Out of the frying pan, into the sautee pan.
While the New York sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn unravels, another case against him has surfaced in France. Tristane Banon, a friend of Strauss-Kahn's daughter and a goddaughter of his second wife, is filing a complaint against him for attempted rape.
Strauss-Kahn wants the collapse of the New York case to discredit Banon. In a statement from his lawyers, he "notes that this complaint comes quite conveniently right at the moment when there is no longer the slightest doubt about the false nature of the accusations against him in the United States."
But that isn't true. The falsity of the accusations in New York remains in doubt. And Banon's case is a separate question. The New York accuser has failed tests of corroboration. Banon is entitled to the same tests, with the possibility of a different result. Can her allegations be confirmed? Let's investigate them.
Banon says that in February 2003, when she was 23, she interviewed Strauss-Kahn for a book. Afterward, he phoned her and asked her to meet him at a Paris address for a follow-up interview. The address turned out to be an apartment. There, he touched her and became increasingly physical. She resisted. On a TV show four years ago, she said, according to a Telegraph translation, that the encounter "ended very, very violently because I told him clearly. ... We didn't merely slap each other. … I gave kicks, and he undid my bra, he tried to undo my jeans." Agence France Presse translates her account differently: "I told him clearly 'No, No!'—and we finished up fighting on the floor. There wasn't just a couple of blows. I kicked him, and he tried to unclip my bra, to open my jeans." In an interview just published in L'Express, Banon describes
his fingers in my mouth, his hands in my pants. … [He] grabbed my hand and arm, I asked him to let me go. … He pulled me toward him, we came down and we fought on the ground for several minutes. ... He was violent. When I realized he really wanted to rape me, I started to give him a kick with my boots, I was terrified and I told him: "You're not going to rape me?" And then I managed to free myself, I ran downstairs …
Banon says she tried to stop Strauss-Kahn by reminding him that she was close to his daughter's age. She says he replied: "What does Camille have to do with it?"
In his authorized biography, published four months ago, Strauss-Kahn says of Banon's allegations, "The scene she describes is imaginary. Do you see me throwing a woman on the floor and being violent, as she claims?" He says Banon "contacted me through my daughter Camille … The interview took place normally, and at its end, I had a phone call to Michel Field to grant him an interview in his turn."
It sounds as though Strauss-Kahn is describing the initial interview and denying that he phoned Banon for a follow-up session at the apartment. Such a denial would make it easier to check his account and hers against external records. Here are a few of them:
1. The apartment. Banon says it was located "between Montparnasse and the National Assembly, in a street near the Boulevard des Invalides, and he told me it was the apartment of a friend." She says it "was almost empty, white, exposed beams, a coffee machine, a round table … an empty library, and, basically, a room with a bed." If Strauss-Kahn denies that they were together in such an apartment, it should be possible to find out whether it existed, and, if so, whether one of his friends owned it. If it did exist, Banon's description can be checked for accuracy. If she's accurate, Strauss-Kahn would need to explain how she knows what it looked like inside. Alternatively, if he admits to meeting her there, other French journalists can be quizzed to find out whether he invited them to the same place, or whether he reserved it for pretty young women.
2. The tape recorder. In her 2007 account, Banon said, "I put down the tape recorder immediately to record. He wanted me to hold his hand while he answered, because he told me: 'I won't be able to if you don't hold my hand.' And after that, from my hand, he went to my arm, and then a bit higher." In her latest account, she says that after Strauss-Kahn held her hand and she told him she wanted to leave, "He stopped the dictaphone, grabbed my hand and arm," and the struggle began. If these accounts are true, then she had a tape recording of him asking to hold her hand, which would falsify his depiction of their interview as normal. Where is the recording?
3. The call to Mom. Banon says, "I managed to free myself, I ran downstairs, I found myself in my car, I called my mother because I could not even drive, I was shaking so much." Does Banon's mother recall this conversation?
4. The parking ticket. Banon says she got a "PV" (French parking ticket) at the meter where she parked for the interview. Where's the ticket? The address would help nail down the apartment's location, and the time could be checked against Strauss-Kahn's schedule. It could also be compared with his phone records to see whether he called Michel Field afterward.
5. The text messages. Banon says that after she left the meeting, Strauss-Kahn "sent me a text message straight away saying: 'So, are you afraid of me?' in a provocative tone. … After that, he was continually sending me text messages." Do her phone records show these text messages? If so, how could Strauss-Kahn explain them?
6. The apology. Strauss-Kahn says that in the last four years, he and Banon's mother, a fellow Socialist politician, have run into each other two or three times at party events. According to Strauss-Kahn's biographer, "They talked about the accusations against him by the young writer. And have, according to him, left on good terms, as if this case was a misunderstanding." But Banon's mother says that in one conversation, Strauss-Kahn told her, "Je sais pas ce qui m'a pris, j'ai pété un plomb." Roughly translated, that means: "I don't know what came over me. I lost my mind." This report from Banon's mother doesn't depend on anything her daughter said. It's a direct quote from Strauss-Kahn. How does he explain it? Is the mother delusional as well as the daughter?
7. Francois Hollande. Banon says Francois Hollande, who was then the head of the Socialist Party, knew about her victimization, called her about it, and recommended that she pursue a complaint. But Hollande says he has "no knowledge of the facts, real or imagined" and was "never aware" of such grave allegations. Banon now says of Hollande, "He lies." Does he? Or does his failure to confirm her recollection undermine her credibility?
Either way, Banon deserves to have her story tested against the evidence. Maybe it will discredit her. Maybe it will discredit Strauss-Kahn. What's important is to focus on corroboration and falsification, not on who wins or loses. Forget the case in New York. Set aside your prejudices about rich men and rape accusers. Banon, like Strauss-Kahn, is entitled to a fair hearing and thorough scrutiny. Don't take her word for what happened. Don't take his, either.