90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
What Does The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case Mean?

What happened to the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is it right?

Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn listens to proceedings in his case in New York state Supreme Court. (AP)

Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn listens to proceedings in his case in New York state Supreme Court. (AP)

Talk about whiplash and confusion. One minute, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF and potential president of France, is pulled off a plane and sitting in Rykers Island on attempted rape charges, perp-walked and disgraced before the world.

And the next thing you know, Strauss-Kahn is out, dining at a fancy New York restaurant, and his accuser – the hotel maid with the bruises and his semen on her clothes –- is being pummeled in the press and the whole case may go away.

What’s right here? What’s justice?

This hour On Point: rape charges, tough reality, and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

-Tom Ashbrook


Elaine Sciolino, is the New York Times Paris correspondent and author of “La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life.”

Tony DeStefano, courts and legal affairs reporter for Newsday.

Hannah Brenner, a professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law.

From Tom’s Reading List

Excerpt From “La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life” by Elaine Sciolino:

Chapter 1

Liberté, Égalité, Séduction

It is not enough to conquer, one must also know how to seduce.

—Voltaire, Mérope

Le plaisir…is something so much more definite and more evocative than what we mean when we speak of pleasure…. To the French it is part of the general fearless and joyful contact with life.

—Edith Wharton, French Ways and Their Meaning

The first time my hand was kissed à la française was in the Napoléon III salon of the Élysée Palace. The one doing the kissing was the president of France.

In the fall of 2002, Jacques Chirac was seven years into his twelve-year presidency. The Bush administration was moving toward war with Iraq, and the relationship between France and the United States was worse than it had been in decades. I had just become the Paris bureau chief for the New York Times. Chirac was receiving me and the Times’s foreign editor, Roger Cohen, to make what he hoped would be a headline-grabbing announcement of a French-led strategy to avoid war. When we arrived that Sunday morning, Chirac shook hands with Roger and welcomed me with a baisemain, a kiss of the hand.

The ritual—considered old-fashioned nowadays by just about everyone under the age of sixty—was traditionally a ceremonial, sacred gesture; its history can be traced to ancient Greece and Rome. In the Middle Ages, a vassal paid homage to his lord by kissing his hand. By the nineteenth century, hand kissing had been reinvented to convey a man’s gallantry and politesse toward a woman. Those men who still practice it today are supposed to know and follow the rules: never kiss a gloved hand or the hand of a young girl; kiss the hand only of a married woman, and do so only indoors.

Chirac reached for my right hand and cradled it as if it were a piece of porcelain from his private art collection. He raised it to the level of his chest, bent over to meet it halfway, and inhaled, as if to savor its scent. Lips made contact with skin.

The kiss was not an act of passion. This was not at all like the smoldering scene in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way in which the narrator “blindly, hotly, madly” seizes and kisses the hand offered to him by a lady in pink. Still, the kiss was unsettling. Part of me found it charming and flattering. But in an era when women work so hard to be taken seriously, I also was vaguely uncomfortable that Chirac was adding a personal dimension to a professional encounter and assuming I would like it. This would not have happened in the United States. It was, like so much else in France, a subtle but certain exercise in seduction.

As a politician, Chirac naturally incorporated all of his seductive skills, including his well-practiced baisemain, into his diplomatic style. He kissed the hand of Laura Bush when she came to Paris to mark the return of the United States to UNESCO; she turned her face away as if to prevent giving him the satisfaction of her smile. He kissed the hand of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—twice in one visit. He kissed the hand of Angela Merkel the day after she became Germany’s chancellor, fondling it in both hands; she repaid him by announcing the importance of a “friendly, intensive” relationship with France.

It turned out that Chirac was too ardent a hand kisser. Catherine Colonna, who was Chirac’s spokeswoman, told me later that he did not adhere to proper form. “He was a great hand kisser, but I was not satisfied that his baisemains were strictly executed according to the rules of French savoir faire,” she said. “The kiss is supposed to hover in the air, never land on the skin.” If Chirac knew this, he was not letting it get in the way of a tactic that was working for him.

The power kiss of the president was one of my first lessons in understanding the importance of seduction in France. Over time, I became aware of its force and pervasiveness. I saw it in the disconcertingly intimate eye contact of a diplomat discussing dense policy initiatives; the exaggerated, courtly politeness of my elderly neighbor during our serendipitous morning encounters; the flirtatiousness of a female friend that oozed like honey at dinner parties; the banter of a journalist colleague that never ended and never failed to amuse. Eventually I learned to expect it, without quite knowing why.

Séduction and séduire (to seduce) are among the most overused words in the French language. In English, “seduce” has a negative and exclusively sexual feel; in French, the meaning is broader. The French use “seduce” where the British and Americans might use “charm” or “attract” or “engage” or “entertain.” Seduction in France does not always involve body contact. A grand séducteur is not necessarily a man who easily seduces others into making love. The term might refer to someone who never fails to persuade others to his point of view. He might be gifted at caressing with words, at drawing people close with a look, at forging alliances with flawless logic. The target of seduction—male or female—may experience the process as a shower of charm or a magnetic pull or even a form of entertainment that ends as soon as the dinner party is over. “Seduction” in France encompasses a grand mosaic of meanings. What is constant is the intent: to attract or influence, to win over, even if just in fun.

Seduction can surface anytime—a tactic of the ice cream seller, the ambulance driver, the lavender grower. Foreigners may find themselves swept away without realizing how it happened. Not so the French. For them, the daily campaign to win and woo is a familiar game, instinctively played and understood. The seducer and the seduced may find the process enjoyable or unsatisfying. It may be a waste of time and end without the desired result. But played well, the game can be stimulating. And when victory comes, the joy is sweet.

That’s because seduction is bound tightly with what the French call plaisir—the art of creating and relishing pleasure of all kinds. The French are proud masters of it, for their own gratification and as a useful tool to seduce others. They have created and perfected pleasurable ways to pass the time: perfumes to sniff, gardens to wander in, wines to drink, objects of beauty to observe, conversations to carry on. They give themselves permission to fulfill a need for pleasure and leisure that America’s hardworking, supercapitalist, abstinent culture often does not allow. Sexuality always lies at the bottom of the toolbox, in everyday life, in business, even in politics. For the French, this is part of the frisson of life.

Even though France is the fifth-largest economy in the world, for many decades the French have bemoaned and documented the decline of their country from its lofty position as a once-mighty power. The trend line was fixed forever when the Germans invaded the country in 1940 and the French succumbed. Ever since then, the French have struggled with an inferiority complex even as they proclaim their grandeur. “Declinism” has become a national sport.

These days, the sense of decline extends far beyond the spheres of military or imperial power. The French way of life itself is under fire. Globalized capitalism means everything is faster, more efficient, less thorough, and less personal. The French landscape has fewer family-owned farms and more industrial warehouses. Designer bags once hand-crafted in small ateliers are made en masse in China. Perfumes once blended by artisans in Grasse are produced according to market research specifications in laboratories in New York. Billboards on the highways leaving Paris advertise instant rice. A chain of supermarkets stocks nothing but frozen food. A restaurant on the Île de la Cité in Paris serves what it calls traditional onion soup made from freeze-dried packets. The art of intricate French-style back-and-forth diplomacy built on refined language and form is threatened by e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The French are being pulled into a world that devalues their expertise and celebrates things they do badly.

There is much that is unlovable about France: the sclerosis in its educational system; the blindness and unwillingness to acknowledge and embrace ethnic, religious, and racial diversity; the emphasis on process and form rather than completion; the inelegant and often brutal behavior that sometimes surfaces in prominent political figures.

And yet the French still imbue everything they do with a deep affection for sensuality, subtlety, mystery, and play. Even as their traditional influence in the world shrinks, they soldier on. In every arena of life they are determined to stave off the onslaught of decline and despair. They are devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and the need to be artful, exquisite, witty, and sensuous, all skills in the centuries-old game called seduction. But it is more than a game; it is an essential strategy for France’s survival as a country of influence.

The insight that led to this book came in the spring of 2008. It was a particularly uneasy moment in France. Nicolas Sarkozy had been president for just a year, and a recent poll had determined that the French people now considered him the worst president in the history of the Fifth Republic. His failure to deliver quickly on a campaign promise to revitalize the economy was perceived as a betrayal so profound that a phenomenon called “Sarkophobia” had developed. There was little in Sarkozy’s clumsy personal style to help him counter it.

