US officials removed French Socialist party leader and IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn from a Paris-bound plane in connection with a sexual assault on a 32-year-old New York Sofitel hotel housekeeper. Incarcerated, Strauss-Kahn was indicted by a grand jury several days later. He faces 74 years in jail.
The looming court battle could not be more uneven. On one hand is an African immigrant,
a hard-working hotel housekeeper on minimal wages, a widow raising a teenage daughter. She lives in a small Bronx apartment. Her friends are found among her African community. She is now in an undisclosed location under tight police protection.
Her white European aggressor is the $ 500.000 a year chief of a prestigious international institution and assumed next president of France, a former colonial power with deep ongoing ties in Africa. His wealthy and adoring wife provides him with unlimited funds. His friends are found among African and other heads of state, secret services, media moguls and celebrities. Released from jail on a 6 million dollar bail, he is kept under surveillance in luxury quarters.
French reaction was swift and predictable. In a country where sexual harassment is a national sport, where rape is seldom reported out of fear and public reprobation and where the status of women is one of the lowest in Western Europe, sympathy flew to the aggressor. Socialist ex-minister of culture Lang dismissed the matter because 'no man had died' he said. Big-wheel journalist J.F. Kahn (no relation but a very close friend) described the assault as the simple 'trussing' of a servant. Socialist 'feminist' and presidential candidate Segolene Royal 'felt' for the 'man' and the man only. So did fellow Socialist and also 'feminist' Elizabeth Guigou, furious her champion could have been handcuffed. Only Marine Le Pen (National Front) was courageous enough to state the truth. Generally absent were any expressions of compassion or concern for the housekeeper.
Outraged that the 'image' of France had been sullied by the American justice system, the mostly all-male commentators seemed unaware of the greater disastrous national image they themselves were sending with their raw and sickening woman-hating display of a most entrenched of sexism.
In the race to defend the indefensible, French media also exposed how solidly the old monarchist class-system has endured, for Strauss-Kahn's perennial abuse of women was known for years in political, media and other influential circles and carefully kept hidden from public eyes.
There is no question that, in France, he would have simply walked away and the housekeeper forced into silence.
Rapidly swept under the carpet of 'culture', that stale excuse when it comes to the human rights of women, the observed differences have nothing to do with 'culture' but with laws, the US simply having better ones.
For the Strauss-Kahn arrest is a tribute to the years of hard, painful, relentless work done by American women. Much remains to be done but we can all be proud of the progress we have made so far, for indeed we have come a long, harsh way, a way our French sisters have yet to take. As such, we can also be proud of the manner in which prosecutor Vance and his staff are handling the case.
Anti-rape demonstrations are beginning to sprout here and there but denouncing rape alone is not enough.
In her quest for justice, the very brave and admirable Sofitel housekeeper has a ruthless, grueling and frightening road ahead. Like Paula Jones, she modified the course of history and because of it, she will need all the support she can get.
She certainly has ours, unconditionally and wholeheartedly.