IMF Head Arrested for Sexual Assault: What Happened, What It Means

This weekend, the big story was that IMF Head and popular French Socialist Party politician Dominique Strauss-Khan was arrested on a flight from JFK on charges that he sexually assaulted a chambermaid at his NYC hotel. In the AP story, the graphic and disturbing details of the alleged assault:

The 32-year-old maid told authorities that when she entered his spacious, $3,000-a-night suite early Saturday afternoon... Strauss-Kahn emerged from the bathroom naked, chased her down a hallway and pulled her into a bedroom, where he sexually assaulted her, New York Police Department spokesman Paul J. Browne said.

The woman told police she fought him off, but then he dragged her into the bathroom, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him and tried to remove her underwear. The woman was able to break free again, escaped the room and told hotel staff what had happened, authorities said.

While any similarly appalling story of high-profile criminal misconduct is sure to garner headlines, the context of this arrest is important and has far-reaching consequences.

In the Wall Street Journal, here is an explanation of why this matters both on an international level and for French politics. 

The surprising arrest came amid increasing global attention for the IMF, an organization of 187 nations that advises and lends to troubled economies. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the fund's managing director, has been a proponent of financial rescues in Europe as the global economy recovers from the financial downturn and the Continent reels from a series of government debt crises.

The arrest could change the course of France's presidential elections next year. Mr. Strauss-Kahn had been widely expected to leave the IMF soon to enter the race as the leading Socialist Party candidate, and was running ahead of President Nicolas Sarkozy in recent polls. The arrest likely scuttles Mr. Strauss-Kahn's candidacy, and strengthens Mr. Sarkozy's prospects, analysts said. It could also boost the chances of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Needless to say, such a victory for the racist, xenophobic NF would be bad news for French politics. 

 The New York Times also reports on Strauss-Khan's reputation as a scoundrel in European circles. 

As the impact of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s predicament hit home, others, including some in the news media, began to reveal accounts, long suppressed or anonymous, of what they called Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s previously predatory behavior toward women and his aggressive sexual pursuit of them, from students and journalists to subordinates.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s extramarital affairs have long been considered an open secret. But the legal charges against him — which include attempted rape, an illegal sexual act and an effort to sequester another person against her will — are of an entirely different magnitude, even in France and elsewhere in continental Europe, where voters have generally shown more lenience than Americans toward the sexual behavior of prominent politicians, most notably the sexual escapades of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.

But this reputation and Strauss-Khan's dubbing by the French press as "the great seducer" and lapin chaud or "the hot rabbit" may have long masked a more serious, and highly disturbing pattern of abuse and attempted rape. As The NY Daily News reports:

Tristane Banon, 31, described Dominique Strauss-Kahn as behaving like a "rutting chimpanzee," when he allegedly tried to tear off her clothes during an interview in 2002....

After hearing of Strauss-Kahn's alleged assault of hotel chambermaid in New York, Banon decided to renew her legal claim.

Meanwhile, Atrios reminds the media not to call accusations of attempted rape "sex scandals." Sad that such a reminder is needed.

AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at May 16, 2011, 4:48am

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