Around this time I read a new book written by a thirty-four-year-old speechwriter at the Foreign Ministry named Pierre-Louis Colin. In it, he laid out what he called his “high mission”: to combat a “righteous” Anglo-Saxon-dominated world. The book was not about France’s new projection of power in the world under Sarkozy but dealt with a subject just as important for France. It was a guide to finding the prettiest women in Paris.

“The greatest marvels of Paris are not in the Louvre,” Colin wrote. “They are in the streets and the gardens, in the cafés and in the boutiques. The greatest marvels of Paris are the hundreds of thousands of women—whose smiles, whose cleavages, whose legs—bring incessant happiness to those who take promenades. You just have to know where to observe them.”

The book classified the neighborhoods of Paris according to their women. Just as every region of France had a gastronomic identity, Colin said, every neighborhood of Paris had its “feminine specialty.”

Ménilmontant in the northeast corner was loaded with “perfectly shameless cleavages—radiant breasts often uncluttered by a bra.” The area around the Madeleine was the place to find “sublime legs.”

Colin put women between the ages of forty and sixty into the “saucy maturity” category, explaining that they “bear witness” to “an agitated or ambitious sex life that refuses to lay down its weapons.”

The book was patently sexist. It offered tips on how to observe au pairs and young mothers without their noticing and advised going out in rainstorms to catch women in wet, clingy clothing. It could never have been published in the United States. But in France it barely raised an eyebrow, and Colin had obviously had fun writing it. The mild reaction to a foreign policy official’s politically incorrect book tells you something about the country’s priorities. The unabashed pursuit of sensual pleasure is integral to French life. Sexual interest and sexual vigor are positive values, especially for men, and flaunting them in a lighthearted way is perfectly acceptable. It’s all part of enjoying the seductive game.

The sangfroid about Colin’s book made for a striking juxtaposition with the hostility toward France’s president. To be sure, the flabby economy was one reason Sarkozy was doing so badly at the time; another was that he hadn’t yet mastered the art of political or personal seduction.

But he was trying. Sarkozy’s second wife, Cécilia, had walked out on him a couple of years earlier, returned before the election, and dumped him for good after he took office. As president of France, he couldn’t bear to be seen as lacking in sex appeal. Nor could he afford to. In the United States, mixing sex and politics is dangerous; in France, this is inevitable.

In the weeks after Cécilia’s final departure, Sarkozy had presented himself as lonely and long-suffering, but that had seemed very un-French. Then he had met the superrich Italian supermodel-turned-pop-singer Carla Bruni and married her three months later. On the anniversary of his first year in office, Sarkozy and Bruni posed for the cover of Paris Match as if they had been together forever. Sarkozy looked—as he wanted and needed to—both sexy and loved.

My understanding of the rules and rituals of the game of French seduction did not come suddenly but evolved over the years. It began with my very first day in France when I was a college student. I arrived in Paris late on a summer night in 1969, armed with a backpack and two years of high school French. America had landed on the moon that day, and the newspaper seller at the train station celebrated the event—and my arrival—by kissing me on both cheeks.

Later, I lived and worked for many years in France, first as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, later as bureau chief for the New York Times. I covered stories in cities, in small towns, on farms, in poor immigrant housing projects and well-appointed drawing rooms. In time I came to see the extravagant attention given to seduction in France as a manifestation of something deeply embedded in French culture. Seduction is an unofficial ideology, a guiding principle codified in everyday assumptions and patterns of behavior so well established and habitual that they are automatic. It comes so naturally that often it isn’t acknowledged or even understood by the French. But when seduction’s role in their lives is called to their attention, they are often fascinated by the idea and eager to explore it.

Armed with the realization that seduction is a driving force in French life, I felt as if I had put on a special pair of 3-D glasses that made confusing shapes snap into sharp focus. It suddenly became clear that the French impulse to seduce applies to many features of French life. The tools of the seducer—anticipation, promise, allure—are powerful engines in French history and politics, culture and style, food and foreign policy, literature and manners. Like much else in France, the power and influence of seduction are profoundly centralized. Paris, the capital of France and home to French corporations, media, fashion designers, and intellectuals, is also the place where seduction and its hold on French life are most palpable. Wherever I go in the country, all roads seem to lead back to Paris, and in much the same way, the cultural imperative of seduction that is nurtured in Paris remains a potent force even in the grim suburbs and the distant countryside.

A key component of seduction—and French life—is process. The rude waiter, the dismissive sales clerk, the low-ranking bureaucrat who demands still another obscure document is playing a perverted version of a seduction game that glorifies lingering.

When I decided to explore the meaning of seduction à la française more systematically, as the French themselves might do, I began with words. I set up a Google alert for the words séduire, séduction, and séduit in the French media. I sometimes got as many as a dozen hits a day.

Then I did an analytical study of these alerts over a three-month period. My researcher and I found 636 occurrences of the words falling into nine categories. Some were predictable, like love/sex, fashion/style, and tourism; others were more unexpected, including the seductive powers of presidents, commerce, gastronomy, the arts, “anti-seduction” (people and items lacking in seductive techniques), and the military-sounding opération séduction. (In English, opération séduction becomes something tamer: “charm offensive.”)

The two largest categories, with more than ninety articles apiece, were opération séduction and commerce (the selling of “seductive” items). These were closely followed by the arts (seduction of the general public), with eighty entries. The love/sex category had a meager thirty-four, tourism twenty-five, fashion fifteen. “Anti-seduction” tied with gastronomy at eleven. The presidents category was quite small, with Barack Obama accounting for ten and Nicolas Sarkozy with just two.

Seduction appeared to be omnipresent in the French consciousness. During a trip to Israel in May 2009, the pope was said to have “seduced the Palestinians” with his call for the creation of a Palestinian state. Museums wanted to “seduce” new visitors. Sarkozy’s political strategy was to “seduce the young.” The milk producers of northern France were not simply on strike; they were on a “seduction mission” to negotiate with milk processors and to explain to consumers why they were blocking trucks and collection points. The interior of the Citroën DS automobile was filled with the “spirit of seduction.” The Iranian presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi “knew how to seduce in using all of the modern techniques” of politics. By far the most “seductive” selling items were computers and phones; when the sales of Dell laptops declined, it was because the company had “a hard time seducing.”

The word is also deployed ironically, sometimes with dead-serious effect. The left-leaning newspaper Libération once ran a two-page article illustrated with a photo of a French soldier in full battle gear and pointing a large automatic weapon under the headline “Afghanistan: The French in Seduction Mode.” I thought nothing would top that headline until another one popped up in the same newspaper about the mass execution of eight thousand Bosnians by Serbs in Srebrenica during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. It read, “Srebrenica: Serbia Offers Its Apologies to Seduce the EU.”

As for opération séduction, it surfaced in the broadest range of topics—from golf to high schools, from agriculture to doctors, from the environment to business. One newspaper headline read, “Opération séduction pour draguer les sédiments” from polluted harbors. Literally, it means, “Opération séduction to extract sediments.” The article opened with the sentence, “Not sexy, sediments?” It explained that the region was trying to sell its dredging and land treatment plan to the central government. Butdraguer also means “to flirt with,” so the headline could be read as: “Opération séduction to flirt with sediments.”

The word séduction no longer surprised. It overwhelmed.

I reached out to French writers and thinkers and quickly found that my new subject had special hazards—like the time I interviewed Pascal Bruckner, the philosopher and essayist who has written extensively about the disorderly state of relations between men and women. We were in the café of a grand Paris hotel, and the closeness of the encounter coupled with the word séduction created unexpected intimacy. I put on reading glasses and a serious look, clenched my knees together, rested my hands in my lap, and asked him about his daughter. I wanted to avoid the appearance of flirting. (I shouldn’t have worried. I ran into him months later at a private film screening, and he didn’t even recognize me.)

When I told French women about my investigations of seduction in their culture, they got it right away. And they joined in with complicity and lightness. When I described my project to French men, by contrast, there were two reactions. Some got a deer-in-the-headlights look, as if to say, “Get me away from this pathetic, crazed American woman of a certain age.” Others jumped in with a bit too much enthusiasm.

