On the Streets of Paris, the Verdict Is Still Out On Dominique Strauss-Kahn
The French attitude toward sexual assault is not as clear cut as one would think
“She is a liar,” yelled Diallo Nassou about the Guinean hotel maid who has accused former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempting to rape her. “In West Africa, all ladies like money. Guinea ladies are very bad. She says this because she wants money from Strauss-Kahn.”
Nassou works for a French airline company and is an immigrant from the West African nation of Mali. She discussed the Strauss-Kahn problem while at dinner with friends at a Guinean restaurant located in Strasbourg-St. Denis area in the center of Paris, France, where The Loop 21 took to the streets to gauge French and African immigrant attitudes towards the Strauss-Kahn debacle.
If she’s lying, how do you explain the bruises, this reporter asked.
“She had the bruises before. She is a liar,” Nassou retorted. The six other women at the table nodded in agreement. Only one woman challenged the categorization of Strauss-Kahn’s accuser as a “liar.”
Haby Touré, a teacher from Mauritania responded, “Why do you say she is a liar and not Strauss-Kahn? Because Strauss-Kahn is popular?”
“She is a liar,” stressed Juliet Soares, a woman of Cape Verdean descent who, like Nassou, works for a French airline company.
With the next court hearing only days away, Parisian opinions are mixed about Strauss-Kahn. The Loop 21 interviewed dozens of people around France -- some native French, some African immigrants, some black and some white - from Paris neighborhoods like Strasbourg-St. Denis and Vincennes. The dominant themes from the responses: judgment from a jury’s perspective, debates about public versus private life, the abuse of power, and how the case affects voting decisions.
“If you want your private life, don’t be a role model,” said Aworele Foll, a French student doing an apprenticeship at an automotive company.
“Cheating, or being a swinger is part of someone’s private life. Sexual assault isn’t,” explained Vanessa Miclo, a French customer service representative.
A prominent figure in France, Strauss-Kahn was once favored to win the country’s presidential elections. Now, according to a recent Opinion Way poll, 65 percent of French do not want to see Strauss-Kahn contend for the presidency.
“The fact that a woman is the victim is the problem for me. He has no right to abuse someone or use the fact that he is someone from the International Monetary Fund to sleep with anyone he wants,” said Laurence Pannetier, a French student. “Before, I thought I would vote for him…but now I don’t like him as a person. I don’t like the way he acts with women.”
Pannetier’s comments draw attention to the accuser’s account of her exchange with Strauss-Kahn during the alleged assault.
Chris Fanuel, a French flight attendant, felt even stronger about Strauss-Kahn. “Everything he represents, I hate. ...People who have power who think they can do whatever they want. I wouldn’t vote for him because of this [sexual assault] case.”
Nominations for the Socialist Party, Strauss-Kahn’s party, have closed for the presidential election, which will be held April 22, 2012. Strauss-Kahn was left off the ballot, but polls favored him over current president Nicholas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election.
“There is a gap between what he says and the way he lives. And I don’t think he likes women,”says a woman who identified herself as “Fabienne”.
Interviews on Parisian trains were also mixed. “In France we have a saying, ‘Il n'ya pas de fumée sans feu,’ [Translation: There is no smoke without fire],” said Pierre Duponchel, a French lawyer based in Paris. “When you have big responsibilities, you have to set an example. You cannot do what you want." However, one train rider fell into the category of the 49 percent of French voters who supported the return of Strauss-Kahn into politics someday.
“Although I am not comfortable with the media treatment, I am quite confident in the American justice system to see if he is guilty or not,” said Blandine François. “If he is not guilty, I don’t think I will have any problems voting for him.”
Celice Gressier who works in marketing concurred, “If he is a good politician, I think maybe I could vote for him.”
Back in Strasbourg-St. Denis, many sided against the Guinean hotel maid, including those from her native country. A man who preferred to go by the name “Jallo” from Guinea boasted that he was in the same tribe as Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. He said, “I am very disappointed in America. America had its Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, so why don’t you leave Strauss-Kahn alone?”
Hawa Bah, a woman from Guinea said, “It’s too early to say something about it. I want to wait until they render a judgment.”
“I have to be apolitical for economic reasons” says a Guinean restaurant owner who preferred to go by the name "Madame Touré". “What happens in a bedroom…no one knows outside of these two people. I hope that the truth comes out.”
“If it was only one girl who said she was violated that would be one thing,” said "Muhammed" a Guinean electrical mechanic referring to the allegations made by Tristane Banon, another woman who stepped forward after the hotel maid alleging Strauss-Kahn attempted to rape her.
“Muhammed” pointed to the now damning phone call made by Strauss-Kahn’s accuser. “The girl made a mistake by communicating on the phone with that man. Because of that phone call, now the outcome could go either way.”
Muhammed’s comment refers to the 14 words translated from the accuser’s Fulani dialect during a phone call with a prison inmate that seemed to set the case on a different course: "Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing."
Despite the accuser’s past and the accuser’s interest in exploring all options for justice – including monetary compensation – the evidence most relevant to the sexual assault have been immutable. That is, the DNA results confirming that Strauss-Kahn’s sperm was on the accuser’s clothing in conjunction with vaginal bruises she sustained during the alleged attack.
But what's clear from our interviews is that there is no dominant strain of guilt or innocence for Strauss-Kahn nor his accuser, not even among their native peers.