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feminist protest

Feminist leaders and activists hold a protest in front of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Headquarters demanding that IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn be removed from his post in Washington, DC, on May 18 2011. Strauss-Kahn resigned his post via a letter sent from jail on May 18. (Photo via STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Sordid Sexual History of Dominique Strauss-Kahn

A conspiracy to keep DSK’s true identity out of the spotlight.

BY Lakshmi Chaudhry

We ended up fighting, since I said clearly, ‘No, no.’ We fought on the floor, I kicked him, he undid my bra, he tried to remove my jeans.

Where there is shocking news, there must be a conspiracy theory. So it is that the arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault has spawned its own spate of wild speculation. “The hypothesis of a piege, or trap, set by his political enemies is taken surprisingly seriously by some intelligent people, to whom the idea that a man in his position would assault an unknown woman in the middle of the day seems improbable enough to feed a certain paranoia,” writes Adam Gopnik in his New Yorker blog.

Or as an acquaintance exclaimed over lunch yesterday, “It’s crazy! Why would a guy in his position do something like this.” Surely a powerful, wealthy man who can afford a $3000-a-night hotel room can easily buy his pleasures—if not get them for free. This is after all a man who was known in France as “the great seducer.” A reputation supported by none other than his own wife, Anne Sinclair, who told L’Express magazine, “It’s important for a politician to be able to seduce.”

Even those who don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories are wont to view the incident as a bizarre, temporary loss of self-control. A passing moment of madness, perhaps. Yet a closer look at Strauss-Kahn’s long sexual history reveals several other such “moments”—and indeed a conspiracy, not of his rivals, but his supporters to keep his true identity out of the spotlight.

Yes, there’s the 2008 affair with a fellow IMF economist which has received a lot of play. But a romp in the bedroom hardly suggests a rapist. More revealing is this one line in a BBC report, which briefly notes, that the executive board “acknowledged that many female staff were unhappy about his behaviour, but found that Mr Strauss-Kahn’s affair with Ms Nagy… had been consensual.” But there’s no further explanation as to the source of this unhappiness—or the implication that it went far beyond his dalliance with a subordinate.

Around the same time, an unnamed actress told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper that Strauss-Kahn acted “like a gorilla” when they were alone together in Paris. And in then same year, Aurélie Filipetti, a well-known Socialist MP, claimed to have been groped by him, and declared she would “forever make sure” she was never “alone in a room with him.”

The most damning incident on DSK’s sexual resume, however, is his attack on the god-child of his second wife. On a television talk-show in 2007, Tristane Banon recalled the details of her ordeal, saying, “He wanted to grab my hand while answering my questions, and then my arm. We ended up fighting, since I said clearly, ‘No, no.’ We fought on the floor, I kicked him, he undid my bra, he tried to remove my jeans.”

Describing him as a “rutting chimpanzee,” she said, “It finished badly … very violently … I kicked him … When we were fighting, I mentioned the word ‘rape’ to make him afraid, but it didn’t have any effect. I managed to get out.” (Viewers were not told the identity of her attacker because the TV station helpfully bleeped his name out.)

Banan never pressed charges, persuaded by her mother, Ann Mansouret, who didn’t want her daughter to be tainted as the girl who had “a problem” with a famous politician. When Mansouret confronted Strauss-Kahn, he said simply, “I don’t know what happened, I went crazy.” Just as he went crazy on Sunday in New York.

The uglier truth about the Strauss-Kahn arrest is that his history of sexual predation has been carefully kept under wraps by a conspiracy of silence. He has long been known as someone who “had difficulty in keeping his hands to himself in the presence of women.” Back in 2007, Jean Quatremer, the Brussels correspondent for Libération, was one of the few journalists to hint at his vice: “Too insistent, he often comes close to harassment … A weakness known by the media, but which nobody mentions.”

Explaining this curious restraint, French reporter Lorraine Millot said, “Among journalists, at least in France, Mr. Strauss-Kahn has long had the reputation of jumping on anything that moves. … But he is not the only French politician with this problem, so we have avoided excessively highlighting this aspect of his personality.”

What is worse, however, is that Strauss-Kahn’s unacceptable—and in some instances, criminal—behaviour was instead passed off as sexual machismo. The same media made a huge fuss over his affairs, burnishing his reputation as a ladies man. As a Times (London) article noted back in 2009, “(Some) analysts argue that Strauss-Kahn can only benefit from a reputation, in the best presidential tradition, as a chaud lapin (“hot rabbit”), a man who likes chasing.” No wonder DSK welcomed, and even fanned his notoriety, once telling journalists, “Yes I like women … So what?”

As it turns out, Dominique Strauss-Kahn may not like women very much. He appears instead to be a classic megalomaniac who thinks all women should be at his disposal. Power breeds hubris, both in men and women (See: Indira Gandhi, Jayalalithaa et al). But in a number of men, this arrogance becomes a form of sexual entitlement. Perhaps those simian analogies are indeed apt. Much like an alpha gorilla or chimp, DSK feels he should be allowed to readily take any female who catches his fancy, be it a fellow politician or the daughter of a family friend or a hotel maid.

Power also breeds a sense of immunity. Why did he do it? Because he could. If he got away with attacking a privileged member of the French elite, then why not a semi-literate African immigrant?

But, but, but… the girls liked him. So goes the defense of his admirers. How could a man so popular with women ever need to force his attentions on some lowly servant? As his official biographer, Michel Taubmann told the Telegraph: “Dominique Strauss-Kahn is well-known as a seducer. … I can’t believe he would force himself on an unwilling woman. That doesn’t make sense. .. If anything, he was the one harassed, not the reverse—I’ve seen time and again women MPs, party workers, etc. brazenly passing on notes, hoping he would notice them.”

Perhaps, but the difference between a playboy and a rapist is not his willingness to say yes, but his ability to heed a clear, emphatic no. DSK’s libido appears to be tone-deaf.

This piece was republished from Firstpost.com, the first Indian online news site.

Lakshmi Chaudhry, a former In These Times senior editor and Nation contributing editor, is a senior editor at Firstpost.com, India's first web-only news site. Since 1999 she has been a reporter and an editor for various independent publications, including Alternet, Mother Jones, Ms., Bitch and Salon.

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