The French are apparently in high dudgeon over the treatment of one of their favorite sons, former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested on charges of sexual assault and subjected to a perp walk, just like any other alleged criminal. In service of their outrage, they’ve concocted conspiracy theories and allegations of prosecutorial overreach.
It’s the French commentariat that’s doing the overreaching. This is a case where the Americans involved — from the hotel security staff to police and prosecutors — behaved exactly as they should have, treating a suspect without regard to his social status. If you want to cheer the notion of American exceptionalism, this is a reason to do so.
The photos of potential French president Strauss-Kahn — handcuffed, stooped, unshaven, tieless and whisked away to court before photographers — knocked the breath out of the French public.
The initial response was a collective “that would not happen here.”
Not in a country whose laws protect even a petty thief from flashing cameras in a public space and televised court hearings like the one broadcast Monday from Manhattan Criminal Court. Not in a country whose traditions have long shielded the philandering of the powerful, at the risk of failing to uncover travesties of the law.
So different are French laws and mores, it is conceivable that Strauss-Kahn — innocent or guilty — failed to grasp the speed by which American justice runs its course, the weight given to alleged sex offenses and the egalitarian premise on which the U.S. judicial system is based (emphasis added) until he sat in the infamous Rikers Island prison.
Despite the weight of the charges, it is likely, experts say, that had the alleged hotel scene taken place in Paris, Strauss-Kahn’s dignity would have remained intact.
In France, unlike the U.S., the judicial process takes place largely behind closed doors and the political powers-that-be hold sway over prosecutors.(Emphasis added) It is also a country where for centuries, infidelities were a royal ritual and bedroom secrets known to all were never more than court chatter.
Strauss-Kahn’s alleged victim is a West African immigrant, while he is a very powerful man. (Until his arrest, he was considered a strong contender for the French presidency.) It would have been only too typical for her to be too intimated to report the alleged assault and only too easy for hotel security to ignore her complaint. Ditto the NYPD. Many police departments don’t take the charges of sexual assault or rape as seriously as they should, especially if the alleged victim comes from society’s margins. But the NYPD apparently behaved properly, collecting evidence and making an arrest.
None of this is to say that Strauss-Kahn is guilty. He has the constitutional right to be considered innocent unless proven guilty.
But the proceedings thus far do show a system working to preserve the concept of equal protection under the law, which is not always the case in this country. Cheers to the Americans who acted without regard to wealth or political prominence or social connections.
One more thing about this case: It should not be compared to the personal shortcomings of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former California governor is apparently a jerk, a cad, a selfish lout. But he has not been accused of attempted rape.
Strauss-Kahn’s alleged failings are of an altogether different sort. And if he is guilty, he deserves to be sent to prison for many, many years, as any ordinary rapist would be.