Silence and Sexual Assault: The Case of Nafissatou Diallo vs. Dominique Strauss-Kahn


The identity of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault victim was released through her own will for the entire world to know this morning.

Newsweek magazine published an interview, in which Nafissatou Diallo tells her side of a story that has been front-page news since May 2011. In the article, Ms. Diallo shares details of what happened to her during the assault and how she reacted when it ended. She tells us how she feared losing her job as a housekeeper at the Sofitel hotel in New York City and how she soon became fearful for her life when she learned the next morning, through a local news report, that the man she says sexually assaulted her might become the next president of France. Due to constant hounding by the press who revealed her identity and address, the New York City prosecutor placed Ms. Diallo and her daughter in protective custody, which cut them off from communicating with the outside world for nearly two months.

During this time, Strauss-Kahn’s team of defence lawyers denied that Ms. Diallo was sexually assaulted. Instead, his lawyers claimed that she had engaged in consensual sex for which they insinuated she had expected payment. Strauss-Kahn also hired a team of investigators to dig through Ms. Diallo’s life. Investigators claimed that she lied on her application to the United States for asylum when she said she had been gang raped in her native Guinea; cheated on her taxes; associated with criminals; and they accused her of being involved in a plot to ruin the life of the French politician and now former IMF chief. They shared much of this information with the public and led the New York City prosecutor to doubt her credibility as a witness in her own sexual assault case.

In response to Ms. Diallo’s Newsweek interview, Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer William Taylor stated, ‘“What disgusts me is an effort to pressure the prosecutors with street theater, and that is fundamentally wrong.”

So, here’s our question: Why is it acceptable for Strauss-Kahn’s high-powered defence team, hired investigators, a public relations firm, his circle of powerful and wealthy supporters, and certain media outlets to publicly make statements that raise suspicion, criminalize and characterize Ms. Diallo as an “unreliable witness” in her own defence, but unacceptable for her to speak publicly about her ordeal?

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is free to proclaim – quite publicly – his innocence while Nafissatou Diallo must remain dutifully and fearfully silent. She was silenced by her fears for her job and her life. The New York City prosecutor silenced her when he placed her in “protective custody” and prevented her from even using a telephone. The same prosecutors deepened her silence when they stated, “the case is in jeopardy after prosecutors called into question the accuser’s credibility on several fronts” after their investigators discovered that Ms. Diallo might not be the perfect victim. Worst of all, the media silenced her when it printed accusatory sound bites void of context about her life.

The necessary silencing of victims of sexual violence seems to be the norm. In spite of this, what we know is that it is never wrong for a sexual assault victim to use the power of their voice to tell the truth.

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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