One morning I uttered the words “seduction” and “France” to a museum curator as we were walking down a curving staircase. He stopped short, grabbed the banister, and leaned over me so excitedly that I had to step back. “Seduction—maybe it’s chance!” he exclaimed. “You can find the man of your life, the woman of your life, in a restaurant, in a café. It starts by an innocent, stupid sentence. ‘Can you pass me the salt?’ ‘Can you pass me the carafe of water?’ And then, a look!”

Early in my research, I was dealt a cruel blow. I was informed that while I could try to play the game, I was destined to lose. The bearer of this grim message was a former president of France, not Chirac this time but one of his predecessors, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

Our meeting at his home on a quiet street in the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris was for the most part pleasant. He tried to establish common ground between us. He told me the story of his visit to my hometown of Buffalo, New York, when he was twenty-three. He had met “a nice, very sweet girl” on the Queen Mary crossing the Atlantic. She went to Vassar College and lived in Buffalo. She had become his girlfriend and at one point, he had visited her home. They had toured Niagara Falls. Giscard confessed his love for America. He said little about its inhabitants but professed an attraction to its vast open spaces. He even fantasized about buying a ranch someday in the Southwest.

That gave me the opening I was looking for. I knew I couldn’t be so brazen as to ask a former president to explain France through the prism of seduction. So I took a more indirect route. Suppose he was having dinner on such a ranch with a group of Americans, and one of them posed the question, “Mr. President, could you explain to us how we can understand your country?”

Giscard is now in his eighties, and age has made him ever more certain that he possesses the truth. He resisted the temptation to play the game with me. “My answer is clear—you cannot,” he said. “I have never met an American, never, who has really understood what drives French society.”

France, he said, operates as “an extremely strange system, impenetrable from the outside, rather agreeable to live in, but totally different from anywhere else.”

“The French do not practice hospitality at all,” he went on. “No. They can be generous. They can say, ‘There are Americans here. We have to do something. Let’s invite them over.’ But after one time, it’s over. You’ve done your duty. The idea that an American is going to penetrate the system? No. Ours is an old, extraordinarily fragmented society, with thousands of small strata in which everyone is inferior to someone and superior to someone else. There can be reciprocal acceptance but not the desire to come together. The French want to stay in their cultural and educational milieu and certainly do not want to change.”

I was déstablisée—shaken.

When I later told Charles Bremner, the veteran Paris correspondent for the Times of London, about the conversation, he urged me not to be discouraged. “Maybe the French aren’t as perceptive about themselves as outsiders are,” he said. “Seduction is so much a part of them that maybe they don’t think about it. Like goldfish not knowing what water is like.”

And so, I dared to venture on.

For centuries, the most perceptive experts on seduction in France have been its female courtesans. More important than their youth, beauty, and sexual performance have been their experience and maturity. Therefore, I sought advice from the two women I consider to be France’s icons of the modern world of courtesans (without the sex part): Arielle Dombasle and Inès de la Fressange.

The women have a lot in common. They have Latin roots: La Fressange’s mother is Argentinian; Dombasle lived in Mexico as a child. That has given them the air of outsiders who had to master the rules. Both are past fifty and have been performing for more than three decades. They move with the swiftness and fluidity of cats—Dombasle as an actress, singer, and dancer, La Fressange as the former supermodel for Chanel. Both are impossibly tall and thin, with bodies that long to be stared at. Both are smart businesswomen who understand the need to continue to market their allure and their beauty. They are professionals: aware of their power and how to use it. And they are national treasures: each has been awarded the Legion of Honor.

The main difference between them is the way each has chosen to promote her look. Dombasle seems to have been worked on and is always done up. Her allure comes from her resemblance to a gorgeous alien. La Fressange, a mother of two, often wears jeans and loafers, and she smokes. She has retained the innocent air of a much younger woman.

Over tea one afternoon, Dombasle compared seduction to a battlefield of communication. “Seduction is largely transmitted through words—what you say and when you keep quiet,” she said. “That’s the key. Voilà.”

I had no idea what she meant. I asked her to explain. “You must choose your words carefully as you would in a war,” she said, “The way you seduce depends on whether you want to win or you want to lose.”

It could be a campaign to weaken your opponent by injecting an element of surprise, for example. “You could play against type to throw your adversary off balance,” she said. “Seduction is not a frivolous thing. No. It’s war.”

I was encouraged. “I know war,” I said. “I was a war correspondent. I don’t understand seduction, but I understand war.”

Dombasle and I had found common ground. She explained that this war is nonviolent. The woman warrior must avoid the sort of traumatic exposure that comes with vulnerability in front of the adversary. Dombasle has not hesitated to bare her breasts for a Paris Match cover or for a revue in front of hundreds of people at the Crazy Horse cabaret. But she insisted that nakedness is a vulnerability that must be used with care. Apparently, on the battlefield of the bed, the rules are different. “Nudity is extremely violent to gaze at,” she said. “I would never walk naked in front of my husband. Never, never, never.”

“So you’re only nude in the shower?” I asked.

“I’m nude when I’m alone, and I’m nude when I’m in his arms, but never in a sort of casually stupid gesture of the morning or whatever. Never.”

“So nudity is not something trivial?”

“Of course not. But we know that.”

How do you know something like that? I wondered.

I told her how different it was in the United States, where many women feel liberated and sexy walking around the bedroom in the nude. I thought that perhaps her insistence on the value of concealment was an affectation of an aging sex symbol struggling to cling to her youth. A young French journalist from my office was with us, so I turned to her and asked, “If you were in a love relationship, and you were getting out of bed to go into the bathroom, you would not be totally nude?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s not only prudishness. It’s just, you know…”

I too should never be nude in front of my husband, Dombasle advised. “You shouldn’t,” she said. “Otherwise, he won’t buy you lunch.”

She had now warmed to the subject. “The relationship to nudity, the relationship to love, the relationship to men, the relationship to women—all this carries great complexity and great danger,” she said. “I have felt my whole life that it is extremely positive to engage in combat and rule over one’s own life.”

Her advice about my work was similar: I should be a modern-day courtesan who makes full use of the weapons of my profession. “You are a serious journalist, truly a journalist who represents strength after the liberation of women,” she said. “You have succeeded with weighty work about politics and diplomacy, with solid things. So now it will be very interesting for you to reveal that there is another woman inside of you, who was born once you came into contact with France.”

But I have never been one of those women who dreams of taking a dizzying carousel ride of passion and learning colloquial French with the help of mysterious Gallic men. I love to read those fictional and real-life romantic confections about leaving a job and a bad relationship behind in the United States and discovering good sex and even better coffee with an experienced, long-waisted, velvet-voiced, poetry-spouting French man. That doesn’t mean I can do it.

Dombasle was simply too sexy for me. So I turned to Inès de la Fressange. I had first met her when she was a fresh-faced yet flirtatious runway model and I was covering the Paris fashion shows for Newsweek. Even then La Fressange was not just any ordinary fashion model. She was the daughter of a French marquis and off-the-charts wealthy.

Thirty years later, in a 2009 Internet poll, she was voted “La Parisienne,” the quintessential Parisian woman. It’s hard not to be attracted to a woman with the long limbs of a runner, the raspy voice of a cabaret singer, the impish look of a coquette, the sense of humor of a stand-up comic, the smile of Audrey Hepburn.

La Fressange told me my subject was so vast and so serious that I needed firsthand experience. “You have to be conscientious,” she said. “You can’t talk about seduction, fashion, politics, beauty without a French lover. Yes, yes! For the final touch!”

“But I’m in love with my husband and I have kids,” I protested.

“Even better—an American woman in Paris who doesn’t want to get married and have kids and is sure to leave France!” she replied.

I told her I had no need to find a French lover; back in the 1970s, I had briefly had a French boyfriend, whose family owned a château with horses and servants.

That was beside the point, she said. “It’s all about attitude,” she said. “If you decide to be like a nun in Paris, who does American-style journalism with all the information, all the statistics, well, that will be interesting. But there will be no romance.”

To get off to the right start, she said, I needed to invest in a new haircut, new clothes, and a visit to a Turkish bath to “feel some pleasure.” Then she said, “You go to the terrace of a café. You say to yourself, ‘Voilà, something is going to happen.’ And you’ll see. Something will happen.”

