Since May, when police officers pulled Strauss-Kahn off a Paris-bound plane and charged him with assaulting a housekeeper at a Manhattan hotel, the conversation in France has shifted from disbelief to shock to a sense that something needs to be done.
The changed climate has already had an effect on French politics. A junior government minister, Georges Tron, was pressured into resigning at the end of May after two women alleged that he had assaulted them, although he said he was innocent.
Several people said Saturday that it was the rape allegations, not the infidelity, that started to shift their opinions.
“The violence, that’s what shocked me,” said Olivier Boczek, 37, an architect who said that philandering was “vulgar, but it’s private. There are fewer taboos here. He had a reputation of a man who likes women.”
Journalists and politicians in France had long considered Strauss-Kahn a womanizer. But few here spoke of it publicly, even after he admitted to a 2008 affair with a Hungarian economist who was a subordinate at the International Monetary Fund. When they did, it tended to be with admiration or amusement, not concern. Even Strauss-Kahn’s wife, former broadcast journalist Anne Sinclair, said in 2006 that “for a political man, it is important to seduce.”
French journalists obeyed a culture of discretion so strong and venerable that former president Francois Mitterrand was able to have a long-standing mistress and a child without journalists writing about it until shortly before he retired.
That silence, many here say, was part of what enabled the encounter in room 2806 of the Manhattan Sofitel. Neither side disputes that a sexual encounter took place; at issue is whether it was consensual and whether it was violent. The accusations — which prosecutors said Friday were under threat because of doubts about the accuser’s credibility — have deeply affected France, where Strauss-Kahn was widely seen as the most powerful potential candidate against President Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 election.
But the New York charges are not the only allegations of assault Strauss-Kahn could face. After legal proceedings started against Strauss-Kahn in May, French journalist Tristan Banon alleged that he had assaulted her in 2002. She could still file charges against him in France. At the time of the alleged assault, she said, her mother had pressured her into keeping quiet.
“An appalling confusion between ‘seducer’ and ‘violator’ was pushed over and over again by politicians and the media,” Francoise Heritier, an anthropologist, in Le Figaro Magazine, said Saturday. “I see with interest the beginning of an awareness” that philandering is no longer acceptable, she said.