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.


Anne Penketh

The GuardianTramp

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