I thought about the scene in the film Clair de femme when Yves Montand literally bumps into Romy Schneider as he gets out of a taxi, and then they sit together at a café. A bit later, he’s in her bed.

“You have to stroll the streets of Paris at night with your lover, go to Montmartre, walk along the Seine, eat soup in a bistro,” she said. “Then you go to Deauville and walk along the sea and eat shrimps until four a.m. And when your husband calls you, you say, ‘But, no! You’re just imagining you hear the sound of waves in the background.’”

She insisted that all would be fine as long as the affair remained secret. “Tell him absolutely nothing. There’s no reason to make him miserable. You have your foundation as a couple, a history, a marriage. You’ve built something you can be proud of, and this tiny romance in Paris is not going to disrupt it. Write about it in a way that the reader can feel things but not know them.”

Eventually, we compromised: I could take a virtual lover, a French man who would be my soul mate but only playact with me. “It doesn’t have to be torrid and frenetic,” she said.

Then came the coup de grâce. Because of my age, she said, I had no time to waste. “It’s your last chance!” she told me. “Pretty soon, you’ll be thinking only about your cats, your dogs, your knitting, and your garden. Your arthritis will make it hard to take long walks at night.”

The next morning, at breakfast with my husband, Andy, I started making a list of possible candidates: my downstairs neighbor, a white-haired, retired business executive who wears perfectly knotted cashmere scarves and elegant tweed sport coats, even when he rides his bicycle to the supermarket; a writer and radio talk show host who is very smart and safely gay; a famous stage and film actor who I feared might take the role too seriously; a colleague who said he would be happy to help, but alas, he is British; a former diplomat with a passion for nineteenth-century paintings whom I ruled out as dangerous because his wife lives in a foreign country. I asked Andy for his advice. He took a break from his Special K and put on his glasses. “I somehow don’t think you’re supposed to be telling me about this,” he said.

Now that I was concentrating on seduction, I began to see it in places where I had never noticed it before. Making coffee one morning, I looked at the Carte Noire coffee bag and saw that it described itself as “A Coffee Named Desire.”

Andy found nothing surprising in it. “Chock Full o’Nuts called itself ‘the heavenly coffee,’” he said drily.

“Heaven means celestial and pure and virginal,” I replied. “Desire is carnal.”

Seduction was like a neon light that never stopped blinking. On a road from Paris to Compiègne, there was an oblong, one-story prefabricated building with a small sign that read, “Auto Séduction.” I assumed the enterprise was some sort of kinky private club for personal sexual satisfaction. No, it was a garage for car repairs. Its website explained that it had “only one objective: your satisfaction.” I called Sylvain Chidiac, the garage owner, who said he had intended nothing suggestive in choosing the name of his company. He had initially wanted to call it Auto Prestige, but that name was already taken. “Auto Seduction,” he explained, “just imposed itself naturally in my mind.”

Even the French style of conducting elections in two rounds rather than one could be seen as an exercise in seduction. French voters are said to vote their hearts in the first round and their beliefs in the runoff. The final competitors must attract a fraction of the opponents’ voters without losing their own. “Seducing to reduce,” is how the magazine Valeurs Actuelles defined the phenomenon.

I found seduction in France’s idea of itself, and the connection is an old one. The characters in Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables, the seventeenth-century morality tales taught in French schools, often demonstrate the supremacy of cunning over force. The French believe that their country (about the size of Texas) is able to project power around the world not because of brute force or military might or a robust economy but because of its imagined mythical power, its ability to lure others to want to be like France.

France is also a nuclear power with a colonial past and troops deployed in far-off places like Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast. Its philosophy as a colonizer was not manifest destiny but a mission civilisatrice—France’s civilizing mission. Unlike British colonialists, who also talked of “civilizing” far-flung lands but habitually regarded their subjects as “the other,” the French claimed their mission was assimilation. They taught their subjects that by adopting the French language, culture, and value system, they eventually could become perfect—that is, French themselves (as if those factors could truly determine nationality).

In foreign policy, France is a global case study in “soft power,” the ability to influence others through “attraction” rather than “coercion.” The term was coined by an American, Joseph Nye of Harvard University, but the concept is very French. In an interview with Nye that was translated into French, the concept of “attraction” under his soft power formula was rendered as séduction.

Jacques Chirac’s baisemain became emblematic of what I needed to understand about the French. No French person to whom I told the story thought I should be offended; everyone expressed amusement. The writer Mona Ozouf described it as “a slightly theatrical gesture with a touch of irony.” Sophie-Caroline de Margerie, a jurist on the Conseil d’État, the highest administrative court in France, and an author herself, explained that the Polish aristocracy did it much more sensually. She took my hand but only half-showed me. Perhaps the kiss itself would have been too intimate for her.

But not for Maurice Lévy, the chairman of the French advertising giant Publicis. He gave me the definitive lesson in hand kissing.

Lévy is tall and strongly built and gives off an air of calm and nonchalance. He greeted me in his headquarters on the Champs-Élysées, in a reception area bathed in white. I prodded him into speaking a few sentences in English. I had been told that he carefully preserves his strong French accent and then apologizes for it, part of what his aides call his “French touch.” He doesn’t do hard sell. When he wants to make a point, he slowly closes his eyes, parts his lips, and leans back in his chair. But his greeting—a big, hard handshake and a command to get down to business—underscores what others had told me about him. Deep down he is a killer businessman, a cunning predator who built Publicis into the world’s fourth-largest advertising and public relations empire.

He had been well briefed on my book project and my interest in the themes of seduction and sensuality in French life. The intermediary who had arranged the interview must have told him about my fascination with hand kissing, because Lévy suddenly shifted the subject from the globalization of the advertising market to focus on my right hand. “You have evoked the baisemain,” he said, even though it was he, not I, who had raised the subject. He told me that a man’s lips should never effleurer the hand.Effleurer is hard to translate. It means “to skim” or “to brush lightly.” The sound and spelling of the word is similar to the French word for “flower,” fleur. That led me to think, the first time Lévy said it, that it might have something to do with the petals of a flower, a sort of delicate act involving a touch of something fragile.

“You must not effleurer the hand! You must not!” he said. “When you effleurez the hand, you are sending a special message.”

He stood up and ordered me to stand as well.

“The real baisemain, it’s like this,” he said, as he bent down from the waist, took my hand, and came within a hair of touching his lips to my skin. There was a barely perceptible squeezing of my hand before he returned it to me. “I must not touch, but you should feel that I am close enough.”

“If I do it this way,” he said, drawing back, “I am too far. I must do it close enough. You must almost feel my breath.”

I was getting nervous that one of his army of assistants would walk in and find us in midkiss.

Then his second kiss came. He pressed his lips gently to my hand. He defined that kiss as affectif—with emotion. “There, this is someone I like quite well, with whom I have a good relationship, and she knows it,” he said. “There we go.”

“And the last,” he said, “it’s to effleurer. I do it like this.”

So we were going to effleurer after all.

His lips opened slightly and moved up and down, teasing my hand. The kiss could not have lasted more than two seconds. I felt the warmth of his breath and a slight tickling, as if I were being touched by a butterfly’s wings. I marveled at the mastery of the simultaneous double movement of opening and closing and up and down. The memory of the gesture lingered like the scent of an exotic perfume.

“In this one, I try to say that you please me,” he explained. “And if I brush my lips lightly, it means—”

I interrupted: “I might have intentions that are more complex and mysterious—”

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he replied. “It means, ‘Will you sleep with me tonight?’”

“Ah. More direct!” I said.

“No, wait. It’s not more direct,” he said. “It simply means—it’s the final goal.”

I was at a loss for words. How do you respond to the chairman of one of the largest corporations in the world who has just shown you how a French man, without saying a word, can ask a woman to sleep with him?

So I changed the subject to Jacques Chirac. “Okay, but I have a fourth baisemain,” I said. I told Lévy I had been at an event hosted by Chirac that week and saw how he had greeted a dear friend, the former minister Simone Veil. Chirac had stretched out his arms and extended his hands three times as if he were rushing out from the wings onto center stage in a Broadway musical. Then he had grabbed Veil’s hand and smacked it. Loudly.

“And maybe that’s the baisemain Chiraquien?” I asked.

