In a long interview published today in the French weekly L’Express, the 32-year-old French writer Tristane Banon explains why she has chosen to file attempted rape charges against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn some eight years after the alleged incident.
According to L’Express, Banon revealed that she would be filing charges during a first interview with the magazine’s reporters on June 29. That was two days before Strauss-Kahn was released from house arrest in New York, following an admission by the District Attorney’s office that its sexual assault case against him had been weakened by doubts regarding the credibility of the accuser. The magazine’s reporters then spoke with Banon again, to get her response to the latest developments and complete the interview.
“I cannot stand hearing anymore that I’m a liar since I have not filed charges,” Banon told L’Express. “For eight years now I have been bearing the burden of this story alone. I hear the rumors and the lies about me. Since May 14 [the day of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York], other people are deciding what my silence means, interpreting every word uttered by my lawyer without even listening.” Banon added that she was disturbed by criticisms of her refusal to express support for Strauss-Kahn’s American accuser, a reticence that her lawyer, David Koubbi, has explained by his and his client’s desire to avoid having the two cases linked.
“It has become unbearable for me,” Banon continued. “And then to see Strauss-Kahn a free man today [July 1] dining with friends in an expensive restaurant — it makes me sick. I know very well that half of the people will believe me and the other half won’t. There is no good solution. There is only a solution that will finally let me look at myself in the mirror.”
Banon claims to have been sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn in February 2003, when she met him in a Parisian apartment to conduct an interview for a book she was preparing on the “biggest mistakes” of well-known public figures. She was only 23 years old at the time. She claims that the location was proposed by Strauss-Kahn. In her interview with L’Express she says that she was uncomfortable from the moment that she entered the apartment and noticed that it was “nearly empty,” apart from a few pieces of furniture in the living room and “a room with a bed all the way in the back”
In her interview with L’Express, Banon reiterated that she was warned off filing charges at the time of the incident by many acquaintances, including by her mother Anne Mansouret. Like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Mansouret is a Socialist party politician. Banon emphasized her youth and inexperience. “When I brought up the idea of filing charges, everyone let me know that it would never go anywhere,” Banon said. “…What was my word against that of Strauss-Kahn…?”
Banon’s book Erreurs Avouées [Admitted Mistakes] was published in November 2003. The chapter devoted to Strauss-Kahn was removed by the publisher, reportedly on the request of Strauss-Kahn’s entourage. The suppressed chapter was recently published by L’Express. It contains no explicit mention of a sexual aggression, but several coy allusions to Banon’s discomfort in Strauss-Kahn’s presence and what she insinuates was a sexual agenda on his part. In her interview with L’Express, Banon says that as she had decided not to file charges, she decided not to write about the alleged assault either.
But she points to a fictionalized account of the incident in her 2006 novel Trapéziste [Trapeze Artist]:
The young [character] Flore, who narrates her adventures in the political-literary milieu and who gets taken advantage of, is me. I am the young woman who, in Chapter XIII, talks about her appointment with a politician in an empty apartment and who writes, “I struggle, I hit him, I scream. He likes hearing screams. The guy is sick.” “He” is Strauss-Kahn.
Banon first spoke publicly about the incident during an appearance on a television talk show in 2007. Asked whether the version in Trapéziste “includes everything,” Banon responded, “No, I do not talk about sordid details: his fingers in my mouth, his hands in my panties after having forced opened my jeans and my bra….” “I weigh 40 kilos [88 pounds] when soaked and he was violent,” Banon continued. “Once I understood that he really wanted to rape me, I started kicking him with my boots. I was terrified and I said to him, ‘You’re not going to rape me?’ And then I managed to get away and I tore down the stairs….”
The question of whether the acts described by Banon constitute attempted rape will be crucial for Banon’s complaint against Strauss-Kahn. In French law, the statute of limitations for “mere” sexual aggression is three years. The statute of limitations for rape or attempted rape is ten years.
In an interview conducted with his biographer Michel Taubmann in March of this year, before the Sofitel incident, Strauss-Kahn rejected Banon’s account of their 2003 meeting as “imaginary.” Asked why he did not, then, sue Banon for defamation, Strauss-Kahn noted that her claims had, in any case, been largely ignored by the French media and said that he did not want to give publicity to them. In response to Banon’s complaint, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers in France are reportedly preparing to file a defamation suit against her now.
Banon is the god-daughter of Strauss-Kahn’s second wife, Brigitte Guillemette, and was a friend of Strauss-Kahn and Guillemette’s daughter, Camille. In her interview with L’Express, she says that during the 2003 incident she reminded Strauss-Kahn of this, saying, “I’m a friend of Camille, I’m the same age.” On her account, Strauss-Kahn replied, “What does Camille have to do with it?”