Emma Cowing: Rabbit in a stew of his own making

I MUST be getting old. I thought a hot rabbit was something you put in a stew with a hearty bottle of red. Turns out it's what you call the head of the International Monetary Fund when he gets caught with his trousers down. I never did understand complex financial terms.

Mais oui, mesdames et messieurs, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, le "lapin chaud", is the only topic of conversation in the smoke-free rooms of high finance and European politics this week, a world in which one of the international community's most influential money men has spectacularly fallen from grace.

Strauss-Kahn's nickname tells its own story; of a man who boasts of considerable sexual prowess; a cad, a high-profile lover, and, of course (because how could he be anything else?), a Frenchman. But last weekend's incident in a hotel room, where Strauss-Khan allegedly sexually assaulted a housekeeper, makes a mockery of such rib-jabbing nudge-nudge wink-wink cosiness. Instead, it lifts up the rock on a despicable secret world where powerful men think that they can get away with pretty much anything.

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Strauss-Kahn, of course, is innocent until proven guilty. Indeed, reports have emerged that he had said three weeks ago that he could imagine his political enemies (he had been tipped to run as the Socialist candidate in next year's French elections) paying a woman a million euros to say he raped her, in an attempt to smear his good name.

But the details that have emerged about his private life and his lavish lifestyle over the past few days do not make for pretty reading.

The story of his second wife's god-daughter, for example, Tristane Banon, who alleges that he attacked her in a hotel room in Paris a decade ago and tried to "open her jeans" when she was 21, is disturbing. Banon has said she will press charges this week. Then there is Aurelie Filipetti, a French Socialist MP, who remarked that she had once been the subject of a "very heavy-handed flirt" by Strauss-Kahn, adding that she had to ensure she was "not alone with him in a closed room". Even Danielle Evenou, a French actress and wife of a former Socialist minister, remarked: "Who hasn't been cornered by Dominique Strauss-Kahn?"

Who indeed? In the 1950s, French prime minister Edgar Faure boasted: "When I was a minister, some women resisted me. Once I became president (of the Council], not even one."

It is an attitude (some might say a delusion) that persists today, from celebrity to politics. While most men in positions of power are far too busy being, well, powerful, for some it spills over into every other aspect of life, from demanding the best table in a restaurant to expecting every young woman to be sexually smitten with them (Bill Clinton, please take a bow).

It would be hard to imagine a powerful woman acting in a similiar way, but for Strauss-Kahn, it seems it was almost a way of life. Why else would one of his former female aides have written, in a 2009 biography, that "he's a sexual predator who, like all political animals, has trouble controlling himself"?

Trouble controlling himself? Not really the words one wants to hear to describe the man in charge of getting the world out the biggest debt crisis of the modern age.

A number of voices have argued that such actions should not impact upon a man's political career, that he was an adept and excellent politician who occasionally played outside the lines. But to treat Strauss-Kahn any differently to another man facing the same charges would be to once again pander to the over-paid and the over-privileged and set an appalling example to young men about just how important money can be, and how unimportant sexual morals are.

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The American legal system has played a blinder by refusing bail. Strauss-Kahn may, finally, receive a hard dose of reality.

And with all that said, it is perhaps appropriate that he already has a new nickname, given to him by Banon. She described him, in that pithy way only the French could, as a "rutting chimpanzee". It's a nickname that just might stick.