Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case
At the time of the alleged attack, Strauss-Kahn was the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and considered to be a leading candidate for the 2012 French Presidency. Four days after his arrest, he resigned his post at the IMF. The Economist remarked that his early resignation came at a critical time for the world economy and would make the task of finding a replacement for him still more urgent and complicated.
Strauss-Kahn's arrest precipitated intense media interest worldwide. Images of him in custody were widely disseminated in US media causing controversy in France where such images are illegal and considered degrading. After the arrest there was widespread speculation that the allegations were a setup by political opponents. A number of his close and intimate friends, including his present and former wives, defended him, stressing that violence was not part of his nature. Others criticized his conduct with women, while the media response provoked a discussion of sexism in French culture.
On May 19, Strauss-Kahn was indicted by a grand jury to stand trial and could face more than 25 years in prison if convicted. After posting $1 million bail, he was placed under house arrest. He was arraigned on June 6 and pleaded not guilty.
On July 1, a special hearing was called at which prosecutors told the judge that they had reassessed the strength of their case in the light of substantial credibility issues relating to the housekeeper discovered by investigators. As a result, Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest amidst widespread media speculation that the case against him was near collapse. The district attorney's office said it would complete its investigation.
Arrest and indictment
On May 14, 2011, Strauss-Kahn was arrested and charged with the sexual assault and attempted rape of a 32-year-old housekeeper at the Sofitel New York Hotel in Manhattan earlier that day. After calling the hotel and asking them to bring his missing cell phone to the airport, he was met by police and taken from his Paris-bound flight at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport minutes before takeoff and was later charged on several counts of sexual assault plus unlawful imprisonment. Strauss-Kahn was accused of four felony charges - two of criminal sexual acts (forcing the housekeeper to perform oral sex on him), one of attempted rape and one of sexual abuse - plus three misdemeanour offences, including unlawful imprisonment. The U.S. State Department determined that Strauss-Kahn does not have diplomatic immunity.
Strauss-Kahn appeared in court on May 16. During the proceedings the prosecution stated that the housekeeper, who is an immigrant from the West African state of Guinea, had provided a detailed account of the alleged assault, had picked Strauss-Kahn out of a lineup, and that DNA evidence recovered at the site was being tested. Strauss-Kahn, who had earlier agreed to a forensic examination, pleaded not guilty. The judge detained him without bail pending the grand jury investigation.
Strauss-Kahn hired New York lawyer Benjamin Brafman to represent him. He was reported as having sought public relations advice from a Washington-based consulting firm. His defense team hired a private detective agency to investigate the housekeeper's past.
The housekeeper is represented by Kenneth Thompson and Douglas Wigdor of Thompson Wigdor LLP, a two-partner law firm whose areas of expertise include employment law and civil rights cases. Thompson hired a Paris lawyer to look for women in France who may have been victimized by Strauss-Kahn.
On May 19, Strauss-Kahn was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on seven criminal counts, two of which are first-degree criminal sexual acts, each of which is punishable by a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. Bail was set at $1 million with 24-hour home detention and an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. After Strauss-Kahn turned over his passport and posted an additional $5 million bail bond, he was placed under house arrest in a residence in Lower Manhattan.
Strauss-Kahn was arraigned on June 6 and pleaded not guilty. Outside the court, lawyers for the parties made statements. Benjamin Brafman, for Strauss-Kahn, said: "In our judgment, once the evidence has been reviewed, it will be clear that there was no element of forcible compulsion in this case whatsoever. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not credible." Kenneth Thompson, for the housekeeper, said: "She is going to come into this courthouse, get on that witness stand and tell the world what Dominique Strauss-Kahn did to her."
On June 30, 2011, the district attorney sent a letter to Strauss-Kahn's defense team disclosing information about the housekeeper. Prosecutors met with Strauss-Kahn's defense team the same day. That evening The New York Times reported the case as being on the verge of collapse and quoted law-enforcement officials as saying investigators had uncovered major holes in the housekeeper's credibility. She admitted she lied about the events immediately following her encounter with Strauss-Kahn. She had initially said that after the alleged assault she waited in a hallway until Strauss-Kahn had left. Later she admitted to having cleaned an adjacent room, and then returned to Strauss-Kahn's room to clean there before reporting to her supervisor that she had been attacked. Also amongst the discoveries were her statements to investigators differing from what she had put in her asylum application, her claiming to have only one phone while paying hundreds of dollars a month to 5 phone companies, and individuals, including known felons, putting almost $100,000 into her bank account over the past 2 years.
In addition, the prosecution learned that, the day following the alleged assault, the housekeeper had made a phone call in her native Fulani language to her boyfriend in an immigration detention center. The New York Times quoted a law enforcement official as saying that a translation of the call revealed she had used words to the effect of "Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing." Prosecutors claimed that the conversation, one of at least three they recorded, raised "very troubling" questions about the credibility of the accuser "because she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing charges against a wealthy man." According to the Times, the translation of the call "alarmed prosecutors" as being another in a "series of troubling statements."
Thompson, the accuser's attorney, challenged the prosecutors' handling and interpretation of the phone call and asked them to withdraw and appoint a special prosecutor. The prosecutors declined to recuse their office, claiming Thompson's request was without merit.
The morning after the prosecution disclosures, in a brief court hearing in which prosecutors said they had reassessed the strength of their case, Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest on his own recognizance without bail. His passport remained surrendered though he is free to travel within the US. After the hearing, Kenneth Thompson, the housekeeper's attorney, defended his client: "It’s a fact that the victim here has made some mistakes, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a rape victim."
The next scheduled hearing has been postponed from July 18 to August 1, with the prosecutors saying that they need more time for further investigation and defense saying they hoped it would lead to a dismissal of charges.
