“Because of him they call me a prostitute… I want him to go to jail. I want him to know there are some places you cannot use your power, you cannot use your money”
On Monday it was revealed that Nafissatou Diallo, the victim of the accused Dominique Strauss Kahn attacks, had waived her right to anonymity and was now mounting a public campaign to fight back by telling her truth. After she had been resigned to complete anonymity for over two months as the Strauss Kahn case made global news, Diallo’s reputation and credibility was called into question at every turn. She was called, without any solid evidence, a hooker and a prostitute by the New York Post and her background soon began to prove to critics that she was a con artist, an immigrant living tax-free in the States. She was just another woman “making up” a story of rape, out to take advantage of her assailant’s “success,” as it seems rape victims are always accused of doing.
But Diallo’s background proved damning to her the credibility of her case, an unfortunate clause in the legal framework that pokes holes in even the best evidenced cases against rapists. She had lied on her immigrant asylum application and contacted a prisoner, who also had access to her bank accounts, both actions that had plausible explanations, yet cast suspicion on her motives. These were all was judged, of course, under the watchful eye of those who had never escaped from an oppressive country with rare economic opportunity, possible genital mutilation and the thousand of other reasons that people circumvent the finanically and bureaucratically impossible system in order come to a country where it is possible to make a better life. Of course, Strauss Kahn’s own background has yet to go through the same wringer as Diallo’s, and the pending lawsuit against him alleging that he sexually assaulted Tristane Banon, a French writer, seemed to be a footnote, not necessarily a strike against his character, unlike Diallo.
“She’s being attacked… and she thought it was important to put a name and face to her account,” said Douglas Wigdor, one of Diallo’s attorneys in the now notorious interview with Newsweek. It is presumed that because Diallo is going forward with her story, lifting herself from the realm of the unseen, there is a strong possibility on prosecutors dropping her case. For one, Diallo’s move in going to the press might be the next best thing to seeing any form of justice, especially if we are looking at the imbalance of power and the torrential mud slinging that has since colored the actuality of her assault. A decision that is typically regarded as judicial suicide, Diallo seems to be hopefully garnering support in the public court of opinion and possibly requiring more people to have the conversation of what happens when sexual assault happens to people who aren’t saints with a capital S.
Credibility in most rape cases is often incredibly hard to prove, even with the most solid pieces of evidence, most rape charges are eventually dropped or met with not-guilty verdicts due to questions of the victim’s character. This is also taken into consideration that these are the reported cases ““ not the ones turned into something lighter or worse, the ones that aren’t spoken about at all. “It sends a pernicious message, that the victim of a sexual crime is somehow tainted by the experience and is somehow to blame”¦ This starch-collar notion is not only anachronistic, but undermines the movement toward gender equality,” said Anthony Mancini, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College, in an interview with the New York Times regarding the negative reaction to Diallo’s move into the public. The weight of this truth will only prove to get heavier as we lambast victims of sexual assault, regarding them as questionable, looking for holes in their character, tactics that send thousands of victims and survivors back into their closets to only be able to sit with their shame as their assailants walk around free to possibly assault again.
The idea of what type of qualities constitutes an “actual” rape victim is an unfortunate and pervasive part of rape culture mentality, in which one who has been sexually assaulted, now has to jump through unattainable legal and social hoops to be considered a “perfect” rape victim, fighting against claims of who can and cannot be violated. When rape happens to someone who may not always have the perfect background or a preferred narrative, it leaves not only those who are mostly unprotected or targeted by our biased legal system, but also to accept that they do not deserve to be protected because of their past misdeeds. When there starts to be a public checklist of what constitutes someone’s rape as considerably “real” or not, we can presume it’s just another unfortunate consequence of rape culture, much like the larger fear of being called a rapist, then actually being one. These are the hurdles that Diallo and thousands of other sexual assault victims must constantly face.
So what will come of all of this? Will Diallo’s case be met with actual legal action or somehow dropped like so many other rape cases that never see trial because of a “lack of credibility”? Or will we see another outcome? One can only take comfort in knowing that there is a power in Diallo’s fight to take back her personhood in the messy and often re-victimizing process of going public with claims of sexual assault. Everything else will unfortunately come second.