Friday, July 8, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn: what happens when a 'nobody’ takes him on

A young woman is feeling the full force of France’s Establishment.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and French journalist and writer Tristane Banon, who has accused the former IMF chief of attempted rape - What happens when a 'nobody’ takes on DSK
Dominique Strauss-Kahn and French journalist and writer Tristane Banon, who has accused the former IMF chief of attempted rape Photo: AFP

It didn’t take long for the vilification of Tristane Banon to take off. Sleazy pictures of the young writer who has accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape nine years ago have started circulating online, along with barbed comments about how she “didn’t dislike a bit of a grope”, and worse.

Anonymous web users can’t find words scathing enough for her writing, her career, her books, and, oh, how “implausible” her allegations against DSK are. Her mother, Anne Mansouret, is described as a monster, both egging her on and preventing her from filing a complaint years ago. Banon, meanwhile, is a nymphomaniac, or a fabulist, or both, and did you know that she sometimes writes for a centre-Right news site? Sarkozy put her up to it…

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to detect the heavy hand of spin doctors here. Orchestrating smear campaigns these days is a doddle, thanks to the internet. Not that every other method hasn’t been used as well against any single female mentioned in connection with DSK’s alleged womanising.

As I reported on DSK, I started receiving some strange calls. One PR rang out of the blue and launched into scurrilous accusations about Banon, as well as the Socialist MP Aurélie Filipetti, whom I had quoted as saying she would “take great care never to find herself alone in a room with Strauss-Kahn”. “You’re sophisticated,” my caller said, with an ugly laugh, “you know what they’re like, these women…” Suddenly I felt in need of a long shower.

As it happens, I find Tristane Banon credible. She did not go to the police at the time, but made the allegation on a TV chat show in 2007, when DSK’s name was bleeped out (it was printed in full in a magazine’s account of the show).

And I can understand how a mother might have hesitated to let her 22-year-old daughter take on a respected statesman in a “he said-she said” dirty tussle in France, a country where credit always goes to the “important” personality against a “nobody”; a country where established editors are quick to belittle anyone, especially women, who doesn’t fall in with the general consensus.

“She would have been destroyed – she would have been reduced to that single accusation, just when she was starting out,” a regretful Mrs Mansouret has since said; and there are people who are trying to ensure exactly that happens now.

Tristane Banon may have held her tongue back then, but she was hurt all the same. Her assignments for Paris-Match and Le Figaro suddenly dried up; her book was bowdlerised by her own publisher; she says she received threatening text messages from one of Strauss-Kahn’s less savoury spin doctors. She had a breakdown and still suffers from bouts of anorexia.

She’s 32 now, but her waif-like silhouette, with too sharp bones under transparent skin, dressed in an adolescent’s ripped jeans and a gaping T-shirt, looks as though her development was arrested with the assault.

“Nobody seemed to listen or believe me, and I wanted to take some control over what had happened to me,” she said by way of explanation when filing her suit. She may not have a legal case, but I admire her courage in coming forth.

If the single result is to expose the underhand methods employed to keep DSK in the presidential race, Tristane Banon will have performed a major service for France.

© Copyright Telegraph Media Group & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet 2011

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