The CUSU Women’s Campaign are calling for students to boycott the talk by Dominique Strauss-Kahn that is due to occur at the Union on the 9th March, due to the fact that Strauss-Kahn has managed to evade court over the claims of multiple rape and sexual assault levelled against him.
In May 2011 Strauss-Kahn was accused of attempted rape by 32-year-old hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo, and although the case was dropped by the courts because of doubts about the reliability of his accuser, he still faces a civil suit filed by Ms Diallo.
The controversy led to the 62-year old French finance minister and academic to resign from his position as head of the International Monetary Fund, and put a stop to the speculation that he might run to replace Nicolas Sarkozy in the 2012 French presidential election.
In the aftermath of the accusations the French writer Tritane Banon also came forward with an accusation of attempted rape against Strauss-Kahn, claiming he had tried to assault her during an interview in 2003.
Due to the French legal statute of three year limitations, however, and despite the fact the inquiry did find evidence to suggest sexual assault, the case was dropped by the courts, something that the CUSU Women’s Campaign are taking issue with, suggesting that this is evidence of institutionalised sexism within the courts.
The current Union President, Katie Lam, exclusively told Varsity that the Union have no problem withthe CUSU Women's Campaign exercising their right to an opinion, as “the whole point of our organisation is to champion free speech”, going onto note that the Union have been inviting Strauss-Kahn to speak for years, originally whilst he was still head of the IMF, and that “being invited to the Union does not imply support, endorsement or agreement- we hear from a huge range of people with a vast range of views”.
The CUSU Women’s Campaign have written an open letter to the Union, outlining their problems with the fact that the Union tends to invite “rich, white, powerful (in this case allegedly rapist) men to define the Union's termcard year after year”.
They also emphasise the fact that the representation of female victims of sexual assault is still an underrepresented issue, particularly in Britain, where the rape conviction rate is the lowest in Europe at only 6%.
The open letter comments upon the irony that Strauss-Kahn is scheduled to speak the day after International Women’s Day, and call for the Union to “use their space on International Women's Day to give a platform to a panel of women who can speak about the political realities of sexual violence”.
It goes on to mention the recent appearance at the Union by glamour model Katie Price, suggesting that Union has become slightly too concerned with using high profile speakers to attract crowds, stating that “sexual violence is not 'racy' material with which to pull in the crowds”.
Already the campaign has divided opinion, across gender divides: History student Helena Pike told Varsity that she believes that “if it were someone less high profile who had been accused of rape he would never have been invited. His status has given him an excuse to justify the rape allegations”.
Will Peck, a first-year NatSci, stresses that “innocent until proven guilty is also a huge factor” in allowing Strauss-Kahn to speak, but also goes onto agree that his high profile will draw people to the Union, saying that “people went to see Katie Price not talk not necessarily because they agree with her views but because she is so high profile, and also because they probably felt in some way that in going along to see her they would be proven right and have their own prejudices vindicated”.
The open letter to the Union and the petition can be found at http://www.womens.cusu.cam.ac.uk/campaigns/strausskahn/