Dominique Strauss-Kahn: the private life of a public figure can be very illuminating | Catherine Bennett

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s trial, whatever the result, gives us an insight into his view of the world

With the sexual interests of Dominique Strauss-Kahn once again to the fore, as he defends himself in a French court against charges of pimping, one would have expected, by now, a ticking-off for the press by his old friend, the button-phobic philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy.

When Strauss-Kahn, then head of the IMF, was first accused of sexual assaults in 2011, first by a hotel chambermaid, then by a young French woman, Lévy was swift with a counter-portrait. “Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally,” Lévy argued. “But this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it’s absurd.”

Politically, he said, the loss of this “devoted and competent” public servant would be a loss for the French left, also the entire world. True, had it not been for the accusation of assault, Strauss-Kahn might well, now, be French president, although still, presumably, appearing in court on the later pimping charges. Bret Easton Ellis also sympathised, tweeting: “The unfolding case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn just reinforces my theory that men are no picnic but women are fucking CRAZY.”

A year later, after Strauss-Kahn had been charged with involvement in a prostitution ring and police had investigated (then set aside) allegations of assault by a Belgian prostitute, the end of the Strauss-Kahn marriage made headlines and Lévy returned to the attack, with a defence of DSK’s privacy. “Since keeping company with prostitutes is not yet a criminal offence in France,” Lévy said, “no one can adequately say what is really involved in the incrimination we have been unwillingly compelled to witness.” And what feminist “worthy of the name”, he asked, would applaud “as a victory the fact that a prostitute goes to the police to denounce the sexual harassment to which she has been subject”?

As we await a third reprimand, we can only imagine the indignation that must afflict Mr Lévy as he sees his friend, who has now said he likes “rougher than average” sex, being accused by a series of prostitutes of forcing them into painful, non-consensual acts that, had this pimping case not come about, they might never have reported. What feminist, “worthy of the name”, would applaud as a victory this evidence that Lille’s prostituted women actually felt they had a right to agency in these encounters, despite having sold themselves for as much, maybe, as €120 (as opposed to an agreed €200, any complaints to Lille’s chief of police, among the accused)?

To be fair to Mr Lévy, it is a tribute to the efforts of the pro-legalisation lobby that his difficulty in believing that prostitutes might not be a) happy in their work, or b) a matter of concern to feminists or c) themselves feminist, is widely shared. One of the recent “safe space” rows was attributed to a students’ union having coming out in favour of “sex work”, to the point that they preferred not to hear any arguments against this excellent career choice.

And much reporting of the Lille case has featured Lévy-style incredulity over delicacy among prostitutes, two of whom complained of being treated as, to use their word, an “object” by DSK. He, on the other hand, favoured the term “equipment” for women (whom he maintains, he did not know were prostitutes). One of them, “Jade”, who said she sold herself to feed her children, became the subject of a droll report in an Irish paper. Its correspondent was tickled by the idea of one of the “shamed” French prostitutes disliking the smell of her clients, or being too “prudish”, to, say, want to join an orgy, and so “hygiene obsessed” that she took showers before and after sex. Jade emphasised: “On ne choisit pas cette vie-là” – you don’t choose that life. She was asked if there weren’t some good sides: “Non! Il n’y a pas de bon côté.”

Dominique Strauss-Kahn testifying at Lille's courthouse during his trial
Dominique Strauss-Kahn testifying at Lille’s courthouse during his trial. Photograph: Benoit Peyrucq/AFP/Getty Images

For Strauss-Kahn’s part, it never struck this fat old man as untoward that teams of young, attractive women should keep on turning up at his hotel rooms or lunch appointments, apparently willing to submit to his demands out of the purest lust. In fact, he was angered by questions designed to suggest that he would only have used women so brutally if he knew they were prostitutes and not, as he insists, eager and gratis “libertines”. “I’m starting to get fed up. I’m not on trial for sexual behaviour.”

Even so, his particular habits may interest quite a few of his female former associates at the IMF, in the EU and in the French Socialist party, where this charming, seductive etc friend of women was once the favourite to end up the equal of Germany’s foremost piece of equipment, as DSK presumably thinks of Angela Merkel. To anyone who shares the EU’s declared view of prostitution as a violation of human dignity, a man’s use of prostitutes, including inadvertently, à la DSK, tells you as much about his attitude to women as, say, eating foie gras tells you about his attitude to geese.

You don’t have to be very counterfactually minded to imagine him, while Mrs Merkel bangs on about Ukraine’s borders, surreptitiously checking texts about a “very beautiful new thing” waiting back at his hotel. Or perhaps snickering with fellow Europriapist, the former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who once, of course, called Mrs Merkel “an unfuckable lard-arse”.

Unless DSK was planning on restraint, if elected, France’s socialists only narrowly escaped elevating a man who would have had to make presidential time, presumably with help from men such as “Dodo the Pimp” (a brothel owner who denies pimping charges), for catering and selecting pleasing “equipment” for unusually rough, libertine orgies in secret apartments. Perhaps a quiet corner of the Elysée could have been reserved for this purpose. If it had, it would have been entirely unexceptional and a private matter, of course, to French traditionalists such as Bernard-Henri Lévy and our own Max Mosley, the orgy enthusiast and Hacked Off agitator.

Government officials entrusted with due diligence already have quite enough on their hands what with insuring that people running sex inquiries are not close to anyone being inquired about, and establishing that potential finance tsars do not have a sideline in illegal offshore bank accounts, or that immigration ministers have no history of employing illegal immigrants. Still, the conduct revealed in the Strauss-Kahn trial does suggest that public figures might also, ideally, come without a history of exploiting prostituted women.

With all that they imply about his respect for women, the insights into DSK’s lifestyle, contrary to his and Lévy’s protestations, constitute the strongest case for sexual behaviour being, occasionally, worth investigating since (supposing we overlook Clinton’s :“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”), Justice Caulfield asked, of Jeffrey Archer: “Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex?”


Catherine Bennett

The GuardianTramp

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