IN an ideal world Nafissatou Diallo’s decision to reveal her identity while trying to make a case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn would have been hailed as a brave move. Sadly the reality was all too different, and the 32-year-old hotel maid was subjected to even harsher criticism. Her name was slandered and ultimately her case was abandoned.
It is symptomatic of a patriarchal culture which notoriously blames women for rape to criticise every move a woman makes in her quest for justice against a male attacker, even more so when the accused is one so high up in the financial and political elite.
Naturally Strauss-Kahn’s defence team were quick to use Diallo’s waive of anonymity against her, calling her first public interview an “unseemly circus” and claiming she wanted to “pursue charges against a person from whom she wants money.” Diallo has never claimed to want money – allegations of her discussing Strauss-Kahn’s financial background with a friend remain dubious and unproven – and explicitly stated: “I want him to go to jail … I want him to know you cannot use your power when you do something like this.” But a court always seems ready to accept that if you are a woman accusing a wealthy man of rape you are only interested in money. Never justice.
What is so frustrating about this is the hypocrisy of the accusation. A woman who lives in the Bronx is allegedly assaulted by a man who has been able to use his wealth as a shield against any pointing fingers – as he was arrested he said “I’ve got diplomatic immunity!” – and his lawyers accuse her of only being interested in money? These are the same people who live at the top of the capitalist food chain. Their first language is currency, yet they have no qualms about accusing the humble of only seeking financial gain.
It seems clear that a sexual “encounter” did occur. Strauss-Kahn’s semen was found on Diallo’s jacket, and his defence insists the encounter was consensual. Perhaps this is naive, but it’s difficult to imagine the scenario: a female member of staff walks into a hotel room she intends to clean, only to be greeted by a complete stranger in the nude who, unbeknownst to her, is one of the world’s most powerful politicians. Somehow, out of nowhere, their fates are sealed by a mutual desire to engage in a sex act. Later she tells the police he tried to rape her. The whole thing stinks and everyone knows it.
But the case fell apart, as Diallo was apparently not a credible witness. The fact that she ended up changing her account of the assault (entirely forgivable given the shock and trauma that follows a sexual attack), on top of the fact that she had not been truthful about her background, fiddled her taxes, and had been involved with an incarcerated drug dealer, all worked in the defence’s favour, because of course only women with spotless records can get raped.
The charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped. While Diallo was questioned, doubted, insulted, even called a prostitute in a New York tabloid (because prostitutes can’t get raped, remember?), Strauss-Kahn has emerged relatively unscathed, and seems to be simply dusting off his jacket while yet another victim is left to pick up the pieces of a life wrecked by a “dirty bastard,” in the words of one woman to Strauss-Kahn as he left the court.
Nafissatou may not have wanted money when she gave us her name and showed us her face, but so what if she did? Revealing herself did not directly damage her credibility, rather the defence decided to spin it as such. Diallo’s case seemed doomed from the start, as men like Strauss-Kahn are as scheming and manipulative as they are powerful, and the defence was able to use her every move against her.
The wealthy elite of this world are so used to using money as cause and effect, as sword and shield. As they watch the rest of the world go by from their ivory tower they are unable to grasp that those of us who have not lived with privilege are not that interested in bloodless gold digging but moral victory, which is more than worth its weight in gold.
The lower classes may have lost another battle, but the war continues.