Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2011, at 11:26 AM
The sordid tale of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is really a tabloid dream, with unexpected, lurid surprises around every corner. The New York City hotel maid who had accused him of rape had serious doubts cast on her credibility late last week after investigators revealed her ties to criminals and that she lied on her asylum papers. The case has fallen apart and DSK has been released on his own recognizance. If that weren't enough of a bombshell, now Tristane Banon, a young journalist who had previously described DSK as "a rutting chimpanzee" when he had allegedly attempted to rape her in 2003, has filed charges against him in France.
As Rachael pointed out last week, just because the hotel maid has links to criminal behavior and has lied in the past, that doesn't necessarily mean she lied about this rape. We'll never know the truth, as it now boils down to he said, she said about whether or not the encounter was consensual. While the hotel maid continues to have her reputation trampled by the local tabloids (The New York Post has anonymous sources claiming the hotel maid was a hooker. UPDATE, July 5: Now the maid is suing the Post for libel.), Banon cannot be impugned so easily. She comes from a prominent family, so there's less of a glaring disparity between the resources of the accuser and the accused.
In Slate, Will Saletan has a good discussion of the potentially verifiable facts in Banon's accusations, which occurred during an interview she did with DSK in 2003 (The statute of limitations on attempted rape charges in France is 10 years). The interview took place at a Paris apartment, and here is her description of events:
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 is filing charges now because, even though she knows that half of France won't believe her, so that she, "[C]an finally look at myself in the mirror. For once, I want to be in control of what happens. I want people to listen to me, because I have, perhaps, finally, a chance to be heard." As the New York Times points out—and as I noted when the DSK maid charges first broke earlier this year—whether or not he raped the maid, this incident has proven to be a watershed moment for French feminists, who now feel more emboldened to speak out against sexual assault and harassment.
Statistically, chances are quite slim that two separate women from different parts of the world would both be filing false rape claims against the same man (Banon spoke publicly about DSK's transgression long before his run-in with the Sofitel maid; she just declined to file charges in the past because her mother, who was in DSK's political party, told her not to). Let's hope Banon's credibility as a witness survives the poking into her past that will inevitably emerge in the coming months, as DSK says he will file a countersuit against Banon for slander.