Students at Cambridge University are circulating a petition against a planned speech there by former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose career and French presidential ambitions were derailed by a sex assault case last May.

A women's group at the university sent an open letter to the Cambridge Union Society, which has invited Strauss-Kahn to speak there on March 9, asking the invitation be revoked given an ongoing civil case against the former French finance minister.

To choose to give this man an opportunity to speak trivialises the experiences of women who bravely come forward and report rape and sexual assault, and reinforces the institutional sexism that faces women who do so, said Ruth Graham, a spokeswoman for the Cambridge University Students' Union Women's Campaign.

Strauss-Kahn has lived largely behind closed doors since his alleged assault of a New York hotel maid blew into one of the seediest scandals to hit such a prominent public figure, yet he is making a foray onto the international speech circuit.

Apart from the planned speech in Cambridge, he addressed an economic event in Beijing in December and is also scheduled to speak at a conference in Brussels on March 27 alongside Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

In the open letter to the Cambridge Union, a debating club, the Women's Campaign said the decision to invite Strauss-Kahn displayed a callous desire to exploit gender crime allegations in the service of controversy.

Around 370 students have signed the petition so far.

A Cambridge Union Society spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The attempted rape charge against Strauss-Kahn was eventually dropped after prosecutors doubted the credibility of the maid, but she is pursuing a civil case against him that opens next month in New York.

Strauss-Kahn was held for two days in a police station in the northern city of Lille this week, spending a night in a small cell, while investigators questioned him over his dealings with an alleged prostitution ring.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft and Catherine Bremer in Paris; Editing by Sophie Hares)