Posts Tagged ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn’

Now it is the hotel maid who is on trial

July 3, 2011

There are two kinds of criminal trials in which the alleged victim, and not the alleged perpetrator, are put on trial.  One is murder.  The other is rape.

I reported on a number of the first kind back in the 1960s, when I covered the criminal courts (among other things) for The Daily Mail in Hagerstown, Md.    I reported on several murder trials in which a wife was charged with murdering her husband, one in which a son was charged with murdering his father.  In all cases, the defense was that the dead person was so abusive that the accused was driven to the breaking point, and could not be blamed for the killing.  The juries agreed, and maybe they were right—but the dead person never got to tell his side of the story.  That is one of the serious disadvantages of being dead.

In a rape case, the alleged victim gets a chance to tell her side of the case, but the burden is on her to prove she is worthy to be believed.  The defense is almost always to attack her reputation so that the jury will believe the defendant and not her.  This is what is going on in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape trial except that it is the prosecution, not the defense, who is attacking the alleged victim’s behavior.  This is highly unusual behavior for a prosecutor.  I never before heard of a prosecutor publicly trying to undermine his own case before it goes to trial.

The prosecutor says that the victim lacks credibility because she told conflicting stories about her life in Guinea, in Africa, before being admitted as a refugee into the United States, and because she has unsavory associations in the United States, including a convicted drug dealer to whom she allegedly made a phone call about the case.  There are two things to note about this.  One is that the maid’s lawyer does not deny them.  The other is that they have nothing to do with the only relevant issue, whether or not Dominique Strauss-Kahn committed rape.

I am content to let the jury weigh the facts in the case.  If there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed rape, he should be acquitted.  But Strauss-Kahn’s narrative is so far outside my frame of reference that I can’t process it in my mind.  He says that he emerged naked from a shower, saw a hotel maid in his room, threw her down on a bed and had oral sex with her, and that she consented to it, but later changed her story.

I try to imagine what would happen if I were in a hotel, saw a maid in my room when I came out of the shower, and decided to grab her and have her perform oral sex.  Maybe it is because I am a product of American small-town life in a past era, but I can’t think of this as normal and acceptable behavior.


What kind of a socialist is Strauss-Kahn?

May 28, 2011

Before his arrest in New York City on charges of attempted rape of a hotel maid, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was considered the front-runner for the Socialist Party’s nomination for President of France.

Socialism historically has been a movement against economic injustice and in favor of greater economic equality.  Socialists claim to represent workers in their struggle against the economic elite.  How does Strauss-Kahn fit into this historic tradition?

Strauss-Kahn entering friend's Porsche

According to Forbes magazine, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer said his bank balance is in the “low seven figures.”  He was paid roughly $420,000 as managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and got an additional $75,000 to maintain a style of life appropriate to his position.  He and his third wife, Anne Sinclair, an heiress and TV personality, have economic assets estimated by Forbes as worth $100 million to $200 million. Most of this is the art collection of Sinclair’s grandfather Paul Rosenberg, an art dealer who represented Picasso, Matisse and Braque.  This estimate does not include more than $90 million worth of art she’s sold over the years.

Strauss-Kahn and his wife live well.  He and Sinclair own a house in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. (which is headquarters of the IMF), not one but two luxury apartments in Paris, and a traditional Moroccan house in Marrakesh.  The houses have a combined value of $15 million, according to Forbes.

Strauss-Kahn’s wealth is small change compared to the wealth of the world’s billionaires, but it is a lot by most people’s standards.  Political opponents call him a “caviar socialist.”  There was an uproar when he was photographed getting into a friend’s $140,000 Porsche earlier this year.

He and his wife of course have a right to spend their money as they choose.  The question is whether someone who is (literally) wedded to great wealth can understand and champion the interests of working people.  His record in French politics and as managing director of the IMF help provide answers to that question.


Sexual abuse, hotel maids and why unions matter

May 26, 2011

Do rich and powerful men ever commit rape?  Evidently many people – including Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher, and Ben Stein, the conservative American writer and TV personality – think that the eminence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, could be guilty of the charge of attempted rape brought by a hotel maid who, as they both point out, is a mere nobody.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of the French people, and an overwhelming majority of French socialists, think Strauss-Kahn was set up.  And judging by the comment threads of some of the on-line articles I’ve read, there are many Americans who think a white Frenchman who pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room is inherently more credible than an African immigrant maid.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The fact is that hotel guests who sexually abuse hotel maids often get away with it.  Hotels want to please their guests.  Hotel maids – often women of color, often poor immigrants, sometimes illegal immigrants – are often working on the margin of economic survival, and know they can easily be replaced.  If a hotel guest gropes them, or exposes himself, or worse, it is risky to mention it.  The hotel has every incentive to believe the guest rather than the maid.

If you can do something with impunity, a certain number of people will do it.  There are rich people who think their wealth gives them impunity.  There are international civil servants who think diplomatic immunity gives them impunity.

The maid allegedly raped by Strauss-Kahn was a poor immigrant from Guinea, in West Africa.  She might not have spoken up if not for a supportive employer, the Sofitel hotel corporation, and a strong labor union, the New York Hotel Trades Council.  Holding a union card, being protected by a union contract, meant that she did not have to face with wealth and power represented by Strauss-Kahn on her own.  As the old union song, “Solidarity Forever” goes, What force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one? But the union makes us strong!

My newspaper training tells me to use words like “allegedly” and “accused of” so as not to assume that someone is guilty of a crime until the person has been found guilty in a court of law.  I will say that, based on the facts that have come out, the police had probable cause to make an arrest, and prosecution to bring charges, and let it go at that.  But the burden of proof is on the prosecution, as it should be.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn will, I am sure, enjoy the full benefit of the law in presenting his defense – if the case even goes to trial.  I’d say the odds are that the alleged victim will be offered a huge cash settlement to keep the charge from ever coming to trial.