Strauss-Kahn arriving at Cambridge on March 9.
Strauss-Kahn led the IMF until his arrest in New York in May 2011 on charges that he sexually assaulted a New York hotel maid. He is still facing allegations in France relating to an international prostitution ring, known as the “Carlton Affairs.” Those protesting his presence at Cambridge carried signs with slogans such as “Rape Survivors Don’t Get This Platform,” “DSK Not Welcome Here,”
“Shame On You DSK/We Are All Chambermaids,” and “Why Won’t You Listen to Women?”
The United Kingdom university’s famous student-led debate society justified the invitation by saying Strauss-Kahn was “exceptionally well-qualified to speak on some of the greatest headline topics of the world in 2012.” Founded in 1815, Cambridge’s debate circle has been known for inviting world’s leaders and celebrities such as Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and John Major, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the Dalai Lama, the actor and politician Clint Eastwood, civil right leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, Professor Germaine Greer, and the Olympic legend Lord Sebastian Coe. Some previous invitees have been controversial figures, such as former BP CEO Tony Hayward, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and France’s extreme-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Trying to control the number of requests, the Union Society distributed tickets to the talk by lottery—a move that some members said was unprecedented. The tickets sold out days before the event. At least 800 students had signed a petition against the invitation by the Cambridge Union Society.
Several hours before his speech, Douglas H. Wigdor, the American lawyer representing Nafissatou Diallo, the maid in New York who claims she was sexually assaulted by Strauss-Kahn, arrived at Cambridge. He spoke to the students at the Law faculty for about an hour and answered their questions.
About the same time, DSK himself also arrived and was sneaked into the Cambridge Union Society’s side door, being protected by security. Before his speech, about 200 students, male and female, gathered outside the building with their signs, loudspeakers, and drums, and they started chanting slogans including:
“DSK Go Away!”
“2, 4, 6, 8, Stop the Violence, Stop the Rape”
Half an hour later, inspired by the chanting and the drums, many students jumped over the metal fences, entered the courtyard, and tried to enter the building. They were chased and forced back out by more than a dozen police. When the situation became intense, reinforcements were sent in with the arrival of more police and a van. They arrested a female student. A crowd of other students ran after the van while chanting, “Why is she being arrested? Why is she being arrested? ”
Gerard Tully, 21, President of the Cambridge University Students’ Union and former vice president of the Cambridge Union Society, was among the protesters. He addressed the crowd before Strauss-Kahn began his speech, saying he found it “demeaning for what should be the intellectual hub of this city.”
Said Kim Graham, 21, a third-year student and member of the Cambridge Union Society: “I just think it’s disgusting, (happening) right after International Women’s Day, that they brought DSK here. The Union regularly invites white powerful men (to speak) … there’s intrinsic sexism in it.”
Jamie Gibson, 21, another third year student, explained why he was out protesting. “This is a classic example of those in power using the tools of power,” he said. Gibson also decried “the fact that (Strauss-Kahn) is here talking about economics from an institution (IMF) that created a lot of the world’s economic problems. It would be like having a serial killer talking about how to prosecute other serial killers.”
The students were frustrated at the police as they were trying to protect Strauss-Kahn. The police argued that they were performing their duty.
The previous month, Strauss-Kahn was detained by the French police and spent nearly 30 hours in custody for questioning about a prostitution ring in France and Belgium. He is expected to be summoned again next month by judges, who will decide if there is enough evidence to press charges against him.
If he is found guilty, this talk at Cambridge University may be his last one as a free man.
Some more photos of the incidents: