Strauss-Kahn effect: French harassment claims increase

Diane Diallo Diane Diallo says French police did not want to help her

Diane Diallo is a chambermaid from Guinea and a former employee of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Paris.

Last year, she claims, she was sexually assaulted in a hotel room by someone within the circle of the Qatari royal family.

"I was on the third floor, in the evening. It was between seven and eight. As I went into the room to clean it, he grabbed me and assaulted me," she told the BBC.

"After the incident I fled the room and hid in the store cupboard where the head of security found me. They asked me to identify the person from closed circuit television - the cameras were covering the corridors and the lift.

"The man had left almost immediately after the attack with his family."

Her story has remarkable similarities to the alleged assault for which Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested last month. The difference is in the attitude of the French authorities.

Complaints double

"The French police didn't want to do anything," said Ms Diallo, 28.

"And they let me know very quickly they wanted me to drop it. I was shocked, in tears. I told them it wasn't right, that because a person is rich and important, he can treat people as he likes.

"The police replied, 'Well that's just the way it is!'"

The man in question left the country and was never interviewed.

Start Quote

Marilyn Baldeck

Suddenly there are more reports of sexual violence at work”

End Quote Marilyn Baldeck European Association Against Violence Against Women

But the European Association Against Violence Against Women, a group representing Ms Diallo, say they have now been informed by the prosecutor's office that the investigation has been re-opened, although the authorities have yet to inform Ms Diallo.

Marilyn Baldeck, spokeswoman for the group, said there has been a notable increase in the number of reported abuse and harassment cases in recent months, from women who until now were nervous of coming forward.

"There has been a real impact which I think is down to the media coverage of the the DSK affair," she said.

"Suddenly there are more reports of sexual violence at work. We have had double the number of complaints and most of these women seem determined to go to court."

Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest seemed to be a turning point, a chance to break the code of silence that enveloped these type of cases.

But then, on Friday, with concerns over the credibility of the main witness, Mr Strauss-Kahn was released from his stringent bail conditions - and there were fears that things might go backwards again.

Dominique-Strauss-Kahn in court in New York, 6 June The Strauss-Kahn affair has shaken France's establishment

Many women were offended that senior figures in the Socialist Party - the mainstream progressive organisation in French politics - immediately began speaking of how Mr Strauss-Kahn might yet run for the presidency - even though the charges still stand.

Lionel Jospin, a Socialist and former prime minister, said Mr Strauss-Kahn had been "thrown to the wolves" by the Americans.

Former minister Jack Lang told the BBC he might prove more popular than he was before.

And, indeed, the snap polls this weekend suggested he might - 49% of French people said they would support his return to politics - 45% were against. Within the Socialist Party, more than 60% would welcome him back.

But Sylvie Kauffmann, the first female editor of Le Monde, believes the "DSK moment" will outlast the machismo of the political elite.

There is a tendency among men "to pretend that nothing has happened", she told the New York Times.

"In the establishment mind, this issue is not very important. The political class considers this issue of women and political attitudes toward women not so relevant. But I would bet that the average voter may feel differently."

Other allegations

Perhaps she is right.

Certainly there are women who feel more determined to speak out.

Georges Tron, President Sarkozy's junior civil service minister, resigned last month, when two former employees from the town hall in Draveil, south of Paris, accused him of serious sexual assault.

Last week, some four years after the first alleged incident took place, he was placed under formal investigation for rape. He denies the charges.

Archive photo of Tristane Banon Ms Banon's claims relate to an incident in Paris nearly a decade ago

And then came Monday's news, that Mr Strauss-Kahn could himself be facing another trial - and this time in France.

Tristane Banon, a well known author, commentator and the god-daughter of Mr Strauss-Kahn's second wife, will file her own criminal complaint for attempted rape, according to her lawyer.

Ms Banon spoke of this incident on a chat show in 2007, alleging Mr Strauss-Kahn attacked her when she went to interview him aged 22 - though his name was erased from the broadcast.

She claims the pair of them fought on the floor of his apartment as he tried to unhook her bra.

Her mother, Anne Mansouret, a local figure in the Socialist Party, had always dissuaded her daughter from reporting it. She feared it would damage her daughter's career. Now she thinks differently.

"He's lied a lot in his life," she said. "I know exactly what he is."

"We question automatically this young woman's testimony [in New York] but we don't question a man who lied extravagantly."

'Feminine and feminist'

The editor of Elle magazine in France, Valerie Toranian, is another calling for change. She said very often it is the archaic notions of heavy-handed seduction in the work place that are used an excuse.

So entrenched is sexism and harassment, she said, that many women believe they have no option but to go along with it.

"Women's mentality needs to change too," she added.

"We need to clarify the situation. Women should be allowed to remain seductive while retaining the right to say no when someone is abusing their authority. French women don't want to be feminine or feminist - they want to be both."

Whether the accusations Mr Strauss-Kahn faces turn out to be true or not, the decision of several French women to go the police, after years of keeping quiet, raises an intriguing question.

Have the allegations from an African chambermaid in New York changed forever what French women are prepared to tolerate?

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