Public opinion condemns Dominique Strauss-Kahn despite acquittal | Anne Penketh

French attitudes to the former IMF chief have changed. Those who defended him are now shocked by the testimony they heard

Dominique Strauss-Kahn may have been acquitted on charges of aggravated pimping, but he will forever be guilty in the court of public opinion in France.

Who would not have been shocked by the graphic descriptions of his violent behaviour towards the sex workers who described as “carnage” the brutal scenes which took place on mattresses strewn around the floor at his “libertine” evenings? I was almost physically sick when hearing their testimony during the trial in Lille in February. The women roped in by the former IMF chief’s flatterers had agreed to come along for organised orgies.

But who could forget the testimony of Jade, hardly a high-class escort who enjoyed the “lifestyle” but a sex worker from a modest background who received €500 (£362) for a night in a Belgian club with DSK? She described in intimate detail how she was sodomised – “impaled” she called it – by Strauss-Kahn in 2009 when the Frenchman was at the height of his powers as a global political celebrity being tipped as a future French president.

No client had ever behaved in such a manner with her, she said. “Maybe that client thought that he could because he had a higher social status.”

This same abuse of power was apparent two years later when he was accused of brutally sexually assaulting a chamber maid at the Sofitel hotel in Manhattan. Although the criminal case against him was subsequently dropped, his arrest shocked France.

To my amazement some French friends of mine agreed with the conspiracy theory that DSK’s arrest in New York was a plot to prevent him running for the French presidency and defeating Nicolas Sarkozy. At the time many French women I knew stuck to the traditional view that private life should remain private. I was out on a limb when I said DSK was clearly a violent sex addict and that instead of denying the charges he should have checked into rehab.

But mercifully attitudes have changed since then. First of all because we know much more about DSK and what he describes as the “rough sex” he has traditionally imposed on his sexual partners. Most of these cases involved women who were in awe of him or on the lower rungs of the social ladder.

Some courageous women have stepped forward. One was Tristane Banon who finally took him to court for attempted rape in 2011 in the wake of the Sofitel case over a long-rumoured incident in 2003. Banon, whose mother was a friend of Strauss-Kahn in the Socialist party, described him as behaving like a “baboon” when she went to interview him for a book she was writing.

Then there was a former girlfriend, Marcela Iacub, who wrote a novel in 2013 about her tempestuous seven-month relationship with DSK, in which he was described as “half man, half pig”. He tried to get the book banned in France.

It is interesting to note how French television news reported the acquittal on Friday afternoon because their reports also focused on his violent treatment of women. The consensus seemed to be that his political life is finished because of it, and indeed DSK himself is ruling out a return to politics.

But if support for the former French politician has evaporated amid the sordid revelations about his private life, so French attitudes have also evolved. Consider the breathless reporting of President François Hollande’s bitter separation from his partner Valérie Trierweiler and his dalliance with the actor Julie Gayet who is now reportedly ensconced in the Elysée palace.

Only a few years ago such reporting would have been taboo. We only found out about François Mitterrand’s mistress and illegitimate daughter when they were photographed at the late president’s graveside. Of course, there are plenty of people who still condemn the “people-isation” of the French press and its aping of the “Anglo-Saxon” style of celebrity reporting. But the reality is that celebrity magazines peddling such stories sell like hot cakes in France.

What is troubling now is that Strauss-Kahn doesn’t seem to have learned from his trials. He and his fawning courtiers have naturally been claiming vindication after the verdict, which hinged on whether he knew the women were prostitutes. But as far as the public record is concerned, he has never sought professional help over his violent sexual urges and is still in denial.

Far from hanging his head in shame, he was seen around town with a new girlfriend not long after his journalist wife Anne Sinclair left him in the wake of the Sofitel affair. “All that … for this,” he said after the acquittal in Lille. “What destruction!”

Come on, DSK, there’s still time for you to get to rehab.

Contributor

Anne Penketh

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Don't let Dominique Strauss-Kahn become the victim | Isabelle Germain
Isabelle Germain: The French media's response to Strauss-Kahn's arrest says much about the country's tolerance for sexual misconduct

Isabelle Germain

17, May, 2011 @12:00 PM

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: The human stain | Editorial

Editorial: It is important to note that the rush to judge the former IMF chief is now being accompanied by a similar one against the woman

Editorial

01, Jul, 2011 @10:04 PM

Article image
Dominique Strauss-Kahn case shakes France's macho culture

Feminist reaction against country's 'misogynist reflexes' continues as poll shows voters split on political comeback

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

03, Jul, 2011 @7:25 PM

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: left without honour | Editorial

Editorial: The dismissal of the case against Mr Strauss-Kahn does not justify the tone of vindication from many French Socialists

Editorial

23, Aug, 2011 @9:39 PM

Article image
Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the game only one side plays | Virginie Despentes

Virginie Despentes: As French reaction to the Strauss-Kahn affair shows, many powerful men think their 'flirting' is harmless

Virginie Despentes

23, May, 2011 @7:00 AM

Article image
Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal grips France
Nation puts former IMF chief – and itself – on the couch in wake of the arrest of one of the most powerful men in the world

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

19, May, 2011 @6:19 PM

Article image
Why half of France wants Dominique Strauss-Kahn back
Melissa Bounoua: The Socialists are conscious of how long it's been since Mitterrand – and hopeful that DSK remains a contender

Melissa Bounoua

04, Jul, 2011 @1:01 PM

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

Catherine Bennett

14, Feb, 2015 @7:03 PM

Article image
Dominique Strauss-Kahn finds sympathy in Paris
Zoe Williams discovers the French are prepared to believe anything about the IMF chief's situation – but not that

Zoe Williams in Paris

20, May, 2011 @5:02 PM

Article image
Dominique Strauss-Kahn: who could succeed him?

IMF chief's arrest means organisation now risks being rudderless as it enters delicate talks on a new loan package for Greece

Larry Elliott, economics editor

15, May, 2011 @12:15 PM