Perhaps they shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the instant cries of “it’s a conspiracy” that meet rape allegations against powerful and famous people always make me angry.
We’ve had Whoopi Goldberg’s infamous “it wasn’t rape-rape” defence of Roman Polanski, and the rush of celebrity commentators to belittle the allegations against Julian Assange or smear the alleged victims. Now the excuses brigade are forming up to defend IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was arrested yesterday in New York for alleged sexual assault and attempted rape of a hotel maid.
In a civilised society it is always up to the accusers to prove the guilt of the accused, and Mr Strauss-Kahn denies the allegations. But it should also be a hallmark of a civilised society that even those who disbelieve such a serious allegation respond in a measured way without attempting a character assassination of the alleged victim. Some hope.
Jacques Attali, former head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, thinks that the accusation is fishy because the maid worked at a hotel owned by a French chain, Sofitel. (Given that Sofitel’s parent company owns over 4000 hotels worldwide I imagine a fair amount goes on in them without the intervention of French political forces.)
It’s not just Socialists like Attali who are attracted to conspiracy theories: a minister (left) in President Sarkozy’s government was apparently the first to broach the suggestion, saying “we cannot rule out the thought of a trap”. If not, then that is only because French politics is so dysfunctional that when someone smeared many leading politicians with a false document implicating them in a bribery investigation, the then Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin neglected to inform the investigating judge that he knew the document was a forgery – purely in order to cause trouble for his rival Nicolas Sarkozy.
In such an environment there is clearly a belief that anything goes, which may obscure the fact that none of the conspiracy theorists have presented any evidence at all for their allegations. That the very same people are the first to demand that Mr Strauss-Kahn be treated as innocent until proven guilty would be ironic if the consequences of their cries of wolf were not so serious.
When people rush to rubbish rape allegations against the rich and famous they add yet another obstacle to the many women who want to report attacks but fear for the impact on their reputation. Here is a perfect example: another allegation of sexual assault by Mr Strauss-Kahn has now surfaced. Tellingly, the assault is alleged to have happened in 2002 but the victim decided against reporting it because she “didn’t want to be known to the end of my days as the girl who had a problem with the politician.”
Lastly, I find it especially depressing when women join in this chorus of conspiracies. Michelle Sabban, a Paris regional councillor, declared to AFP “I am convinced it is an international conspiracy… This is a new form of political assassination.” And the Christian Democrat leader Christine Boutin (right) agreed: “I think it’s very likely a trap was set for Dominique Strauss-Kahn and he fell into it. It’s a political bomb for domestic politics.” Never mind that the abysmally low conviction rates for rape are one of the most serious obstacles to proper equality of the sexes in otherwise enlightened countries; clearly when a member of the political establishment is accused the usual rules don’t apply.
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Photo credits. Dominique Strauss-Kahn by bixintx on Flickr, republished under the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence.
Henri de Raincourt by Center for Strategic & International Studies on Flickr, republished under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence.
Christine Boutin by Ma Gali on Flickr, republished under the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence.