The legal proceedings against Dominique Strauss-Kahn for sexual assault and attempted rape continued thinning out Thursday, as French prosecutors dropped their inquiry into charges the former International Monetary Fund chief attacked French author Tristane Banon during a 2003 meeting. But that decision by French justice officials—coming less than two months after New York prosecutors withdrew their criminal case for attempted rape against Strauss-Kahn—didn’t carry the resounding refutation of Banon’s sexual assault charges that DSK had earlier predicted. Instead, the French public prosecutor said Thursday that while insufficient evidence was found to substantiate attempted rape, “acts that could be qualified as sexual aggression were established.” Unlike the attempted rape charge—which carries a statute of limitations of 10 years—sexual assault offenses can only be prosecuted three years after they were committed, which led authorities to formally file Banon’s case.
The move means that—for now—the only pending legal action against Strauss-Kahn is a civil suit for sexual assault filed in the Bronx by DSK’s New York accuser Nafissatou Diallo. DSK’s American attorneys are seeking dismissal of that litigation with arguments their client’s IMF job at the time of the alleged attack provided him diplomatic immunity from civil suits. While it’s yet to be seen how that strategy plays out in the U.S., Thursday’s development in Paris doesn’t necessarily signal the end of Strauss-Kahn’s legal challenges in France. Despite today’s decision by prosecutors, Banon is far from beaten in her battle to bring Strauss-Kahn to justice—in the courtroom or elsewhere. The 32 year-old author has previously said she’d seek a new inquiry into her accusations by filing a civil suit in the event her criminal case was dropped by prosecutors.
Meanwhile, Banon has been finding payback in other forms. Earlier Thursday, the writer’s new book The Hypocrites’ Ball was published in France. In it, she describes the unnamed Strauss-Kahn as “a pig” and “baboon” who “stole my life”. Given the media and public interest around Banon since she filed charges with authorities in July, she seems certain of obtaining best-seller status with her new book, quite intentionally at Strauss-Kahn’s (continued) expense.
The Hypocrites Ball is the most recent in a series of Banon’s almost entirely autobiographical “novels”; largely true stories from her own tormented life, built on such wrenching experiences and existential aching they make Morrissey sound like Ella Fitzgerald on ecstasy. But the new book is a more outwardly aimed work seeking to make third parties answer for internal damage they inflicted upon the author. It not only details the horrible acts and terrible consequences of the 2003 assault, but also denounces the politicians, media movers, and other VIPs who ignored her influential aggressor’s reputation as a sexual predator, and actively dissuaded his victims from denouncing his acts. Given the ethical and legal gravity of Banon’s depiction of mass complicity in allowing men like her 2003 attacker to act with impunity, it’s not surprising “The Hypocrites’ Ball” does not match characters with the real names of public figures she based them on. If Banon is bent on taking wrongdoers to court, she’s obviously not keen on being dragged there herself for slander.
If the book sells as well as expected, Banon may have to use part of its profits to pursue new legal action against Strauss-Kahn. With prosecutors now having formally dropped her case against DSK, Banon’s next probable move will be to file a civil complaint and request an independent magistrate to review testimony and evidence in the now closed inquiry. Should that judge uphold Thursday’s decision, Banon could make a series of appeals seeking to get her case re-opened and taken to court. Either way things go, it would take months—if not years—for an appeals process to be exhausted, and just as long for a case against DSK to theoretically get to trial.
Could that happen? Hard to say, though Banon succeeding to get DSK before a court now seems to be even more of a long shot than before. Still, her struggle has not been in vain. In separate testimony and a face-to-face confrontation with investigators in September, Banon and Strauss-Kahn largely stuck to their conflicting versions of events. The only concession DSK made to flat denial of Banon’s story was an avowal he made a pass at the young woman—but let it drop when she rebuffed him.
That, for many observers, was sufficient a detail to undermine DSK’s long contention that Banon’s accusation of sexual misconduct was “imaginary.” Meanwhile, prosecutors’ findings that evidence of sexual assault charges was found—even if the statute of limitations on that has expired–represented what Banon’s lawyer said was an intellectual and moral victory in the case, even if it was wrapped in a legally disappointing decision to drop it.
Would it change much if Banon were able to eventually bring Strauss-Kahn to court? Probably so, in terms of the future consequences for Banon and other French women who say male-dominated society has too often shrugged off the sexual abuse of women as a kind of naughty male mischief. Having their denunciations of sexual misconduct by French politicians, businessmen, and other influentials taken seriously depends, in the long run, on them being able to rely on the justice system backing them up, pursuing their charges, and bringing perpetrators to trial.
Yet such changes are usually part of a process. Meaning, even if she fails in her increasingly up-hill efforts to bring Strauss-Kahn to justice, Banon’s campaign has already done quite a bit to awake public attention across both genders to the problem of sexual abuse. As a servant of French public interest—and a progressive to boot—it would be hard to imagine Strauss-Kahn being anything but pleased with that advance in social consciousness and gender quality, even if he most certainly isn’t happy about the role he’s had to play in raising it.