Sexual Harassment Complaints Against French Minister Emerge in Wake of Strauss-Kahn Sex Crime Charges

Reuters reports that French prosecutors are investigating sexual harassment accusations against Georges Tron, a leading minister in the French government. Two women filed complaints against the minister. Both victims said that the recent arrest of IMF Chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, inspired them to finally speak out against Tron.

According to Reuters, a former receptionist at Tron’s office admitted that “she was driven to break her silence after former IMF Chief Strauss-Kahn was arrested on charges of attempted rape… ‘when I see a little chambermaid is capable of taking on Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I tell myself I do not have the right to stay silent.'” Tron, for his part, has disputed the sexual harassment allegations as “incredible” and has asserted “that the two women [victims] were connected to people from the political far right.”

Will the very public and embarrassing accusations against high profile French politicos like Tron and Strauss-Kahn, compel the French (and other Europeans and Americans) to revisit and change their behavior? Will these high profile events change the way government officials comport themselves and diminish sexual harassment in the future?

The debacles involving Tron and Strauss-Kahn raise other intriguing questions, including:

Might publicizing the naughty behavior of the French ministers be counterproductive? When people in positions of power repeatedly engage in sexual harassment, and the news media covers this, does the naughty behavior start to seem common? And if so, does its very commonness begin to influence people into thinking that it’s is okay to do it, too?

Will certain “bad” behaviors always happen, regardless of negative PR or rules that forbid them? Many reformers envision an ideal scenario: we draft perfect laws — a balanced system of incentives and disincentives — and thus stamp out sexual harassment forever. But can that ideal ever be reached, even approximately?

Should society swing to an extreme to root out bad behaviors? Policy changes always have both intended and unintended consequences. We need to be attentive to (and responsible for) the accidental consequences of our policies. A garden may get overgrown with weeds. But weed the garden too much, and you kill plants that you want to keep.

One conclusion is certain: to stamp out sexual harassment, retaliation, gender discrimination, and other misbehavior, we need to think beyond short-term solutions and purely punitive actions and instead take a broader, more open-minded view. If you or somebody you care about needs help with a matter, connect with the team at Joseph & Kirschenbaum for a free case evaluation at (212) 688-5640 or learn more at www.jhllp.com.