“No,” Lévy replied. “When I see Simone, who is a friend, this is the way I do it. Come—ah—So, here.”

And Lévy planted a big loud kiss on my hand. “Really affectif,” he said.

LA SEDUCTION Copyright © 2011 by Elaine Sciolino

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Ellen Dibble

    The word “seduced” suggests the will has been overcome.  If one’s will has been overcome, however, it is important for a woman to know that is not by force but by persuasion.  I can certainly understand men might study the location of the fine line very differently from women, the line between where the will is swayed by force or persuasion, by impressiveness or by choice.  I see where that fine line varies by age and personality of both parties, infinitely variable.  It would also vary from culture to culture, African to French to American.  I’ll see what Elaine Sciolino has written in the morning, but to tell the truth I’m in no mood to revisit what it was like to go totally weak in the knees, to be able to melt like that.  Perhaps for some women it is a point of pride to be so lusty, but modern women are not so well protected that they can afford the luxury of such vulnerability.  Something like that.

  • Eric Penman

    It means that if you are rich you can beat back an unethical woman
    who is looking for set you up on false rape charges but if
    you are not rich, you will go to jail. Look how the media presumed
    his guilt, and even now still is convicting him. America has gone
    too far the other way and now it has become to easy to accuse
    men of rape its a growth industry and why not this women knew
    she could make money on this. It’s a weapon all women know
    they have over men weather its true or not, the man’s life
    is ruined and there are no consequences for the accuser.
    I suggest 20 years in prison for knowingly making a false
    rape charge, but femi-nazis (I love Rush’s term here it fits perfectly) would never allow it.  Women frequently use this weapon in divorce cases and when they are out to get the guy for some reason. The French are right pre trail publicity has ruined our justice system, they
    see American as hung up on sex and vindictive and they
    are right… It just sells newspapers and it makes for profitable lurid media our morals are gone now how we have let the Media barons drag us
    into the gutter. All hail the prison industrial complex!

  • jacob arnon

    Only one question should be asked, Is the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or not. 

    So far too many editorial writers and talking heads have been assuming that hed is guilty no matter what.

    He is guilty of being rich, guilty of being French, guilty of being a Jew, guilty of being a socialist, guilty of being a man.

    Strauss Kahn is guillty guilty guilty. 

    Except that the evidence against him is very weak.

    Too bad for the haters out there. 

    • Stillin

      guilty of being a man? Men continue to have more power than women in many places.

      • Dhs

        No they don’t. Even the wealthiest and most powerful man can be destroyed by a single false accusation made by the humblest woman, as this case shows.

        Women have more power.

        • Stillin

          When you consider the entire continent of Africa, and all the civil wars that have gone on there, and still go on in many of their countries, the middle east and their treatment of women, I bet to differ. That’s not even mentionin salrary descrepencies nor the slave trade that goes on today. I stand by my statement.

          • Facepalming Canadian

            This isn’t about 3rd world countries.  You’re equating the struggle for equal rights in places where women aren’t considered the equal of a man to the struggle by 3rd wave feminists to be able to have a man convicted on the basis of a complaint alone.  That’s insulting to African women AND to 1st world men.

          • Stillin

            I don’t consider the middle east third world, my point is THIS case is touching globally, and of course I do not see my fact on most African women as insulting as it is just that, a fact. You can disagree no problem with that, and as far as !st world men, I mean men from all over the planet. The heirarchy seems to me, and this is an opinon, not a fact, white men rule, followed by white women and although I think it’s is wrong, I think it’s how it is. That is my experience, again opinon, not fact.

  • Stillin

    After reading the verdict on the Casey Anthony trial, ANYBODY can do WHATEVER they want, that’s the world we have created.

  • Michael

    “What Does The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Case Mean?”

    Dude either has some amazing pimping skills to pull some random maid or don’t call rape if you have a questionable background cause the case could possible be thrown out.

  • Michael

    Normally I’m on the Guy side if it involves drugs or booze but I haven’t heard that either was involved in this case but have heard that his questionable actions and behaviors is not the first,Of course those previous actions doesn’t mean guilt. This case could actually possible propel Kahn into the Presidency.

    Least tom today has on at least one male. Normally it’s all females and no male voice

  • Yar

    Are there cases when sex should not be considered consensual simply by
    status? We have laws that protect children as a class,
    shouldn’t that also be true for teacher-student relationships? A
    physician or counselor with his patient? What about prisoners,
    shouldn’t they be protected as a class from potential abuse? It even gets more
    complicated, what about a drug addict and their dealer, or a poor
    person and someone who is wealthy, or an employer and their employee,
    how about an illegal prostitute and their customer? We don’t want to
    restrict the rights of consenting adults yet, we should weigh that
    against conditions where consent is not truly free. Does the
    individual with power have more responsibility in these situations
    than their potential partner?  I think they do.

    we need additional laws to provide better protection? Or is he
    said/she said enough to protect everyone?

    have read several news stories in Kentucky where prison guards were
    engaging in sexual activity with female inmates. Not all these cases
    proved a rape occurred. These guards lost their jobs, but is that

    don’t know the details of the Strauss-Kahn case, but in my book, he
    is guilty of abuse. It is an abuse of power to have sex with a maid
    while she was at work.

    believe we should
    pass laws that make it clear that abuse of power for sexual pleasure
    is against the law, and
    we should clearly define what that is.

    • Buddhaclown

      Would that go both ways? Women in power having sex with men in lesser positions of power? Illegal? Would that make it essentially illegal for anyone to have sex with an unemployed man?

      Maybe we should have to sign a legal contract before we engage in any sexual behavior, and any sex that isn’t government sanctioned should be considered illegal!

      Somehow I get the feeling we really don’t need more puritans telling the rest of us how to live.

  • Cory

    Sex is more multi-faceted than many of us want to admit.  People engage in it for all kinds of reasons.  Power, wealth, violence, revenge, passion, love, procreation…  I won’t pretend to know what happened here.

    • Anonymous

      Cory, you’ve said succinctly what I’ve been blabbering for years!  

  • Jdsmith02115

    I guess we need to be reminded YET AGAIN, that nothing is as it seems on the surface.

  • Sara

    If he raped her and it can be proven, nothing from her past should matter.

    • http://twitter.com/Human_Stupidity Human-Stupidity.com

      sure, if it can be PROVEN. If a surveillance video shows up.

      But not if her word is the only PROOF. If her declarations about what happened that day were proven to be false in several major details


    • Buddhaclown

      The problem is in the “and it can be proven” part . . . A lot of people seem to think it actually could be proven, when in all likeliness it cannot be. One wonders if even if a video tape recorded it whether it could be proven. She claims he “forced” her to give him a blow job. Well, how would you be able to tell a rough consensual blow job from a forced blow job even if you saw it? How do you separate rough sex from rape?

      No, the problem is that the idea that it can be proven based on hard evidence is just false . . . only soft evidence can make the case here, and soft evidence is precisely stuff like . . . his and her past. In other words, you’re saying nothing from her past should matter, except that in a “he said, she said” case it’s only things like the respective parties’ histories that can really be used to persuade us.

      And, indeed, as many have pointed out, the very same people now complaining about the use of her past to undermine her case are the same people who used his past to bolster their conviction in his guilt. In a case like this, you need to use people’s past . . . but you can’t have a double standard about that and only use one person’s past and not the others’. It just betrays a bias. 

  • rlsinia

    I am disturbed by the implication that IF this woman has a questionable background, then she must NOT have been raped or assaulted.  Hookers get raped, too.  Regardless of the actual details of what happened, the whole “boys will be boys” attitude regarding unacceptable behavior from men in high places just shows how sexist America/the world still really is.

    • Dhs

      This woman has a history of lying about being raped. This woman lied to the prosecutors about events in the present.

      Dominique Strauss-Kahn is the victim here.

    • Facepalming Canadian

      So you say she shouldn’t be judged on her past, but you think he should?


    • Buddhaclown

      I don’t think anyone is saying that if she has a questionable past she must not have been raped, rather it just makes it much harder to believe her. After all, that is all we have to go on — “he said, she said” — so if it boils down to what each person says, their credibility becomes all the more important.

