Have journalists been practicing "omertà" in the sexual harassment cases in which Dominique Strauss-Kahn is implicated?
Should they have published photos of the IMF head being led out of the police station? Was there any collusion?
The American "judicial spectacle," which surely takes after certain Hollywood blockbuster portrayals, is utterly abominable. The images last week of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) leaving the Harlem police station under the flicker of camera flashes, handcuffed from behind, surrounded by sinister-looking police officers, are reminiscent of those of Lee Harvey Oswald, John Fitzgerald Kennedy's alleged assassin, leaving the police building in Dallas in November 1963. Oswald was similarly escorted –and then shot on live television by Jack Ruby. DSK got lucky!
These images are unbearable and above all disgraceful to a nation that sees itself as a great democracy. The French judicial system deserves a bit of appreciation, as at least it prohibits, since the year 2000, the circulation of such images.
This "perp walk," we're told from across the Atlantic, is done to both humiliate the suspect (though presumed innocent!) and to dissuade potential criminals from breaking the law. On this last point, we must reiterate that no penalty has ever dissuaded anyone from breaking the law; everyone has his or her own social or personal reasons for obeying the law.
As far as the humiliation argument is concerned, the objective has been reached (we'll add to these images the other no less degrading ones of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, dejected, in the courtroom, barely keeping himself on his feet in front of the judge who wouldn't even dare crack a smile at the end of the hearing).
Whether or not Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty, it is unacceptable to treat a man in this way – first of all because he is a human being, and second because he was the general director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Listen to me well: like everyone, I believe in and am therefore committed to the principle of equality of all citizens in the eyes of the law. Nevertheless, I think that there are certain individuals (Mr. Strauss-Kahn is one of them) who, by reason of his or her distinguished responsibilities, or for the services they rendered to their nation or the world, have the right to a certain respect that would neither mean impunity from their acts nor a mitigation of their penalties. In this case, it seems that Mr. Strauss-Kahn was not and is still not treated respectfully, that he is treated even more poorly than a "regular" defendant. This is not, in my opinion, justifiable.
"The respect of women"
There are those who resent such empathy toward a man suspected of aggravated sexual assault. We mention in particular the recent pronouncements of some feminists. "Respect for women must prevail," Gisèle Halimi tells us, for example. "Does anyone care what the young maid might have felt and feels?" adds Clémentine Autain, the former deputy mayor of Paris. I believe, as a response to Mrs. Halimi, that it is the respect of victims, no matter who they are, that must be called for.
But in the current case, having heard nothing to this day but the words of the accuser, it is dangerous for anyone to identify with certitude the victim. The maid did not lie, Gisèle Halimi tells us. "What would her motive be?" I'm sorry, madam, but at this stage in the investigation, the possibility of manipulation should not be discounted. They say the assaulted woman was "beautiful." When one knows Mr. Strauss-Kahns penchant for "beautiful women," how could we not imagine a generous "gift" (from who knows who?) to DSK and consensual sexual relations, as argued by the accused's defense?
Let me conclude with the important grey areas of the case. Here we have a man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who – after allegedly committing serious crimes – leaves calmly to eat breakfast with his daughter. Then, on his way to the airport, he calls the hotel (which has been alerted of the supposed assault since 12:30 p.m.) in order to report a forgotten cell phone in his room. Is this normal behavior for someone who has committed such crimes?
Not at all. DSK's accusers are at this point nowhere close to proving his alleged crimes. Let's therefore restrain ourselves just a bit for the time being. I think this applies to both politicians in power, who, alas, are slowly leaving behind their privacy, and to feminists whose legitimate struggle for women's rights should not cause them to forget the clearheadedness and prudence that befits such circumstances.
(Michel Fize is a sociologist and national delegate to justice and liberties at the Mouvement unitaire progressiste)