Gender Wars, Race, Class, And International Relations

The group of chambermaids who jeered at Dominique Strauss-Kahn as he arrived at Manhattan criminal court to enter his plea of not guilty, demonstrates just how political this case is becoming.

The hotel employees who responded to a call from their trade union shouted “Shame on you!” and told journalists that they and their colleagues were frequently subjected to unwanted sexual advances or worse, from rich and powerful guests.

Dressed in maid uniforms with aprons, they are a striking illustration of the class issue which now surrounds this case.

And over the coming weeks and during what is expected to be a ruthlessly-fought trial, both prosecution and defence teams will be championed by different interest groups, in a case which has captured the imagination of the public.

Women’s rights groups have already played a role, warning against any attempt to smear the reputation of the alleged victim, the prosecution team also recently hired two female lawyers, one of whom is a specialist in rape cases.

The significant number of journalists from African countries highlights a racial dimension in coverage of the case, as the alleged victim is an immigrant from Guinea in West Africa.

And New York’s tabloid newspapers have made much of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s nationality, and actively whipped up the anti-French sentiment which surfaced in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Any trial ahead looks set to be dramatic, his lawyers have already complained of leaks to the press, designed to disadvantage the defence team, and many observers expect more such attempts to gain favourable press coverage, from both sides.

Under the American system, the burden in such a case is on the prosecution to prove guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”.