French Journalists’ Silence on IMF's Strauss-Kahn Reminds Sarah Glazer of Her Own Complicity

It’s an odd feeling to spend a month writing an article about the something as dry as the European currency union only to have it sensationalized the day of publication by an international sex scandal.


 “But what does it mean for Greece?” my editors queried, as the news was breaking of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for attempted rape.


 I have no idea. Just when I should be thinking about the perils of default for a poor struggling country, I find myself flashing back to my own struggle beneath a heavy man on a dark, deserted field in Chicago.


 It’s now coming to light that Strauss-Kahn had a history of sexual misdeeds that was carefully obscured by French journalists for years. And it almost seems that French society as a whole was complicit.


 The BBC reports that the 32-year-old African hotel maid had no idea who DSK was or how prominent he was when she reported the assault—and that she was scared when she learned who he was. But now that she does know, her lawyer insists she will follow through on the charges because she believes it’s the right thing to do.


 I did just the opposite of the chambermaid, for opposite reasons, and now I wonder if it was the wrong thing to do.


 In 1968, when I arrived as a freshman at the University of Chicago, a white enclave in the middle of a black slum, our orientation week included a lecture by a campus policeman on what to do if we were attacked on the street. “Scream for help! As loud as you can,” he advised.


 As a New York City girl, I dismissed these warnings. I was more interested in radical politics and the problems of the black working class.


 A year later, a young black man walking towards me on a dark street shoved me off the sidewalk forcing me to lie on the hard ground beneath him. Scream for help, I thought, but the only sound I could muster was a high-pitched squeak from a voice box constricted with terror.  I could feel how overpowered I was as I pummeled away hopelessly at the man’s chest.


 But it must have had some effect. Strangely, I suddenly saw a flash of a scared young face, almost as terrified as my own, pull away from me; then he ran down the street.


When I got home that night, my roommate nodded approvingly when I said I would report the incident but wouldn’t try to identify the guy. Just like the French press, our radical circle was complicit in keeping these things quiet.


 Even the policeman who asked me if I’d be willing to pick my attacker out of a line-up nodded resignedly when he heard my answer. Maybe he even knew the ideology: Middle-class white girls don’t send poor black men to prison; we remember the terrible history of innocent black men lynched down South on false accusations of raping white women. In my case one value--defying that history--trumped another, testifying about an attempted rape.


 Now the power tables are reversed. A poor black woman could send a rich white man to prison.


 If she goes through with it, she’ll apparently be braver than all the others—including the French journalist Tristane Banon, who never brought charges, reportedly because she was worried about her career. And, if Strauss-Kahn is guilty, the actions of this maid from a former French colony could put a stop to the attacks, protecting other women.


 This story made me ponder the French hierarchy of values-and how vastly it varies from their culture to ours. As early as 2007, a blog by a French journalist warned that Strauss-Kahn, then France’s candidate to head the International Monetary Fund, had a problem: his attitude towards women. “Too heavy-handed, he often verges on harassment. A failing known to the media but about which no one speaks (we are in France). But the IMF is an international institution with Anglo-Saxon values. One gesture out of place … and there will be a media frenzy.”


 The author of the blog, Libération journalist Jean Quatremer, says he was accused of “crossing a red line, of violating politicians’ private lives, of stealing into their bedroom—in brief, of behaving like one of those predatory Anglo-Saxon journalists.” Nothing about his blog was repeated in France’s written press, radio or television.


 Even though reporters and politicians have swapped stories for years about Strauss-Kahn’s uncontrollable sexual appetite, Quatremer says, such tales were considered the domain of “private life,” so journalists were “paralyzed.”


 When I arrived at Chicago, there was a different but equally pernicious hierarchy of values. Women’s Liberation was barely nascent; adherents were regularly mocked at our student radical meetings. Today, in an era when students march on campus to Take Back the Night from date rapists, would young women engage in a similar conspiracy of silence? Apparently they still do in France. But maybe this incident will break the code of silence.






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Comment by Gretchen Seefried on September 4, 2011 at 3:46am
The habit of heads in the sand has a long history...but the only way to end the cycle is to keep yanking them out.
Comment by Vicki Wharton on June 20, 2011 at 8:45am
Not provincial at all, just if you aren't in direct contact with police officers and social workers who have been brought up on lads mags and porn, it's difficult to know how these have undermined society's support of victims of gender violence.  Sexism, both fatal, violent and non violent is seen as a joke these days and am not convinced that any of the authorities have really joined up the dots in understanding that the only way people will take sexism seriously is to stop calling sexist violence domestic violence as I am convinced that is the route cause of nearly all violence in the home.  Thanks for the offer, but just dont know how Davina could help with my family's behaviour or the police - I complained to the IPCC and they simply wouldn't entertain my complaint at all.
Nelle Douville Comment by Nelle Douville on June 20, 2011 at 8:25am

Ah, I guess that was poorly phrased, how provincial of me! Thank you.


If ever you feel a need to connect with someone there, contact the Greater London Domestic Violence Project. I am an online acquaintance of Davina James-Henman (GLDVP head) from my years of co-hosting iVillage's old Feminism Today board. I am certain Davina either can help or knows where to get you proper assistance.

