Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, has been at the center of an international media maelstrom since his high-profile arrest on Saturday at New York’s JFK Airport on sexual assault charges. Strauss Kahn, who has faced allegations of impropriety in the past, allegedly tried to rape a 32-year old chambermaid in the luxury suite of a Manhattan hotel where he was staying for $3,000 a night. In France, everyone from magistrates to members of the press expressed their outrage that the French political figure was “perp walked” by the New York police after he was denied bail and sent to Rikers Island prison. Although Strauss Kahn should enjoy the presumption of innocence like every other defendant, some on the right are already rushing to declare his innocence and smear his accuser, an African immigrant.
Conservative economic guru and former Nixon and Ford speechwriter Ben Stein took up the disgraced IMF chief’s case in a column in the American Spectator. Stein wrote, “What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid?” After expressing confidence in her character — “I am sure she is a fine woman” — he proceeded to suggest exactly the opposite:
On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me. How do we know that this woman’s word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail?
Stein also sharply questioned the maid’s allegation, insinuating that she was a willing partner and suggesting that someone can only really be sexually assaulted if a gun or knife is involved:
The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn “forced” the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He’s a short fat old man. They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it’s anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation? And if he was so intimidating, why did she immediately feel un-intimidated enough to alert the authorities as to her story?
Despite the fact that Strauss Kahn has allegedly “engaged in a pattern of sexual assaults dating to at least 2002,” Stein suggested he might be innocent by virtue of the lack of a pattern. “If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn’t he ever get charged until now?” Bizarrely, he then goes on to wonder if economists or heads of nonprofit agencies are even capable of committing rape, writing, “Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?” After objecting to Strauss Kahn’s detention, Stein ultimately dismissed the serious charges against him as “a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves.”
French philosopher and Israel hawk Bernard-Henri Levy, who lives and works in the U.S., also cast doubt on the maid’s claim and expressed his dismay that Strauss Kahn was treated as any criminal defendant would be:
It would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet. [...]
This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.
I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.
The Washington Post noted that Levy’s defense of his longtime friend “smacks of sexism.”
Stein and Levy’s real objection to this whole affair seems to be that in this country, we treat illustrious men the same as everyone else in criminal cases, and take women seriously when they say they’ve been raped. They apparently resent the fact that the justice system is taking the word of an African maid against a famous economist. At the risk of stating the obvious, if the New York police had not immediately investigated the maid’s complaint and detained Strauss Kahn, they would have been giving him special treatment — something conservatives claim to detest.