Published: 10 June 2011
Region: France & Wordwide
"We do not know what happened in New York on Saturday May 14, but we know what has been happening in France in the past week…We have been disgusted by a daily outpouring of misogynist comments by public figures” – from a petition against misogynist comments in French media signed by 30.000 people
The Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair unfolding in the French media took an unexpected turn recently when French media published the name of the chambermaid at the Sofitel Hotel who accused Mr Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, together with the name of her daughter.
The former International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief is facing charges in connection with thealleged sexual assault of a 32 year old maid in New York's Sofitel hotel on 14 May.
Mr Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim is a Guinean immigrant who claims that when she entered` his suite to clean it, he emerged naked from the bathroom and chased her.
In the UK, the law prohibits publishing the names of alleged victims of sexual offences, in the USA it’s a convention. There is no law or convention in France that prohibits it, but it would have been common sense, professional dignity and in the spirit of France's privacy law not to do so.
But an aggressive campaign by Mr Strauss-Kahn's defence lawyers allowed the French media to paint the alleged perpetrator as a victim and, in another and more worrying media twist, the alleged victim has now become the perpetrator of the crime by innuendo. For example, ‘Paris Match’ published witness accounts from Sofitel Hotel where the chamber maid worked stating ‘how unattractive she is’ - the inference being that a man like Dominique Strauss-Kahn could not possibly have wanted to have sex with her.
The reasons why the French media succumbed to making a victim out of the alleged perpetrator may be complex. They were doubtless encouraged by a history of troublesome relations between France and the US, dating back at least to France’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq when US politicians described the French as "cheese eating surrender monkeys" and rebranded ‘French fries’ as ‘Freedom fries'. But given France's rigorous approach to privacy, which has over the years protected the intimate details of politicians' lives from becoming public knowledge, it is mystifying how any newspaper could justify naming the alleged victim of sexual abuse together with comments about her appearance.
A poll by CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) shows that 57 per cent of the French people believe that Mr Strauss-Kahn has been stitched-up, due to the fact that he planned to run as the presidential candidate for France’s Socialist Party in the next elections. When only members of the Socialist Party were considered, the number rose to 70 per cent.
“It is noteworthy that regardless of education level, the responses were similar,” CSA stated.
In fairness to the French people 30,000 people have already signed a petition to the French media against sexism, and protests in Paris are being held against the political and media reaction to the alleged sexual assault.
"We do not know what happened in New York on Saturday May 14, but we know what has been happening in France in the past week," the petition said.
"We have been disgusted by a daily outpouring of misogynist comments by public figures."
As UK-based blogger Karima Hamdan says "It is pertinent to note who actually had the courage to stand up to this sexual deviant. Was it the liberated French journalist - educated, well-connected and seemingly unfettered by any alliances with 'paternalistic interpretations of a medieval religion'? No. Instead it was the poor, uneducated, (reportedly) hijab-wearing, Muslim woman who valued her dignity sufficiently highly that when it was violated, she refused to allow the perpetrator to go unpunished."
Now the former IMF president, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, faces 25 years in prison if convicted, and has already faced the indignity of being pulled off an Air France flight in New York minutes before it was due to take off for Paris on Saturday, 16 May.
Pedja Urosevic for Media Diversity Institute