The Weinstein scandal has sparked a storm of reactions in both France and the United States, but the DSK scandal six years ago received a far more lukewarm response.
Is French society more hypocritical or more tolerant than American society when it comes to sexual predators? When it was revealed in 2011 — by the Americans — that Dominique Strauss-Khan had sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a New York hotel maid, he was defended by certain people in France. His political career was torpedoed, but he escaped conviction. The former head of the IMF spent four days in prison on Rikers Island, but the U.S. courts dismissed the case based on lack of evidence and credibility. DSK was released on bail, and paid his victim 1.5 million dollars. Since the events, he has regularly appeared in public and continues to advise businesses and governments.
The DSK scandal did not shine a spotlight on the abuse of women committed by certain male politicians. The same cannot be said for Harvey Weinstein. The media are pointing the finger at the movers and shakers of Hollywood, and Weinstein will probably end up in prison for multiple rapes. The U.S. producer could be sentenced to 25 years if the charge of raping actress Lucia Evans in 2004 is heard by the New York criminal court. The legal limit for bringing charges of sexual violence to court has been revoked in 35 American states, including New York. However, in France, rape victims only have 20 years to bring their plea before the courts.
The condemnation of sexual predators is becoming a national cause in the United States, and its shockwaves are also rippling across French society. Emmanuel Macron has announced Weinstein will be stripped of his Légion d’Honneur awarded in 2012. Marlène Schiappa, Secretary of State in charge of Equality between men and women, also announced a draft bill that will punish harassment in the street such as catcalling, and will extend the current legal limit for prosecuting sex crimes from 20 to 30 years after the act took place. And on social media, the hashtags #MeToo launched by Afro-American activist Tarana Burke, and #BalanceTonPorc (#ExposeYourPig) introduced by New York-based French journalist Sandra Muller, have inspired women who have been victims of sexual assault and harassment to come forward with their experiences.
Changes in social values often begin in the United States before reaching France. This was the case of the smoking ban in public spaces. Sexual harassment is even more damaging than smoking, and the Weinstein scandal will most likely lead to a positive impact on women’s rights while little changed in the wake of the DSK scandal. The silence is breaking, slowly but surely.