Support and opposition
Strauss-Kahn's wife, Anne Sinclair was in Paris when he was arrested. A week after the arrest, on May 21, 2011, she said: "I don’t believe for a single second the accusations of sexual assault by my husband." Friends of the couple said their 20 year old marriage remained strong despite the new strains and that the allegations were unlikely to separate them.
While considered a womanizer and described by Le Journal du Dimanche as un grand séducteur ("a great seducer"), a number of close friends nevertheless said the allegations were out of character. His previous wife, Brigitte Guillemette, did not deny her former husband was attracted to the opposite sex but insisted that violence was not part of his temperament and that the allegations were "unthinkable and impossible." The Spanish writer Carmen Llera, a former lover, defended him in an open letter, declaring that " ...violence is not part of his culture." This conclusion is supported by Strauss-Kahn's biographer who claims that he was a "typical French lover, but he's not able to rape a woman."
Journalist and essayist Jean-François Kahn apologised for initially characterizing the allegations as a troussage de domestique (literally, stripping or having casual, forced sex with a servant) and retired from journalism. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, said “I am utterly unsurprised...everyone in the Paris political village knew of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s pathologic relations with women”, and criticised both the ruling UMP and Socialist parties for ignoring his flaws. Bernard Debré, a UMP member of the National Assembly of France, described DSK's behaviour as a humiliation for France.
In an interview with Libération on April 28, 2011, Strauss-Kahn had stated he was "worried his political opponent, Nicolas Sarkozy, would try to frame him with a fake rape". Paris politician and advocate of gender equality Michèle Sabban said she was convinced there was an international plot to frame him.
A poll found that some 57% of the French public believed he was the "victim of a smear campaign". Le Monde commented that the poll was a violation of the 2000 law Guigou that "requires that no such polls be taken about someone protected by the presumption of innocence", calling the conspiracy theories a sign of a "democracy in regression".
Two weeks after the arrest, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed his personal doubts about the allegations. Putin said: "It's hard for me to evaluate the hidden political motives but I cannot believe that it looks the way it was initially introduced. It doesn't sit right in my head."
French politicians were quick to respond, as were their European counterparts. The case prompted response from feminists in both the US and France, who criticised French coverage of the allegations and apparent dismissal of the woman's claims. The reaction led to a rally at the Pompidou Centre on May 22, 2011. French sociologist Irène Théry published two articles in Le Monde commenting on the affair and defending French feminism against American attacks.
In response to the allegations UNITE HERE, the biggest union in the hospitality industry, said that hotels should provide sexual harassment training for workers. A Newsweek/Daily Beast poll found it was common for married men to cheat on their wives on business trips, with 3% of poll respondents claiming to have "made a pass at a hotel worker". When Strauss-Kahn appeared in court on June 6, a group of room attendants, members of the New York Hotel Trades Council (NYHTC), arrived on a bus arranged by the union and demonstrated in front of the courtroom.
CBS News noted that a media circus had begun because the case involved three elements of viewer interest: sex, politics, and money. The media impact of the case after the arrest was measured by the French media analysis firm Kantar Media. They found that during the first ten days of the scandal, 'DSK' appeared on the front page of more than 150,000 newspapers around the world.
On May 17, 2011, Paris Match published the name of the housekeeper. Other French newspapers quickly followed suit in naming her, eventually adding photos and details of her private life. On June 14, The New York Times followed the lead begun by other anglophone media in running an "unusually extensive" story on the housekeeper's background, while continuing to withhold her name. In the United States, the media does not normally identify by name persons making an accusation of rape, although nothing legally prohibits them from doing so.
Former French justice minister Élisabeth Guigou, architect of the 2000 law Guigou on the presumption of innocence, said she found the televised images of Strauss-Kahn at the preliminary bail proceedings absolutely disgusting and described the coverage as a pre-trial indictment. Jack Lang, a former Minister of Culture and Minister of Education, described the published images of Strauss-Kahn as a lynching and wondered why Strauss-Kahn had not been granted bail at his first application since, according to Lang, the case was not that serious. He later apologised.
Hugh Schofield of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that Strauss-Kahn's arrest and incarceration had provoked a national trauma in France far deeper than anyone could have imagined: images of Strauss-Kahn's post-arrest perp walk had "reawakened an anti-Americanism that is latent in many French souls. ... such humiliating pictures would never be taken in France – indeed the French law on the presumption of innocence bans 'degrading photographs of prisoners awaiting trial.'" Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French philosopher and media intellectual, declared that Strauss-Kahn had already been found guilty in the court of public opinion.
Following his release from house arrest on July 1, The New York Times, amongst other media, speculated as to whether he could revive his political career. In France, Michèle Sabban asked that the ongoing French Socialist Party presidential primary be suspended to discuss the possibility of Strauss-Kahn's participation.
Resignation and impact
Strauss-Kahn resigned from his position as head of the IMF on May 18, 2011. In his letter of resignation he denied with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations. He said he wanted to protect the IMF and devote all his energies to proving his innocence. On June 14, the IMF announced two candidates had been shortlisted for the post of managing director of the IMF. These were Agustin Carstens, governor of the Mexican central bank, and Christine Lagarde, French finance minister. On June 28, the IMF announced they had selected Lagarde.
Though he had not officially declared his candidacy, Strauss-Kahn had been expected to be a leading candidate for the 2012 French Presidency for the Socialist Party. Preliminary polling suggested he was favored to defeat the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, but his arrest left the party unsure how to proceed. However a June 12 opinion poll showed its contenders maintaining their lead over Sarkozy. On June 28, party leader Martine Aubry announced her candidacy for the presidency, joining François Hollande and Ségolène Royal amongst party contenders. Strauss-Kahn must declare his candidacy by July 13, 2011, if he wishes to run.
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