Hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo is not, apparently, an innocent victim. But that doesn't mean she isn't a victim.
Diallo, who works at a New York City hotel, accused the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, of sexually assaulting her after she entered his room to clean it. There was physical evidence, the prosecution said. Further, Strauss-Kahn had a reputation with women—"The Great Seducer," he was called in his native France—and it seemed plausible that the powerful man had indeed attempted to force the Guinean immigrant into sexual activity.
But Diallo will never get to make her accusation in court. Prosecutors dropped the case against Strauss-Kahn, saying the credibility of the witness was so shaky they didn't think they could get a conviction. [See a slide show of the members of the Supreme Court.]
The credibility problem, however, had less to do with the facts about what happened in the hotel room, and everything to do with Diallo's general character. There are surely disconcerting elements about her—she lied about being gang-raped in her home country (not unusual for someone desperately trying to escape a troubled nation). She gave inconsistent answers when asked about the sequence of events immediately after the alleged assault—not unusual for a victim of a sexual attack. And she had a conversation with someone in prison, reporting that Strauss-Kahn was a powerful man, and giving the impression that he had money. That might indeed signal that Diallo had been scheming all along, or it might just mean that a strange man forced her to perform oral sex, she reported it, and then found out that the man in question was no ordinary hotel guest. All of her lies and behavior raise questions about her general character. But they do not mean that she was not assaulted, or that it is okay to assault her.
Sexual assault is the one crime in which the victim is as much on trial as the alleged attacker, and Diallo learned this lesson about U.S. jurisprudence the hard way. Strauss-Kahn got his own unfortunate lesson as well about the criminal justice system here, the perp walk and media frenzy surrounding his arrest were appalling and prejudicial. But while Strauss-Kahn was indeed unfairly treated in that manner, that doesn't mean he didn't attack anyone. [8 Politicos Who Survived Scandals]
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers acknowledge that sexual contact occurred—hardly a concession, since investigators found his semen on her—but claim the encounter was consensual. Yet Strauss-Kahn has refused to offer his account of events. That may change, if he follows through on threatened lawsuit against Diallo. It's unlikely a civil court would award him slander damages without forcing him to tell his side of the story. Or maybe he'll be too distracted by another accusation of sexual assault, this one brought by a French journalist who said Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her. Perhaps he committed neither crime, and perhaps he committed both. But Diallo will never have the chance to make her case.