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A David and Goliath struggle facing DSK's French accuser

Tristane Banon cuts a frail, youthful figure. Although the pretty blonde journalist weighs only a minuscule 40kg, she's decided to take on a man who remains, certainly in France, a formidable political heavyweight.

Only days after Dominique Strauss-Kahn was freed by a New York judge, owing to the alleged rape victim's lack of credibility, 32-year-old Ms Banon pressed charges via celebrity lawyer David Koubbi. She accuses Mr Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape, in a Paris apartment eight years ago.

During the encounter, Mr Strauss-Kahn apparently shoved his fingers in Banon's mouth, burst open her jeans and bra, and the two fought on the ground, she kicking and screaming. In disbelief, Ms Banon shouted, "You're not going to rape me?" struggled and finally managed to wrangle free from his tight grip, running outside to her car, trembling.

While they both claim to be victims of sexual assault, Ms Banon could not have less in common with New York chambermaid Nafissatou Diallo. Born in France's wealthiest suburb, Neuilly-sur-Seine, her (absent) father Gabriel Banon was an economic adviser to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and her mother, Anne Mansouret, was, and continues to be, a regional councillor in Strauss-Kahn's Socialist Party. Ms Banon is a god-daughter of Strauss-Kahn's second wife Brigitte Guille-mette and a close friend of one of Strauss-Kahn's daughters, Camille.

Having qualified as a journalist, she worked for publications such as Paris Match and Le Figaro as a contributor, but set about following her dream of writing her first novel. Entitled Erreurs Avouées or 'Admitted Mistakes', its theme focuses on the follies of male politicians. Camille Strauss-Kahn helped Ms Banon obtain a first, brief interview with her father and a second one, which is when the incident is said to have taken place, back in February 2003.

Ms Banon told French current affairs magazine L'Express that the event traumatised her and she has not had normal relationships with men ever since. "For me, they were all sex maniacs who wanted to hurt me . . . Men who have loved me said they get the impression I am detached from my body," she has said.

But why come forward now, eight years later? Apparently, her mother advised her not to. As Ms Banon was only starting out in her career as a journalist, Ms Mansouret warned that she would forever become "the girl attacked by DSK".

However, whispers did the rounds in Paris and the gossip emerged. Ms Banon described a "fictional" rape scene in her 2006 novel Trapéziste, and when she was invited on a talk show in 2007 she described how a politician (whose name was beeped out) sexually attacked her, like a "rutting chimpanzee".

As for Mr Strauss-Kahn's side of the story, he describes the accusation and Ms Banon's description of events as "imaginary". In his authorised biography he says: "It's completely false . . . Can you imagine me throwing a young woman on the ground and being violent like she says? The interview took place normally . . . When I learned she accused me of an attack, I was completely stunned."

As Ms Banon and her lawyer prepare their case, Mr Strauss-Kahn has announced his intention to counter-sue for defamation. His lawyers will set out to portray him as the real victim and to utterly discredit Ms Banon.

No doubt they will point out that sales of Ms Banon's books, never particularly high, have rocketed since May, when news of the scandal broke. Is she seeking publicity for her work? Also, the lawyers will likely portray her as an unstable person. She has herself described her childhood as dysfunctional, with an absent father, indifferent mother and an abusive, alcoholic nanny. Furthermore, she was sexually abused by a family friend.

On a political level, newspaper Le Point has indicated she may be a pawn of the right, in a campaign against Mr Strauss -Kahn, in the run-up to next year's presidential elections.

She writes for a website 'Atlantico' and has links to the ruling, right-wing Union for Popular Movement party, facts that help fuel the rumours behind a conspiracy theory.

And unlike in the case of the New York chambermaid, it will be impossible to gather forensic evidence of an attempted rape alleged to have occurred eight years ago.

Nonetheless, Ms Banon's lawyer says that the fact that she relayed the event to several reliable witnesses at the time will stand in her favour.

One woman has already tried to destroy Mr Strauss-Kahn and failed. If another can do so remains to be seen.

Sunday Independent