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May 25, 2011

'Nothing, nothing' consensual about attack on housekeeper

Maureen Dowd

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Oh, she wanted it. She wanted it bad.

That’s what every hard-working, God-fearing, young widow who breaks her back doing menial labour at a Times Square hotel to support her teenage daughter, justify her immigration status and take advantage of the opportunities in America wants — a crazed, rutting, wrinkly old satyr charging naked out of a bathroom, lunging at her and dragging her around the room, caveman-style.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s reputation as a thrice-married French seducer loses something in the translation.

According to the claims of the 32-year-old West African maid, what took place in the $3,000-a-day Sofitel suite had nothing to do with seduction. If the allegation is true, Strauss-Kahn’s behaviour, boorish and primitive, is rape.

Was the chief of the International Monetary Fund telling other countries to tighten their belts while he was dropping his trousers?

Lawyers for the 62-year-old Frenchman, who had been a leading Socialist prospect to run against Nicolas Sarkozy next year, seem ready to rebut any DNA evidence by arguing that sex with the maid who came in to clean his room was consensual.

Will they argue that she wilted with desire once she realized Strauss-Kahn had been at Davos?

Jeffrey Shapiro, the maid’s lawyer, angrily rebutted that there was “nothing, nothing” consensual about it. (It was not a “come in and see my monetary fund” kind of thing.)

“She is a simple housekeeper who was going into a room to clean a room,” Shapiro told The New York Times. He called the devout Muslim woman from the Bronx “a very proper, dignified young woman” and said “she did not even know who this guy was” until she saw the news accounts.

Strauss-Kahn’s French defenders are throwing around nutty conspiracy theories, sounding like the Pakistanis about Osama. Some have suggested that he was the victim of a honey-pot arranged by the Sarkozy’s forces.

Bernard-Henri Levy, a friend, says he is outraged at the portrayal of Strauss-Kahn as an “insatiable and malevolent beast.” He wrote on The Daily Beast: “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.”

For years, I’ve stayed at the Sofitel and other hotels in New York City, and I’ve never seen a “brigade,” simply single maids coming in to clean.

In Washington, they have now nicknamed the street that separates the IMF and the World Bank, where Paul Wolfowitz lost his job over financial hanky-panky with his girlfriend, the Boulevard of Bad Behaviour.

These are the two institutions that are globally renowned for lecturing the rest of the world on discipline and freedom, when it’s the West that’s guilty of recklessness and improvident behaviour. First in finance, then in sex. People who can’t keep their flies zipped lecturing other people.

While the French excoriated the American system of justice — discouraging pictures of Strauss-Kahn handcuffed, which are illegal in France — Americans could pride themselves on the sound of the “bum-bum” “Law & Order: SVU” gong sounding, the noise that heralds that justice will be done without regard to wealth, class or privilege.

It’s an inspiring story about America, where even a maid can have dignity and be listened to when she accuses one of the most powerful men in the world of being a predator. (A charge that has been made against him before, with a similar pattern of brutal behavior.)

The young woman escaped horrors in her native Guinea, a patriarchal society where rape is widespread and used as a device of war, a place where she would have been kicked to the curb if she tried to take on a powerful man. When she faced the horror here, she had recourse.

We’re always fascinated with the contradiction that cosmopolitan, high-powered, multilingual people can behave in such primitive ways.

But civilization and morality have nothing to do with sophistication and social status.

New York Times

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