Comment by Vicki Wharton on June 20, 2011 at 8:02am
Nelle Douville Comment by Nelle Douville on June 20, 2011 at 7:42am
Vicki, that is awful. I agree with you on how it is viewed by too many. What region of the country are you in?
Comment by Vicki Wharton on June 20, 2011 at 7:34am
I'm not so sure that reporting rape or any sexist attack now doesn't put the victim through a vicious process.  Having faced up to the fact that I was raped, when I told my family they completely turned against me and I have been subject to a vicious process of lying and muck throwing including saying I made false child abuse allegations about my father and step father.  When I reported a partner for gender violence recently, the social services threatened to take my child away if I reported another incident and the police threatened to arrest me as a co perpetrator rather than the fact that I was defending myself.  I don't say this to frighten other people, rather to warn them that whatever the politically correct version of events seems to be now, the reality for the majority of women is that the victim is still shamed and attacked as a way of shutting her up by the whole of society.  Sexist violence is like child abuse - most people would rather it didn't happen and if they can put the victim off from reporting it, they can pretend it doesn't happen.  Rather that than deal with the perpetrator who may get violent and aggressive with them.  Current attitudes are born of cowardice and the fact that the only people who would tackle this issue head on were feminists - and the media portray them as a bunch of gender terrorists rather than women struggling to get rape, sexist violence in the home and child abuse on to male agendas.
Nelle Douville Comment by Nelle Douville on June 20, 2011 at 7:17am

1968...was a time of acute distrust in authority, in an age where, worse than now, a report of rape would put the victim through a vicious process. Given that, and I recognise words cannot alter this, but I will say it... please don't be too hard on yourself for the choice you made. We all grow in life, stronger. I feel a lot of strength coming through your words.

Comment by Lea Grover on June 7, 2011 at 6:58am

The conversation in the comments below helped me tremendously in writing this post about the Chicago SlutWalk:

Thank you for helping me wrap my head around not only what I feel but what I wanted to say.

Comment by Vicki Wharton on June 2, 2011 at 2:22am
So so so sad to hear your experience - and can totally empathise with your feelings of betrayal over being punished for reporting being raped.  Anyone that believes that attitudes to rape has changed over the past 40 years of women's equality has only to read this thread to see how deeply ingrained bigotry against the victim truly is amongst both men and the women that support their right to rape.  Good luck with the media ...
Comment by Scars R. Stories on June 1, 2011 at 5:25pm

I am finally going public about Simon Fraser University's role in my revictimization.  I felt that here was the perfect place to start, considering the topic!  My ex-fiancé, who raped me twice within one week, anally, while I was sleeping, and then ended the week by chasing after me with a large hammer, at which point I finally phoned the police, who arrested him at once, was a student in the same graduate program as me at Simon Fraser University (Master's in Sociology/Anthropology).  As I said, in an act of revenge, he had my paper discredited and managed to get me charged with academic dishonesty.  Though I am no longer at all interested in pursuing a Master's, I will be taking whatever steps I need to in order to correct my record so that it does reflect honesty.  My paper was completely honest.  I cannot believe that Simon Fraser University would take the word of this man who was just charged with raping me, over me.  What a coincidence, for him to be silent about my supposed fictionalizing of a paper for several months, and then to contact my professor just days after he was released from jail on bail!  However, his supervisor in the sociology/anthropology was my co-supervisor, and he believed my ex, who had been his student for many years (he completed his undergraduate degree there as well, while I completed mine back in Winnipeg, my hometown), over me.  He believed that I was lying about being raped.  This man, my co-supervisor, was married to my supervisor!  The pair of them had a meeting with me after I wrote to them about my plans to drop out, and seemed not to care at all.  All this after I entered the program with a 4.35 GPA, and a SSHRC Master's Grant valued at $17,500 - I accepted SFU's offer even though they did not provide much additional funding, because my supervisor - again, my co-supervisor who was my fiancé's main supervisor and confidante - e-mailed me before I even received an acceptance letter, stating that she was terribly interested in working with me and really wanted me to come to SFU - apparently this is almost unheard of in academia.

But, when her husband decided to believe his favourite student over me about RAPE, I might as well have been dirt on her shoe.  She showed absolutely no emotion about me leaving, and I was to be the last student she worked with before retirement.  I had done research assistant work for her, and she was incredibly impressed with it, and the speed at which I was able to complete it.  She actually ran out of work to fill the hours that she gave to me in a contract.  All of this was meaningless after I was raped, and, not at all surprisingly, my fellow student denied what he did.  She had previously promised to supervise a readings course for me, and took back her promise, saying that she was "too busy" (to mark one paper based on self-directed readings???), making it impossible for me to graduate, as I would not have enough credits - the department offered no elective classes and I was exempted from a theory course because the work I had done during my undergrad degree was so advanced.

I cannot believe that this happened in a department of sociology at a Canadian University.  It seemed rather that I was being punished under Sha'riah law!

So, that's the complete truth about my story.  Simon Fraser University is responsible for the destruction of my academic career because they took the words of my rapist, acting out in revenge, over mine.

Shame on Simon Fraser University.  I will be going to the media about this soon.  If anyone sees me and would like to help get this information into a newspaper or magazine, please contact me by e-mail (


Best Wishes Ladies!

Jen (a.k.a. scarsarestories)

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