      The problem is that rape charges are all too often not really based on concrete evidence but on accusations. And, really, how are you going to determine whether you believe the accuser or not if all other evidence is limited or circumstantial? You need to assess their credibility.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure other commenters have already said this, but it is very distressing that, if the hotel maid has not changed her story about the assault, that her possibly lying about unrelated matters makes the prosecution throw out the case. 

    The case should go forward, in my opinion, and only the sexual assault should be considered, not the rest of it. 

  • Anonymous

    Second comment: if DSK was innocent, why did he resign from his post as IMF president? That doesn’t make sense to me. 

    • http://twitter.com/Human_Stupidity Human-Stupidity.com

      because from jail or house arrest it is hard to exercise the presidency of the IMF.

      because he was considered guilty until proven innocent, and thus a liability

  • Steve in Lexington

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s account of the NY hotel incident is not credible.  He negotiated and completed an unprotected, uncompensated and somewhat violent sex act with a much younger woman, a complete stranger who has no record of engaging in such nutty conduct, in the space of 20 minutes?  Oh, Kay.

    And why did the alleged victim then immediately alleged that she had been attacked, to four witnesses?

    Moreover, DSK is now accused of another sexual assault by a highly credible French journalist.

    Clearly, DSK is a serial violent sexual offender.    The woman he attacked in New York has her own flaws, but they have little relevance to the question of DSK’s guilt.  The only question is: how many other victims has DSK left in his wake?

  • Freeman

            Go to trial; what amazes me and sadens me as well is; the more money loaned,granted etc etc to all these agencies  ( to protect the public) an they become more an more corrupt. Becoming more an more estranged from the public. What kind of society protect and rewards criminals ?

    • Dhs

      The kind of society that locks up an innocent man because a criminal woman tells lies about him.

  • Ellen Dibble

    We would have avoided whiplash if we remembered what all jurors are told before any case begins, which is that in this country a complaint is not a verdict, and all defendants are presumed innocent.  If a defendant believed he or she was not innocent, there would be a plea.
       But a Grand Jury opens the way for an investigation, for a trial.  It presents an indictment, not a verdict.

    • ElfmanNW

      “If a defendant believed he or she was not innocent, there would be a plea.

      I agree with everything said but this.
      The truth about how our system operates with respect to plea bargains
      is that the defendant, in consultation with his legal representative,
      has to weigh the chances of being convicted on the more serious
      charge versus pleading guilty to a lesser charge. This is true
      whether or not the defendant believes he/she is guilty of either the
      more serious or the lesser charge. Plea bargaining is a somewhat
      corrupt carrot and stick system. Guilty people can go free if they
      elect to go to trial and innocent people can be convicted under plea
      bargain if they fear a guilty verdict under trial for a charge they
      are also innocent of.


  • Malivna

    I wonder if it’d make any difference if the victim wasn’t an immigrant, if she was a white female Caucasian…

    • Dhs

      The victim was a white male caucasian. The false accuser was a black female from Ghana.

  • DSKobserver

    #1)  What do Frenchwomen — the elite to the ordinary bourgeois — think of Anne Sinclair’s ardent defense of husband DSK Le Chaud Lapin (The Womanizer), incl. years ago when she publicly declared being rather “proud” of her husband’s womanizing….saying it’s a good for a politician to be seductive?

    #2)  After the DSK incident in May, France had a self-reflection of sorts regarding its views, if not acceptance, of sexual harassment.  Junior minister Georges Tron (also mayor of Dravell, south of Paris) was arrested after two coworkers came forward with sexual harassment charges.  Presumably the women’s allegations would have been dismissed pre-DSK-May2011. 
    Are cultural views towards sexual harassment in France reverting back to pre-DSK-May2011, now that the hotel maid’s credibility is a huge issue?

  • A. Diggins

    This prisoner the maid talked to; what was his offense?  I ask, because if he was merely a friend from her home country who got caught up in an immigration violation, that’s not as damning as if he were a con artist.

    As to her lying about rape in order to qualify to immigrate; this is perhaps more significantly a sad commentary on how rigid our country is in its immigration criteria.

    • Dhs

      Actually, lying about being raped before shows that the maid has a history of lying about rape.

  • Catherine

    Just because the woman had some previous indiscretions in her past, does not mean she was not sexually assaulted. 

    • Dhs

      Just because the man had some previous indiscretions in his past, does not mean he sexually assaulted anyone.

    • http://twitter.com/Human_Stupidity Human-Stupidity.com

      In out justice system, people are assumed innocent until PROVEN guilty. There is no proof against Strauss Kahn that he engaged in non-consensual sex.

      Only in rape and child abuse cases, the accused are assumed guilty and the accuser needs no corroborating evidence. But if the accuser is proven to have lied a dozen  of times, including having lied before the grand jury about the events after the rape??

      No proof, except the accusation of an inveterate liar. That should suffice to convict?


  • Dh001g

    Even if it was “consensual” it was still and inappropriate power relationship. He is guilty at the very least of sexual harassment. The case should be decided by a jury. My mother taught me long ago not to put myself into dubious situations. He should be held responsible for his actions and the facts as we know them should come out.

    • Anonymous

      So by that logic, anyone who has ever had consensual sex with their boss didn’t really want it they were just pressured into doing it from mystic voodoo forces or whatever.

      That’s biggest load of condescending crap I’ve ever heard.

    • Mill

      Inappropriate power relationship – just like what Bill Clinton did on a REGULAR and HABITUAL basis. Yet at that time, many came to his defense and cited the “it’s his private life” argument.

  • Jemimah

    I imagine we may never know “the truth” in this case.  Yes, it sounds as if DSK might be a bit of a pig, but did he rape this woman?  She, on the other hand–no matter what her background–can’t claim to have not known who this guy was.  Whether or not she knew his name and position, she knew he was in the most swank suite in the hotel, so he had to have some considerable means. Then there’s the claim that the act was both violent and without consent.  DSK is no spring chicken and the chambermaid is young and strong (she’s flipping mattresses all day).  Should we really believe she couldn’t fend him off and get away?  Are there reports of her screaming for help?  I just think it’s awfully murky.  I don’t doubt that there could have been a sexual exchange, but I am skeptical that it was the horrible crime of rape.  People lie all the time, especially about sex.  Men brag about it and lots of women use it as a tool to gain power, status, wealth.  I hate to say I don’t believe her…but I don’t. 

    • Utahowl

      I accept the fact of age difference, etc.  But as a survivor of rape, I can tell you that the most ridiculous social tropes flash through your mind even – or maybe especially – in extremis. Such as “But if I bash him with this heavy ashtray, I might HURT him!”  Now, afterwards one is aware that NOBODY is going to believe you actually thought that and that it deterred a logical defensive action.  But go ask any military person – it’s not that easy to overcome a lifetime of conditioning of behavior.  So do not be so swift to dismiss the case, based only on “But she COULD have defended herself.”  Perhaps you have had martial arts training, or a lifetime of being encouraged to bash ANYONE presumptious enough to grab you- even if doing so would cause you enormous personal or economic trouble because the assaulter is very powerful, etc.  But for most women, there is a lifetime of experience teaching us that we can’t win in such a situation, and it does make a difference.

  • Pamela

    Prostitutes and liars can still be raped.  Innocent men do NOT resign from their jobs, nor do they try to run away ahead of schedule without their personal items, as Strauss did.

    • Sa

      Unfortunately, if you recall rape accusations that have been proven false and/or recanted in the past, those who are falsely accused often *are* fired or forced to resign from their jobs.  They often lose their friends and families, including their children, before seeing one day in court.  Widespread news coverage means false accusations will affect one’s chances at jobs, etc. for years even if the accuser recants.  And if falsely convicted the accused faces incarceration and probably rape in prison. When facing the devastation a rape accusation causes for an innocent person, I imagine running would be the first thought on one’s mind.

  • Shrivkar

    Be a rich white man and you can get just about anything you want. 

    • Facepalming Canadian

      Be a rich white man and you can be blamed for anything anyone else wants.

  • Freeman

             Here is an opportunity to prove “that the color of justice” in American is not green.

  • Karyn

    Tom keeps asking:  what is the moral of this story? The moral is that in their quest to make and direct news, the media rushed to judgement to condemn Strauss-Kahn and now they’re rushing to judgement to the opposite end of the spectrum.  Tom, you might be on NPR but the premature judgments that you are forming by having these discussions puts you on par with the tabloid media.

