In France, Perp Walk Photos Are More Scandalous Than Topless Pics

While photos of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for sexual assault were “a violence,” topless pictures of Kate Middleton are apparently not a problem.

Malaysia / Reuters

Middleton in Kuala Lumpur today.

Laurence Pieau, editor of French magazine Closer, says the topless pictures of Kate Middleton her magazine published are no big deal: “These photos are not in the least shocking. They show a young woman sunbathing topless, like the millions of women you see on beaches.” Her blase attitude stands in stark contrast to French outrage over photos of a very different subject: sexual assault suspect Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

“Perp walk” photographs of recently arrested suspects, while common in the US, are illegal in France, under the theory that they prejudice the public against people who haven’t yet been convicted. So when US media outlets photographed Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs after his arrest for attempted rape of hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo (the charges were eventually dismissed), a number of French officials cried foul. Foreign minister Élisabeth Guigou, who sponsored the perp-walk photo ban in France, called the photos of Strauss-Kahn, “a brutality, a violence, of an incredible cruelty,” and added, “I’m happy that we don’t have the same judiciary system.” And French historian Max Gallo said there was widespread disapproval of the photos in France: “People are asking, ‘Was it really necessary to do that?’”

Getty Images

Dominique Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs after his 2011 arrest.

French reaction to the Kate Middleton shots has been much more muted. Paul Ackermann, editor of the Huffington Post in France, says, “Over here, it’s not really the pictures that people are interested in” — they’re mainly interested in how Brits will respond. And columnist Guy Birenbaum told HuffPo, “The ‘Royals’ naked? Who cares, right? In any case, I do not care.”

Some in France are criticizing the decision to run the photos — one columnist writes that “respect for privacy is obviously an abstract concept for the management of Closer.” But so far, there seems to have been far less outcry about semi-nude photos taken of a woman sunbathing at a private house than there was over images of a clothed man taken in the course of his arrest for a serious crime. The debate over whether perp walks prejudice juries and the public is worth having, but it’s surprising that a country that thinks photographically documenting arrests is an outrage is so unconcerned about invasion of privacy.

Of course, Closer may not be especially concerned with Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s privacy either — the tabloid was the first to break the news that his wife Anne Sinclair was planning to divorce him. Closer may be more interested in generating gossip than in the ethics of either perp walks or topless pics. But Pieau’s statement still rings a bit hollow: if the Middleton photos were really so unremarkable, why did she see fit to publish them?

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