owner Juanita Broaddrick gave a heart- wrenching account on NBC's "Dateline" of how then-President Bill Clinton had allegedly raped her in a hotel room in 1978, during Clinton's first campaign for governor of Arkansas. Soon after the show aired, a CNN poll found that most of those surveyed did not believe Ms. Broaddrick's account, and two thirds wanted the media to drop the story altogether.

A similar public skepticism has greeted Mr. Strauss-Kahn's arrest back in his native France, where Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist member of parliament, described the maid's accusations against Strauss-Kahn as "not credible" and claimed that the IMF head's behavior may have involved "seduction" but certainly not "constraint or violence."

Symptom of deep-seated misogyny

In reality, the criminal behavior Strauss-Kahn is charged with is all too believable. …

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