From the outset, Nafissatou Diallo was facing near impossible odds. When on May 14 of this year the 33-year-old Guinean immigrant accused then leader of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault which was said to have occurred in the New York City hotel in which Diallo served as a housekeeper, there was little chance that this case would make it to court, let alone result in a conviction. And that was before we even knew her name.
As more information surrounding the charges were revealed, it was more and more clear that Diallo would join the ranks of women across the world brave enough to come forward against her attacker that would ultimately be denied justice. It had nothing to do with the evidence, which was strong.
Strauss-Kahn’s semen was found on Diallo’s work clothes and it coincided with her claims that he had forced her to perform oral sex. Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys did not deny their was a sexual encounter, but argued that it was not forced. It came down to the word of a powerful white male versus that of a black woman immigrant. This is where the case was lost.
WATCH MSNBC COVERAGE OF THE STRAUSS-KAHN CASE HERE
She was, as Akiba Solomon put it for Colorlines, “maligned as an HIV-positive prostitute and bribery candidate” as the press (namely The New York Post and various French outlets) reported rumors of her HIV status and paid sexual activities, as if this either meant she could not possibly have been raped or that raping her was OK.
The New York Times said of Diallo: “The woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded.” All of this has been proven false and exaggerated.
However, by the time Diallo appeared in the press to defend herself, it was too late. The damage to her reputation and credibility had taken its course and made it very difficult for prosecutors to move forward with the charges against Strauss-Kahn. And ultimately, the case was dismissed by a New York City judge “after prosecutors filed court papers a day before arguing that they could not trust the word of the hotel housekeeper accusing the French diplomat of attempted rape.”
For The New Yorker, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says: “In all, this story features many more losers than winners, but justice, after a fashion, seems to have been done.”
What we witnessed here is not justice. This dismissal is the result of an effective smear campaign. Instead of arguing the facts of the case, We have seen the dynamics of race, gender, and socioeconomic class come into play in issues of human rights. This is a win for rape culture. This is a clear message that anyone who comes forward (and so very few do) with accusations of rape will be vilified rather than supported. Any future victim will have to have the pristine record of a nun in order to be found believable. And the perpetrators will walk away without so much as a scratch on their record.
The New York Times reports: “Prominent members of France’s Socialist Party expressed relief that Dominique Strauss-Kahn would soon be a free man after he was cleared Tuesday of charges of attempted rape in New York.”
While he still faces an accusation of rape in France, the most damage that has come to Strauss-Kahn’s career is that he will not be urged to run for the presidency. He is free and his political influence is far from diminished. And what of Diallo?
She will proceed with her civil suit against Strauss-Kahn. At least, she should. In doing so, Diallo would continue to face ridicule and accusations of “crying rape” in an effort to procure monetary compensation from a rich and powerful man. But that would happen anyway, as it does so often in rape culture. Is she not entitled to some sense of closure, though?
Rape is a traumatic experience and it’s possible she may need extensive therapy to recover. Is she expected to pay this expense on her salary as a housekeeper? What of her job? Will she be able to find work after this ordeal?
A civil suit does not make her any less of a victim. It is the only means she has at this point to rectify the injustice of the criminal system.
There is no standard or “appropriate” response to being raped, but the de facto response to being accused of rape is clear: blame the victim. It works. And it’s sad.