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From DSK to Weinstein, Progress in the Fight for Women’s Rights

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 The legal limit for bringing charges of sexual violence to court has been revoked in 35 American states, including New York.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.

  • Cher Guy, bonjour,

    Excellent article !

    Il faut créer une action franco-américaine pour une levée de fonds 5 à 50 millions et ainsi constituer un fonds financier qui pourrait soutenir les victimes d’abus sexuels et harcèlements dans leurs actions judiciaires. Toutes les victimes n’ont pas les moyens et ne sont pas forcément admissibles aux procédures d’aide juridictionnelle.

    La notion de “class action” est à proscrire car un seul procès peut écarter des dizaines de victimes. Les actions individuelles seraient source efficiente d’action à l’encontre des agresseurs. Ce fonds peut aussi servir, outre à missionner des avocats, à missionner des enquêteurs et des psychologues pour aider les victimes. Le fonds pourrait aussi, si plus doté, servir à activer ou soutenir des associations géo-localisées contribuant à défendre le droit des victimes, femmes ou hommes. Une action simple qui conforterait d’un simple fait, le bénéfice que nous avons tous à vivre dans nos démocraties.

    Les fonds devraient être levés par le financement participatif pour laisser s’exprimer par le soutien du public mais aussi par des financements émanant de grandes entreprises (du secteur de la santé, beauté, mode, etc.) et aussi des donateurs privés. Il faut soutenir l’action gouvernementale vers une véritable réforme, et calquée sur la notion de crime non-prescriptible, comme aux U.S.

  • These predators often target vulnerable young women who can be intimidated into silence. What is needed is a support system that encourages victims to speak up immediately, so that there is real evidence to bring these slimy characters to trial immediately. While these incidents may ruin the career of someone like Weinstein, getting a rape conviction without evidence is extremely difficult.

  • Ce qui fut fascinant pendant l’affaire DSK en France ce fut le silence, et même le soutien, apporté par tout l’establishment, de gauche comme de droite, hommes et femmes confondus, à Strauss-Kahn.

  • Très étonnante, cette thèse, quand on sait que pour DSK, quand ça s’est su en France, sa carrière politique a été terminée, alors qu’aux Etats-Unis, quand ça s’est su pour Trump, c’est bien des Américains qui l’ont élu président quand même, non ? Sans parler des problèmes de viols et de harcèlement sur les campus américains qui sont devenus incalculables et qui sont “covered up” par des milliers d’universités (voir les documentaires de Vice News pour ceux qui sont pas au courant), j’ai encore jamais entendu parler d’un tel comportement aussi généralisé sur les campus français et qui soit mis sous silence…

  • Sexual harassment on the job, including verbal abuse, should be prosecuted. It creates a hostile environment because of the power differential between the victim and the aggressor. This differential create the threat of job loss if the victim is not compliant or tolerant of the abuse. However, prosecuting catcalls in the street is effectively treating women as if they are children unable to care for themselves. If a woman doesn’t like something that is said to her in the street, she can walk away, ignore the comment, or express her disgust. In America, that would include telling the offender to “F-ck off!” Having the police involved in something that a grown woman can handle herself is excessively patronizing and a waste of precious resources. Being accosted physically or trapped is, of course, a different matter.

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