Nafissatou Diallo, Maid Who Accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn Of Sexual Assault, Speaks Out

Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who accused the head of the International Monetary Fund of sexual assault two months ago, has finally spoken out. She granted interviews with both Newsweek magazine and ABC News, which aired her interview by Robin Roberts this morning. Dressed simply and speaking through her thick Guinean accent, Diallo described the alleged sexually assault by Dominique Strauss Kahn, a onetime contender for the French presidency who was forced to step down from the IMF following the scandal. When she arrived to clean his suite in the Sofitel Hotel in New York City, she said Strauss-Kahn approached her naked, grabbed her breasts, and pushed her down a hallway and onto the floor, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him. During the ABC News interview, she tearfully denied The New York Post‘s claim — and rumor from the Strauss-Kahn legal camp — that she works as a prostitute. Earlier this month, Diallo filed a lawsuit against the Post for libel. She also said she did not know Strauss-Kahn was gunning to be the next president of France until she saw his arrest reported on the news the next day, at which point she says she began to fear for her life.

Diallo’s interview with ABC News brought tears to my eyes when she discussed the prostitution smear against her. It was a very sympathetic interview which didn’t touch heavily on the prosecution’s concerns about her trustworthiness. I, however, don’t really have a problem with the fact this interview glossed over that: the interview definitely served its purpose of giving a voice to the woman at the center of this scandal. There is something to be said for the power of imagery: she is a real flesh-and-blood human being now.

The Newsweek article, however, I was not so keen on. Other bloggers who write about women’s rights issues have written that they felt the Newsweek piece was well-balanced. I generally agree but felt there were some questionable details included. Why, for instance, was it necessary to describe Nafissatou Diallo as “about 5 feet 10, considerably taller than Strauss-Kahn, and she has a sturdy build”? Size has nothing to do with physical strength or with the inherent power balance in the relationship between a working-class hotel employee and a male guest. (Or female and male, or woman of color and white man, if you really want to get into it.) Was remarking on Diallo’s size just a colorful detail or an insinuation that perhaps she could have overpowered her alleged assaulter when he attacked her?

The Newsweek piece on Nafissatou Diallo went more in depth on the prosecutions’ concerns about her trustworthiness, including the lies she told on her tax forms about the number of children she has, and her sketchy relationship with a man currently serving time for selling marijuana. However, I wasn’t comfortable with the last line of this paragraph (emphasis mine):

“It’s possible that Diallo is a woman who has lived for the last few years on the margins of quasi-illegal immigrant society in the Bronx, associating with petty con artists and dubious types trying to get a foothold in this country. But that does not preclude her having been the victim of a predatory and powerful man. Nor does it mean she will rule out an attempt to make some money from the situation.

That’s quite speculative on Newsweek‘s part. Its inclusion in the piece, as far as I’m concerned, furthers the stereotype that poor women accuse rich men of rape because they are after their money — which the Strauss-Kahn legal camp has insinuated as well. This reportage could have done without furthering that harmful stereotype.

Do you think it was wise for Nafissatou Diallo, the maid accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, to speak to the press? Do you think it will help humanize her in the public eye? Or do you think it will open her up to further scrutiny which may detract from the issue at hand — whether or not she was sexually assaulted by one of the most powerful men in the world? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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[Newsweek]

Image via Newsweek.com

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