Strauss-Kahn accuser Tristane Banon helps shape new French rape law

Ten years after the former IMF chief’s fall from political grace, Banon celebrates new legislation on ages of consent

Almost exactly 10 years ago Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the man set to be the next leader of France, was arrested in New York and accused of raping a hotel chambermaid.

It was a fall from grace many had anticipated but few believed would actually topple the veteran politician and Socialist president in waiting.

Back in France, the spotlight fell on a young journalist and writer: Tristane Banon, who had also accused DSK, as he was known, of attempted rape years before.

As the life of DSK’s American accuser, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo was picked over by US prosecutors, the French media meanwhile was busy deconstructing Banon. She was, according to various reports, a raging fantasist, a liar, a drinker, drug-taker and hysterical opportunist who “liked to party”, with all the loaded subtext inherent when the three words are aimed at a young woman.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Strauss-Kahn in the US, citing issues in the complainant’s credibility and inconclusive physical evidence. Charges were also dropped in France, where prosecutors stated there was a lack of evidence of attempted rape.

Banon, exhausted by the trashing of her reputation, could have crawled under a stone and disappeared. Instead, she came out fighting.

Last week, she was celebrating after helping to drive through new legislation to protect children and teenagers from sexual assault when French MPs unanimously passed a draft bill establishing 15 as an age of “non-consent” under which no minor can be presumed to have agreed to sex with someone five or more years older. In cases of incest, the age of non-consent will be set at 18.

Originally, MPs had set the age at 13, but a tribune organised by an outraged Banon – who posted a picture of herself as a 13-year-old – and signed by 162 well-known figures, prompted a swift rethink supported by the Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.

Sur cette photo j’ai 13 ans et deux mois...les vacances à la Baule. L’âge où, si on viole un enfant, le Sénat considère qu’on peut plaider que c’est qu’il en a envie. On pourrait donc dire que cette petite fille a une grande envie d’un petit coup de reins. #LaLoi #DeQuoiOnParle

— Tristane Banon (@BanonTristane) January 21, 2021

The legislation follows successive sexual scandals involving high profile figures in recent years. For Banon, the law marks a watershed in France whose ripples can be traced back to 2011.

She said that without Diallo she doubted there would have been a #MeToo movement in France, which she said had led to this change in the law.

“In France it would have made three lines in the newspaper and been swept away very quickly […] This was the first one to make headlines,” Banon told the Guardian last week.

A Netflix mini-series documentary released in January called “Room 2806” (the room at the NY Sofitel where Diallo claimed she was assaulted), revealed the apathy in France towards Strauss-Kahn’s alleged behaviour.

Banon was a 23-year-old journalism graduate who dreamed of becoming a writer and novelist when she went to interview Strauss-Kahn for a magazine in 2002. He was 53, and a leading member of the Socialist party. He was also the father of one of her close friends and the former husband of her godmother. She says he jumped on her, forced his hands into her pants, groped her breasts and attempted to rape her. (Strauss-Kahn denied the accusation, saying he just tried to kiss her). She says she was dissuaded from reporting the alleged attack to police by her mother and friends who said nobody would believe her and the accusation would define her life.

When Strauss-Kahn, then the head of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested in May 2011 in New York, where he also denied the rape accusations that were later dropped, claiming Diallo had consented to sex – he subsequently settled a civil claim with Diallo for an undisclosed sum – Banon acted.

“I made a legal complaint for attempted rape, which was dropped, but the prosecutor recognised I had been sexually assaulted. Though this was past the statute of limitations, it was very very important to me that it was officially recognised that he had done something to me,” she said.

Banon says she did not recognise herself in the subsequent media portraits.

“It was so hard. The worst thing about 2011 was being treated as a liar, accused, it was unfair and violent. I could understand the journalists who said, we don’t know what happened we weren’t there, but I can’t forgive those who treated me as a liar. Every time I turned on the TV someone was talking about me, all the papers were talking about me, they were saying I was deranged, that I drank and took drugs, when I have never even smoked a cigarette. They interviewed people who had met me for three hours. It was easy for them. I was a small thin woman who looked fragile and they said disgusting things.”

Banon’s childhood had left her independent, but unprepared for such an onslaught. Hours after her birth in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, her father French-Moroccan businessman Gabriel Banon, an economic adviser to president Georges Pompidou and Yasser Arafat, left her mother, businesswoman turned socialist politician Anne Mansouret. Mansouret, who said she had admitted a fling with Strauss-Kahn (which he has never confirmed), mostly left her daughter with a nanny.

In 2011, Banon was living on benefits of €400 a month, barely sleeping and branded “the girl who had the problem with the politician”.

Her account of the DSK affair based on her diaries at the time, Le Bal des Hypocrites (The Hypocrites’ Ball) has just been republished in paperback, and she recently completed another novel, her tenth book. The red ink tattoo on her left wrist that read “Never think twice Never look back” and that on her right arm “Ne Jamis Fuir Poursuivre” (Don’t run, pursue) have been removed so only the barest trace remains.

Now 41, she lives in the same flat on the outskirts of Paris she did 10 years ago, but now with her husband Pierre and children aged five and one. Former first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was a witness at their wedding and is godmother to daughter Tanya.

“Today, I am happy,” she said. “[Strauss-Kahn] has money, he lives well. Then another part of me says he is no longer in the public space, he is nothing really.

“I am delighted to have got this new law through, I have written 10 books, I have a lovely husband and two children, and I’m proud of what I’ve done.”


Kim Willsher

The GuardianTramp

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