    At what point do the rights and privacy of the individual and the need to make complete and fair investigations outweigh the need to feed a 24/7 news cycle?

  • Sa

    Prof. Brenner completely disregarded the presumption of innocence. This is a person responsible for training future lawyers, causally dismissing one of the most important principles of our justice system.  

    Twice during the segment Brenner said that a sexual assault did occur. When asked to justify that statement, her only response was that since the prosecutors decided to charge DSK, an assault must have occurred. Making that statement from her position of authority was irresponsible at best and willfully deceitful at worst.The panel and callers made excellent points about the influence an alleged victim’s past acts should have on a case like this, but by allowing Brenner’s extreme, biased statements to stand, the segment belittled the plight and misrepresented the rights of the accused.

    • Steve in Lexington

      If you believe Strauss-Kahn’s account of what happened in the NY hotel–he claims that he initiated, negotiated and completed an unprotected, uncompensated and somewhat violent but nevertheless consensual sex act with a much younger complete stranger, at her place of work, in the space of 20 minutes–there is a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to sell you.

      The “presumption of innocence” should not lead us to fail to hold violent criminals accountable for crimes they have obviously committed.  When we consider the whole picture–DSK’s account of his adventure in NY is not credible, his accuser immediately alleged to four witnesses that she had been attacked, and DSK is now accused of a second sexual assault by a credible French journalist–it is clear, beyond reasonable doubt, that DSK is a serial violent sexual predator. 

      We should hold him accountable for his criminal conduct.

      • Sa

        There’s a difference between believing what you believe and a legal professional claiming from a position of authority that the presumption of innocence should be ignored.  It goes way beyond this case; it’s disgusting that Brenner takes the position that the presumption of innocence doesn’t matter because she off all people should know better.  

        You say it’s “obvious” he committed this crime.  It’s obvious to you, but it’s not obvious to everyone, and it may not be so “obvious” to a jury.  Take the man to court. But for goodness sake let him get to court before you destroy his life!

        • Steve in Lexington

          Let’s agree to disagree on whether DSK’s account of his NY hotel adventure is credible.  I think it is preposterous.
          And if DSK’s account is not credible, the only other plausible account of his NY hotel encounter involves sexual assault.  If you don’t believe DSK’s story, you have to believe he committed a crime.  There is no third possibility.

          My heart goes out to his previous victims.

  • ButSomeAreMoreEqualThanOthers

    Someone explain to me how the case suddenly went from solid to shaky simply because of the accuser’s past. Either there was sufficient evidence to prove rape, or there wasn’t. Here’s my take on the facts of the case:

    (1) Evidence of a sexual encounter between the accuser and the accused.
    (2) The claim of rape by the accuser.
    (3) The claim of no rape by the accused.

    It’s a classic rape case in which it is virtually impossible to prove rape beyond a reasonable doubt: AFAICT, the case hinges on he said/she said. They might have been able to convince a jury based on the credibility of the maid versus the credibility of Strauss-Kahn, but that is an indictment of the US legal system, not proof of rape.

    No matter who is actually right in this incident, Strauss-Kahn will walk because rape is almost always impossible to prove: this is the sad fact of rape cases.

    As a follow-on, people need to learn to distinguish between blaming the victim (“She was askin’ fer it!”) and pointing out that the virtual impossibility of legal recourse in he said/she said cases requires potential victims to take extra care. It’s like my dad used to say about pedestrians having right of way at crosswalks: “ ‘I was right’ will make a great epitaph.”


    Strauss-Kahn is an arrogant and insensitive man in a position of great power and influence, who has betrayed his nation, his family, and violated an honest, hard-working woman just trying to stay alive ina city where the cost of living is enormous.  I don’t care about the history of the chambermaid.  I want to see justice done, which is the incarcertaion of Strauss-Kahn, an expensive divorce by his wife, and his ostrcization of Straus-Kahn from the public life of France.

    • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

      Yeah like wise.

    • Facepalming Canadian

      You don’t care about the history of the maid, but you’ll use DSK’s history against him, eh?


    • http://thewarmastersrevenge.blogspot.com GreatGunz

      yeah. trial by jury is a big waste of time. what we really need is some good old fashion mob justice. Execute him! kill him! string him up!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EVCYUCPK6VCSD2VOGB6NKUCXOI What Lines

    The feminist justice system in action: http://goo.gl/f4pXo

    This is what happens when you put women in charge of anything.

  • Anonymous

    I’m astounded by the number of people here who have decided they know what happened and why and who’s guilty.  Listen:  that kind of thinking has no place in a fair legal system requiring that you need to be proven guilty by a jury of your peers.  Somehow some people “know” what DSK is like and whether the unnamed chambermaid took part in a sexual encounter willingly, or for money, or was forced.  But we don’t know.

    I hope those who assume they do know never wind up on the jury for a defendant who’s future, whose reputation — and maybe whose life — is at stake. A stranger’s whiteness, or their maleness, or their “dressing like a woman asked for it,” or the fact that some jurors “don’t trust their type” — none of these is justification for deciding their guilt or innocence in a court of law.

    • Anonymous

      I was thinking, after writing the above, that people who really believe they “know” are people who probably also vote.  Their opinions must be formed — in the DSK case — entirely on what they learn from the media. They don’t seem to have been in court.  They weren’t in the hotel room.

      Don’t their votes also depend on what they learn from the media?  Seems like. Does their country’s future therefore depend on what they learn from the media?  Sure.  Of course.  Should that reassure us about our future?

  • http://twitter.com/FilipinoBoston FilipinoBoston

    Strauss drives a 4 door Porsche while the third world countries are suffering.
    IMF means International Monetary for Friends

  • Utahowl

    IMHO, massive confusion arises over rape because of the chasm in the experience of sex and of violence by men vs women.  Rape of an adult is always about power, rather than sex. So the experience and attitude towards physical violence is a key factor.  All men of my experience have had at least some experience of violence, at least of a physical encounter with a bully in childhood, if not “street-corner pushing & shoving.”  Many women have not, or if they have, it has taught them that they can’t win in a physical contest.  So women tend to fear ALL physical violence too much, unless they have unusual training or experience, whereas men have a more realistic ability to size up a physical encounter.  I’m going to catch major flack for this, but I’ve concluded that realistically women are going to have to understand that – as ButSomeAreMoreEqual said – “he said, she said” cases are not winnable when the He is a lot more powerful than the She.  The She is going to have to think the way men do: “If I take this fight (trial) on, am I ready to accept the hits I’ll take in the process?  Is the chance of winning worth these hits?  Realistically, can I even win (in this trial) or will I just get pounded to a pulp?”  If She sees the trial fight is not winnable, or the risks of taking permanent damage are too high, then She should do what guys do – look at what She can get.  In this case, the accused has taken permanent damage – to his reputation (at the least, everyone is now aware that he’s impulsive enough to put sexual escapades ahead of his job duties) and probably to his political career.  The damage came from the sunlight cast on DSK, that showed his questionable judgement and his lavish spending (which the French mind, although we in the US do not).  The accused is going to have to settle for that ( if she is the victim of rape).  When you go into a fight with a more powerful entity, it’s a fight and you WILL get hurt – again.  I can wish it were otherwise – but unless there is evidence beyond he said, she said, it ain’t gonna happen.  Of course, there’s always the personal vendetta route….

    • ButSomeAreMoreEqualThanOthers

      Indeed, I doubt you’d find many people who think DSK is anything but a privileged, hypocritical dirtbag who lives off the fruits of other peoples’ labor, but being a dirtbag by itself is not grounds for a conviction. Almost certainly in his capacity as head of the IMF he has done things that I would consider crimes, but these, like the rape charges, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before he should be subject to sanctions.

  • Street Soldier

    Does being a wealthy Caucasian powerful politcal person factor into how both women are and will be looked at?

  • Cabmanjohnny

    I’d not find the claim unreasonable,since DSK has the persona of arrogant elitist Euro trash. I am suspicious tho of any banksters, their funds, the kind of powers-that-be behind IMF, and that this fellow would be this stupid in his position. Why not just buy his pleasure? There are claims he was not following the party line, the entire EU is financially a mess,and the banksters are nervous. Could be he was wanted out of the way.  

