New Sex Scandal Forces France to Confront Macho Politics

Article excerpt

PARIS (AFP) - Who will be next to fall? That's the question on many French lips after one of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ministers resigned over rape accusations amid heated debate over the chronic machismo of Paris politics.

"What if the Georges Tron affair were the first in a long series of aftershocks that will follow the earthquake on May 14 in the Sofitel in Times Square?" wondered Liberation newspaper in an op-ed article.

Tron, who was Sarkozy's civil service minister, resigned Sunday after a legal probe got under way into claims -- which he denies -- by two women that the foot massages he forced on them turned into sexual harassment and rape.

The resignation came two weeks after New York police arrested the International Monetary Fund's then chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges that he tried to rape an African chambermaid in his Sofitel hotel suite.

Strauss-Kahn's arrest shocked France and sparked anguished soul-searching about whether strict privacy laws and alleged media complicity let politicians, top businessmen and celebrities get away with unacceptable behaviour.

Now Tron's departure has sharpened the debate and sparked widespread speculation that more women are going to emerge to denounce sexually predatory politicians.

One of the women who accused Tron of sexual harassment and rape said last week she was encouraged to speak up after Strauss-Kahn's sensational arrest.

"When I see that a chambermaid was capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I don?t have the right to stay silent," said the woman, who was not identified by name.

The Journal du Dimanche newspaper wrote Sunday of a "before and an after DSK," as Strauss-Kahn is popularly known in France.

If sexism and macho behaviour is widespread across French society, then it is particularly concentrated in the world of politics, said Caroline Ressot of the Observatoire de la Parite, a government body that promotes sexual equality.

French political parties have traditionally been indulgent about the sexual behaviour of their members, she said.

"There is a certain number of elected representatives -- on both the left and the right -- who have been convicted of sexual aggression and who have not been expelled from their parties, for example," she told AFP. …