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DSK's Alleged Victim Is Speaking Out -- Will She Get a Shot at Justice?

Strauss-Kahn is accused of rape. So why does it seem like his victim is on trial?
 
 
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At first, only those close to the case knew much about the Sofitel housekeeper who alleged that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, one of the most powerful men in the world, had sexually assaulted her in the presidential suite. It almost seemed she would keep silent until the trial, a faceless specter identified only by the various factual details that thrust her first into the headlines, and later into tumult. She was 32, an immigrant from the African country of Guinea, and a single mother who lived in the Bronx with her 15-year-old daughter. A few publications called her by name: Nafissatou Diallo, a loyal, hardworking employee described by neighbors as “a nice girl.”

But the story unfolded, and with it, the scandalous headlines. From the very beginning, there was international doubt and skepticism toward the case: French supporters of DSK were appalled at his so-called perp walk after he was apprehended at JFK, and some accused the United States (or someone) of orchestrating a conspiracy to discredit the then-IMF chief. The prosecution, led by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, investigated the accuser's background and practically handed the case to the defense: she had lied on her immigration application, they said, and there was the matter of an inmate in Arizona she had spoken to on the phone before pressing charges. The New York Post single-handedly waged war on Diallo’s credibility, attempting to smear her as a "prostitute” with no evidence, citing anonymous sources from the defense.

By the end of June, Diallo was more vilified than Strauss-Kahn, at least in the media; by July 5, she was suing the Post for libel. That same day, the AP ran an article that called her rape case against DSK “teetering.” Though there were reports on DSK’s sexually aggressive past—well known in elite, wealthy Paris circles—as well as the pending lawsuit against him alleging that he sexually assaulted Paris writer Tristane Banon, at some point the narrative flipped. Through the old tactics of discrediting the victim, it seemed that Nafissatou Diallo was on trial.

But now she has broken her silence. On Monday, Newsweek published its cover story and exclusive interview with Diallo online, along with the first photos of her to appear in print. Written by Christopher Dickey and John Solomon, the piece is on the whole a feat of journalism—meticulously researched, incredibly balanced and indicting no one. It’s commendable of Newsweek to have written such a fair piece, particularly after the smear campaign waged by other papers. With the exception of some strange descriptions of Diallo’s physical appearance—Dickey and Solomon seem to go out of their way to point out that she is not beautiful—the piece illuminates much about the case that we have not yet had the chance to learn.

Most importantly, the points that the defense and the press are using to smear Diallo are completely distorted. The reporters don't weigh on whether she was raped or not, but it’s important to note that the widely touted “credibility problem” is not as it seems.The media has also tried to depict Diallo as a money-hungry opportunist, based on a taped phone call she made to a prison inmate in Arizona, in which she is reported to have said, “This guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing.”

However, there has always been doubt cast on the translation of the conversation, conducted in a dialect of Fulani; Newsweek states that “the actual words are somewhat different” according to sources. While Newsweek points out that “almost all questions about Diallo's past in West Africa were met with vague responses,” it also later notes that she was genitally mutilated in Guinea, and claims to have been gang raped by soldiers—a common occurrence in that country.