Dominique Strauss Kahn sexual assault: How conspiracy theorists assume his alleged victim is guilty.

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May 16 2011 4:01 PM

Dominique Strauss-Kahn Conspiracy Theorists Are Embarrassing Themselves

An op-ed from our colleagues at Slate.fr

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Julian Assange. Click image to expand.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Julian Assange

Far be it from us to deny IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn's rightful presumption of innocence. Until he is tried in a court of law, Strauss-Kahn is guilty of nothing. He denies the facts alleged against him and has said through his lawyer that he will plead "not guilty."

But some of the public reactions to the news—whether from politicians or from journalists—have been embarrassing. It's been said that DSK could have been a victim of "manipulation." As Dominique Paillé, vice president of the center-right Radical Party, put it—colorfully—he could have "slipped on a banana peel that could have been put under his shoe." And "if he fell on that banana peel, it's because it was known that he had a weakness. And if you're a candidate for the presidency of the French Republic, you're supposed to shield yourself against weakness."

Weakness? It's to Paillé's credit that he didn't immediately condemn DSK, a political rival, for his alleged crime, but his comments are still highly critical. DSK is a man who does not know how to carry himself. We get the same message from Christine Boutin, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party, among others. "This case seems so massive to me. We all know that he's rather 'vigorous,' if I may say so, but that he'd let himself get caught up in something like this is simply bewildering, which makes me think he must have fallen into a trap."

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The existence of a conspiracy theory is entirely understandable. As with Julian Assange, the brains behind WikiLeaks, who has also been accused of rape, it's tempting to consider the possibility that DSK has been smeared. Like Assange, DSK is a marked man. There are some who stand to gain from the IMF chief and presidential frontrunner's downfall. Perhaps, the conspiracy theorists imagine, his opponents managed to hire a young Mata Hari in the Sofitel Manhattan. ... But as with Julian Assange, such a theory conveniently denies a voice to the women (or, in DSK's case, woman) who leveled the complaint.

We should not forget the alleged victims.

While Paille and Boutin talk of "vigor" and "weakness," the NYPD has described a violent sexual assault, during which DSK allegedly forced the woman to perform oral sex on him and tried to remove her clothes against her will. Paillé and Boutin focus on the fact that DSK may have been taken in, neglecting what he may have done to the maid at the Sofitel. The potential crime, as they see it, is all about DSK's weakness rather than his strength and the maid's weakness. Yes, we must respect that DSK is innocent until proven guilty. But to consider the case simply as a conspiracy theory or an "ambush" on a "libertine" is to transform the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt on the part of the accusers.

The hotel worker's charges are extremely serious, and she deserves to be heard. We should no more automatically assume DSK's guilt than automatically dismiss the possibility that the Sofitel maid's accusations are genuine.

Translated and adapted by Juliet Lapidos.

Johan Hufnagel is a founding editor of Slate.fr.

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