  • Atifroum

    I hope justice be met, and each person be punished on the merits of his/her actions….

  • T-Squared

    When I was a kid I was told a story about the boy who cried, “Wolf!” too many times. When the wolf finally showed up, no one came to his defense because of his previously false claims.  If we believe in equality then we have to believe females also can and will cry “Wolf!”  The young lady lied about the sequence of events, she falsified her asylum application, she lied about how many cell phones she had, and she lied about her sources of income and how many bank accounts she had.  It would be a shame if DSK is in fact an actual wolf, and that her character, not the DA, that set the wolf free.

  • Anonymous

    BTW, the $50K/month “apartment” was a townhouse in Tribeca near the courts in Manhattan 

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t believe some of the callers on your show.  (1)  What has come to light is not just that this accuser lied in the past— SHE LIED TO INVESTIGATORS IN THIS CASE ABOUT FACTS CONCERNING THIS INCIDENT AND HERSELF!!! HELLO????  (2) She made a call (which happened to be recorded) to her boyfriend who is in federal prison stating that DSK has money and that there is “money to be made” in this case— this was just following the alleged “incident”, (3) IN ADDITION TO THE FRAUD SHE HAS COMMITTED IN THIS CASE, she committed fraud on her asylum application (later admitting that she falsely claimed to have been raped in her home country), (4) she has previously committed tax-fraud.  In a case that is purely he said/she said— these facts matter!

    Here is the ONLY relevant question at this juncture:  WHEN IS SHE BEING DEPORTED FROM THIS COUNTRY????????

  • Pstamler

    Tom, you left something out of the discussion tonight. A prosecuting attorney, in bringing a case, must consider whether s/he is likely to be able to prove to a jury, beyond a reasonable doubt,  that the defendant  committed a crime of which s/he is accused. If the prosecutor does not anticipate being able to do that because of credibility problems with the witness, then the case should not be brought to trial. Our system is weighted toward defendants in this regard, IMHO properly so. It’s true that what the accuser has or has not said in the past has no effect on what actually happened in that hotel room, but it’s also true that before a court case is made which could conceivably send a defendant to prison for a long time, the standard of conviction by a jury persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt MUST be met. Sometimes this leads to miscarrriages of justice, without a doubt (see Simpson, O.J.), but it’s a necessary standard in our system of justice, and I’d rather see miscarriages of justice in the direction of guilty parties going free than miscarriages where innocent parties are convicted. (It should be remembered that one of the mechanisms by which African-Americans were kept in line during the Jim Crow era was the trumped-up rape case. I’m not saying this case falls into such a category, only emphasizing the importance of proven-guilty-in-a-court-of-law-by-honest-means.

    A separate issue, also not brought up: There have been speculations in the blogosphere since the case began to unravel that the charges were somehow the result of machinations on the part of Strauss-Kahn’s political enemies — and that the mysterious payments into the accuser’s bank account may have been related to that. This is something also worth at least a mention on the program — did his enemies, knowing his reputation, set up the situation?

    Thanks for an excellent program over the years, Tom!

  • dana

    It has been reported that there is a tape of her talking to her inmate boyfriend and saying something like”…Don’t worry. I know what I am doing. He has lots of money…”. The Post says she is a prostitute part time in another hotel. Has this been verified or reported/disproven elsewhere? Why have these 2 items not been discussed on your show???? I’m mystified. 

    And why the excerpt from sciolino’s book? What does it really have to do with this awful case of repellent violent behavior? Seems rather tasteless to relate her book about french pleasure to this case.The timing of her book is lucky for her and she’s taking full advantage. Also annoying that she keeps repeating all 3 of his names as she talks. Would it be disrespecful to just say kahn? Maybe she harbors secret admiration!

  • http://thewarmastersrevenge.blogspot.com GreatGunz

    Ofcourse rape victims have the right to seek justice, even if they have lied in the past. But the accused have rights too, and we can’t just go around throwing people in jail on the mere accusation of rape. If the state can’t produce any damning evidence, and this woman is a known liar…. it looks like DSK has a pretty strong defense. He’s innocent until proven guilty. That’s the way it works.

  • rose kal

    Who cares about this convoluted and archaic practice of kissing (or nearly kissing) a woman’s hand.

    DSK’s access to unlimited international monetary funds proves the unjustice that anyone can win (unfairly) any case against him or her. 

    This article is nothing less than an attempt to take the focus away from the main issue, which is the fact that DSK raped the maid.  Everyone knows the truth…and those who renigged were bought off. DSK is an old disgusting man who should keep is ugly zipped and outta sight.  

  • A man who believes in justice

    I was glad that OP decided to show on this subject, since it is something that I have thought about a fair amount.  I was disappointed however that the 2 main guests were both rabid feminists who seemed to believe that not only was DSK guilty, but that society on the whole is biased against women.  Not so.  If one of the world’s most important men could be jailed, shackled, and kicked out of his job on the basis of a he said/she said case, then no man is safe from the potential abuse of these laws that are designed to protect women from abuse.  I am not trying to say that DSK’s behavior was exemplary, or that I even know what his behavior was – but I am saying that serious steps need to be taken to prevent cops and prosecutors (whose efforts frequently do not result in convictions, something the media tends to ignore) from pursuing cases like this in such a reckless and aggressive manner.

    Back to the guests for a moment: Ms. Brenner, a law professor incredibly enough, assumed that despite the flimsy evidence, DSK was guilty of sexual assault.  I commend Tom for pointing out that very serious flaw in her reasoning (if that is what you could call it, and not a kneejerk emotional reaction).  And Ms. Sciolino seemed to look down on the nation of France, believing that they were in need of schooling from the more advanced society of American Feminists like herself.  She viewed the bizarre case of Anita Hill as being something of a turning point, and seemed to hope that the DSK case would be something similar for France.  I am sure there are many who would disagree with that outlook. 

    Their positions are credible and deserve to be aired, but where was the opposing point of view?  Where were the voices of men on this program about an issue that concerns them as well?  And when is somebody in the media going to do a show about the many men who have had their lives turned upside down and their careers destroyed on the basis of claims of rape and abuse by hostile, dishonest women, claims that have turned out to be false, or not valid enough to result in convictions?  Where are the negative consequences for women who try to pull stunts like this?  I know men who have been victimized in this manner, and I can tell you that New York City, with its large cohort of angry and well-off feminists, is especially bad in this regard. 

    I was disappointed by the lack of balance in this program.  On Point can and should do better.

  • CRose

    Thank you so much for doing this story and creating this conversation. Here I am listening to it a month later – I almost didn’t listen to it because it was old news, but the discussion evolved and gave truly insightful commentary about how there should not be a “She who has done wrong shall not be able to seek justice.” Thank you.

  • Pingback: Dominique’s Dominos: Strauss-Kahn and Sexual Assault | NicholasJohnson.org

Sep 3, 2014
This still image from an undated video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, purports to show journalist Steven Sotloff being held by the militant group. The Islamic State group has threatened to kill Sotloff if the United States doesn't stop its strikes against them in Iraq. Video released Tuesday, Sept. 02, 2014, purports to show Sotloff's murder by the same rebel group. (AP)

Another beheading claim and ISIS’s use of social media in its grab for power.

Sep 3, 2014
In this Fall 2013 photo provided by the University of Idaho, students in the University of Idaho’s first Semester in the Wild program take a class in the Frank Church-River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho. (AP)

MacArthur “genius” Ruth DeFries looks at humanity’s long, deep integration with nature – and what comes next. She’s hopeful.

Sep 2, 2014
Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

True stories of daring women during the Civil War. Best-selling author Karen Abbott shares their exploits in a new book: “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.”

Sep 2, 2014
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

Nine weeks counting now to the midterm elections. We’ll look at the key races and the stakes.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
The Five Midterm 2014 Races To Watch
Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014

The five most interesting races of the 2014 midterm election cycle, per our panel of expert national political correspondents.

More »
Our Week In The Web: August 29, 2014
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

On hypothetical questions, Beyoncé and the unending flow of social media.

More »
Drew Bledsoe Is Scoring Touchdowns (In The Vineyards)
Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

Football great — and vineyard owner — Drew Bledsoe talks wine, onions and the weird way they intersect sometimes in Walla Walla, Washington.

More »