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Rape Charges, Libel Suits, Hooker Headlines: The Trial By Media of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's Accusers

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is supposed to be the one on trial, and yet his accusers are the ones seeing their personal lives splashed across the media.

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…for some people selling sex is less stigmatising than other options, like being a drug mule, for example, which requires swallowing many hard, large plastic packets and then shitting them out in front of someone after the border is successfully crossed. Some who sell sex consider being a live-in maid more degrading, because it’s such hard work, with endless hours, no privacy, little time off and very, very low wages. Those are the three jobs widely available in the informal economy to women everywhere.

Though Strauss-Kahn’s accuser has denied that she is a prostitute – and filed a libel suit against the New York Post – it is the kind of trial-by-front-page the public doesn’t soon forget. This is not because it is so obviously sensational but because it confirms deeply-held stereotypes. That is, the misogyny and anti-migrant bias the Post’s allegations rest on might seem outrageous when set in tabloid type, but the sentiment behind them is also expressed by the courts and citizens alike: prostitutes are not to be believed, and prostitutes cannot be raped.

Now, a second woman has come forward with charges against Strauss-Kahn: French journalist Tristane Banon, who comes from a prominent family with leadership ties to Strauss-Kahn’s party, and whose charges were immediately dismissed by Strauss-Kahn as “imaginary.” In 2003, Banon interviewed Strauss-Kahn for her book, Erreurs avouées (au masculin), about men’s political mistakes. It was during this interview that Banon says Strauss-Kahn assaulted her.

Unlike Strauss-Kahn’s first accuser, a migrant from West Africa seeking asylum in the United States and the sole provider for her family, Banon appears to be a more media-friendly “perfect victim.” Banon can tell us she fought back and yelled “No” without going through a lawyer, and using her professional name. She may even have a recording of the assault. She came forward with her accusation, under her own name, several years before she ever stated that the man she was accusing was Strauss-Kahn. By some standards, Banon did everything “right” – yet this logic, however common, is an insidious form of excusing violence.

Banon says she is coming forward because "There is no good solution, only one that means I can 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."

Her status as a woman who is already quite public – a socially engaged journalist, author and the daughter of politicians – only gives her accusation power. For women like Strauss-Kahn’s first accuser, the unnamed hotel worker, the public is already lined up waiting to hear them.

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