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How Dominique Strauss-Kahn Got Away With It, Until Now

Never mind the DNA evidence. There might be other clues. I've been wondering if Dominique Strauss-Kahn filled out a comment card before checking out of the Sofitel to catch his Air France flight after allegedly raping the chambermaid. Maybe he was annoyed that in America, turn-down service means the chambermaid can actually turn you down. And then turn you in. On a scale from 1 to 10, how was your stay with us?
What happened to that chambermaid shouldn't happen to anyone, but thank goodness she said something. Sadly it appears that because the attack was so extreme, she couldn't just tell her supervisor she wasn't feeling well and go home early to suffer in silence, passing off some cuts and bruises as "work-related." If DSK attempted to rape someone, he should go to jail. This time, there should be consequences.

When he became head of the IMF in 2007, Strauss-Kahn also acknowledged an affair with a subordinate, but he was cleared of the abuse-of-power charge, because the relationship was "consensual" even though he was her boss. The behavior was deemed an "error in judgment." And yet, the woman in question described Strauss-Kahn in a letter to the lead investigator as "a man with a problem that may make him ill-equipped to lead an institution where women work under his command." I'd say. Apparently he is a man who has a problem with women, whether he personally employs them, or whether the hotel where he's staying does. So I'm thinking that it's a good thing he probably won't be running for President of France, given the fact that France is a country with women.

Even it turns out by some twist of a trial that DSK didn't try to rape someone, I still think he has a problem. Another alleged assault in 2002 has resurfaced in the wake of this recent accusation. What troubles me is that the mother of the 2002 victim is reported to have advised her 22-year-old daughter, a journalist who interviewed DSK for a book, against pressing charges because she "feared it would tarnish her reputation, that she would never find a job again." (There were also complications due to the fact that the victim was the goddaughter of DSK's second wife. I'm assuming it's that connection that led to her getting the interview in the first place. Nepotism: sometimes good, sometimes bad.)

So the 22-year-old said nothing until 2007, when the other accusation was made, DSK had his hand slapped at the IMF but that was all, and now a hard-working chambermaid's life has been turned upside down. The 22-year-old said nothing, and DSK became head of the IMF -- where, don't get me wrong, he's done some good things -- and was on his way perhaps to becoming the President of France. How many more women will come out of the woodwork now that the floodgates have opened? A French academic interviewed by the Wall Street Journal notes "the fact that Strauss-Kahn was a seducer was not really a problem...it's the fact the latest allegations involved violence." But it wasn't the first time. The 2002 allegations also involved violence, according to the mother of the victim, who noted that her daughter had been assaulted and that "it was a very traumatizing experience."

Lightning might not strike twice but DSK did, and he was allowed to get away with it. Strauss-Kahn reportedly apologized for his behavior and acknowledged his misconduct in 2002. "He told me he had lost his mind, blown a fuse," the mother of the victim said. Whoops. He said he "acted on impulse, that he believed it was an erotic game." Tell that to the chambermaid. How much can we look the other way? How much can we separate the "public" from the "private?"

Many cases of sexual harassment go unreported every day, because employees fear retribution or stigma and often cannot afford to lose a job. So the harassers keep harassing. The bullies keep on bullying. Patterns are patterns. And the pattern we hold up as a model seems to be: especially if the harasser is well-known and wields power, political or otherwise, married or not, he doesn't need to keep it in his pants because boys will be boys. And in France particularly, it's OK to stray, and there will be a little flap, but you just say you're sorry and you'll still get elected or appointed to the next big thing or get your own TV show. You are simply known, as DSK was, as "The Great Seducer." Until your seduction tactics include locking someone in a hotel room, dragging her down a hall, and worse. And then you might finally have to keep your hands to yourself because now they're in handcuffs.

Unfortunately there are many more stories like this than appear in our headline news. It's not that I don't understand why it would be hard to speak up, why it would be hard to report a boss or colleague for verbal or physical harassment or sexual abuse. And sometimes when people do speak up, no one listens. The claims are belittled, the whistle-blower is shunned.

The only good thing about the DSK case is that maybe, like the women coming forward in France, more victims will feel empowered to speak up for themselves, and we will support them. And maybe society will stop looking the other way and stop rewarding public figures for their legal and moral transgressions so that the rest of the world doesn't get the idea that it's OK to let people get away with this kind of behavior. Think about what would stop you from reporting a harassment situation yourself, or what would stop you from encouraging a victim to report an incident. Think about what needs to change.

You think about that while I think about another policy. I'm thinking that if you attack a chambermaid, you shouldn't get reward points for your stay at the Sofitel. Someone's got to teach these guys a lesson.

Ellen Gordon Reeves is the author of "Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?" She has lived and taught in Paris on and off since 1991.

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