Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s ‘perp walk’

Was it right to make Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the IMF, do the “perp walk” after he was charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York? Clementine de Montjoye argues no.

The case

In April 2011 Dominique Strauss-Kahn, known in France as DSK, at the time the managing director of the International Monetary Fund and a presidential hopeful for the Socialist Party was arrested at JFK airport in New York and subsequently charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid. He was filmed by the media as he left the special victims unit handcuffed, looking dishevelled and unshaven to go to his arraignment. The perpetrator walk, or “perp walk”, is customary in US Law, and according to the United States Attorney’s Manual: “In order to promote the aims of law enforcement, including the deterrence of criminal conduct and the enhancement of public confidence, Department personnel (…) may assist the news media in photographing, taping, recording or televising a law enforcement activity.”

In many European countries, it is illegal for the media to show footage of suspected criminals in order to protect their reputation until they have been proven guilty. The perp walk was defended by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who said: “I think it is humiliating, but if you don’t want to do the perp walk, don’t do the crime.” The mayor later revised his position: “We vilify (defendants) for the benefit of theatre, for the circus.”

Author opinion

This practice of filming a suspect who has yet to be proven guilty is illegal in France, and was outrageous for a country where the presumption of innocence is defended by law. Regardless of the verdict, he had not been proven guilty at the time these pictures were taken and the media filming him being treated as a criminal had a huge impact on his reputation and career. Americans defended this practice by saying that everybody, even a famous politician, should be treated in the same way. However, the fact that Strauss-Kahn is famous worldwide only demonstrated more emphatically how severely the perp walk can damage one's reputation at a point in time when he has not been found guilty of any crime.

- Clementine de Montjoye

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.

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