Taking Action When Justice Is Deferred: Nafissatou Diallo

“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.




16 replies on “Taking Action When Justice Is Deferred: Nafissatou Diallo”

Could someone please explain something to me? I see a contradiction of cultural and legal behavior here. I am not being facetious or trying to provoke – I am seeking an honest conversation. How is it that when it comes to rape and accusations of it, most of the conversation is, and remains so after all our gains since the 1980s, all about women having to be in the defensive position when victimized, she still has to prove her case, many say on this webiste that rapists go free all the time, and that “only 6% of rapists see jail time.” However, when it comes to offenses against minors, all a man has to do is talk to a minor on the internet (not show up, not touch her/him) and he can be put in jail for 20 years; if he has images of sexualized minors, without ever committing actual molestation, he can go to jail for 10 years, and how is that from the least to the most grave crimes involving the sexualization and exploitation of children or adult victimization, or even perceived victimization, he not only pays with jail time and losing his home, reputation, career, finances and family, but he also has to pay the rest of his life by being on a sex offender registry which is, and lets not kid ourselves, highly punitive and does very little to protect the public from sexual predators. I’m not saying that some of these consequences are not appropriate considering what he takes away from the victim. What I am saying is; Who says men don’t pay for their bad sexual behavior?

I am not entirely convinced you aren’t trying to provoke, but I’ll humor you.
It’s estimated as many as 80% of rapes go unreported. Of those that are reported, we drop off several more suspects depending on whether or not the crime is investigated, prosecuted or won/lost. When you compare the number of estimated rapes with the number of people who go to jail for rape, it’s about 6%.

As to your other point, even the “least grave” sexual offenses against minors are unacceptable in a civilized society. Those who get prosecuted for child porn or sexually soliciting a minor on the internet also usually have a stack of damning and admissible evidence to use against them. And, thankfully, the “they were asking for it” defense that helps so many alleged adult rapists doesn’t get thrown around in cases about kids.

Also, strawman. The thesis here is “rapists rarely serve time for the crime of rape” not “men don’t pay for bad sexual behavior.” Bad sexual behavior implies falling asleep before your partner comes, rape is a violent crime and kiddie porn is a felony.

Fair enough, given the language we have at our disposal. I certainly know the difference between an insensitive sexual partner and felonious violent crime, so maybe the vocabulary at hand, typed into a computer, fails to convey my point. When I say “least grave” I am referring, say, to a man with photographs of nude teenage girls in Playboy-type settings, as compared to photos of 7 year olds being raped or actually doing the raping first hand. Both are undoubtedly wrong, but I think there are gradations for sex crimes, just as there are for crimes of theft and murder. The law as Congress has written it however does not grant these gradations. And OF COURSE they are unacceptable in a civilized society. I certainly did not imply they were not! The thesis of my argument is that it seems to me men are punished quite harshly, and increasingly unjustly, for sexual crimes of many different levels and gravities. In fact, men who possess porn receive harsher sentences than men who have physically touched others, minor or adult. What’s the rationality of that? I do think there is a grave amount of misinformation about sex offenders, who they are, what they are prosecuted for these days, the inordinate sentences that far exceed charges, and these are the types of punishments I am talking about when I read that men are constantly getting off scot-free from rape charges. Not from what I am reading.

When the accusations against Ms Diallo’s ‘credibility’ came out, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Those accusations – that she had embellished her asylum application, that she knew some dodgy people – had absolutely no bearing on her remarkably consistent account of the attack. It was all about her supposed ‘character’, the argument being that if she might have lied about other issues, she might also have lied about the attack.

But what really, really gets my goat about the ‘character’ stuff is that virtually no one is applying the same standards to DSK himself. If history matters, then we know that DSK is a well-known perv, and that others have also accused him of rape and harassment (Tristane Banon never filed charges until now, but she spoke about her assault four years ago and ‘fictionalised’ it in a novel). If DSK’s supposed character mattered to the case even a tiny fraction as much as Ms Diallo’s character apparently matters, the reporting of this case would look VERY different.

That’s all kind of incoherent, but I get so full of rage about this.

hi, i think diallo’s treatment has been horrible as well; people are horrible…at the same time, is there no chance that she is not a victim at all? i think you point out the flaws of how difficult it is to prove rape, but i think it’s just as wrong to say that every accusation is absolutely true. a person’s/victim’s character shouldn’t enter into the conversation at all, agreed, but isn’t it dangerous to give credence to anyone making any claim? it’s a problem of the justice system for sure (how white males are treated in american society), but has no one ever lied about it? what ever happened to “i’d rather see a hundred guilty men go free than one innocent man be falsely imprisoned?” assuming strauss kahn’s guilt automatically has the feel of mob mentality, doesn’t it?

Current statistics tell us that about 8% of rape claims in the US are unfounded – (unfounded, not false, but that’s the closest statistic to your query.) It takes an immense amount of strength and bravery to report a rape, especially when the power disparity is so huge and the justice system so fundamentally fucked up. Knowing the personal cost to Ms. Diallo in her coming forward and making these accusations, I believe her – why the hell would anyone put themselves through this otherwise? She’s an impoverished immigrant woman accusing one of the most powerful men in the world, she must know she’s got an impossibly slim chance of the justice system treating her properly – and, indeed, it’s not.

And frankly, I am sick of hundreds if not thousands and millions of guilty rapists going free. SIX PERCENT of rapists ever see a day of jail time. And part of the reason that so many rapists go free is because any time anyone is brave enough to report their rapist, there are assholes like you questioning whether she is a victim or not.

Co-signed. I’m sick to death of men bemoaning the possible unlikelihood of a rape victim’s accusation’s veracity when statistically speaking not only do only about 1/3 go reported – to anyone at all, much less the justice system – but the justice system does so little justice BY rape victims. I’m sick to death of men who don’t face every day either coping with their own history of sexual violence nor fearing the possibility of it in their future feeling the need to play devil’s advocate in a situation that is anything but hypothetical to one half of the population.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and give you the benefit of the doubt and say yes, it is wrong to say that every accusation of rape is absolutely true. There are, unfortunately, rare wrongful accusations of rape. However, it is NOT dangerous to “give credence to anyone making a claim”. Anyone who claims to have been raped deserves, unequivocally, to have that claim seriously, impartially, and objectively investigated. As with any claim of violent crime, there should NEVER be an assumption that it is true or false. The claim should be investigated fairly. The problem with reported rape cases is that the woman is presumed guilty until until proven innocent. Investigators in murder cases will look into the background of the accused to find evidence of the crime. However, in the case of rape, the vicitm’s background is scoured for evidence of their moral guilt before the claim of a violent crime is taken seriously. “Assuming Strauss Kahn’s guilt automatically” is not right – he has the right to due process. However, automatically assuming Diallo is guilty based on her past indiscretions is monumentally worse.

Josh, I’m glad you commented because your view brings up a necessary point thats unfortunately an incredibly popular one as well. It is not that doubt is not needed here, its that doubt is always there. In every case of sexual assault. Now, again, this would not be a problem if the person being accused of rape or sexual assault was put through the same ringer. But often more than not,they aren’t. How many mentions of Strauss Kahns “past behavior” and ” pending rape charge” have you heard mentioned? How many references to Diallo’s “past behavior” have you heard?

Lets say If this entire things is a sham and Diallo made up everything. It will be a very unfortunate day, not only for sexual assault victims everywhere, but for all who fought tirelessly in her name. It will be used as constant ammo by all who think that rape is just some feminist ploy to bring down successful men or seek revenge on “the man”. Much like the Heidi Jones case, it will cast even more doubt on all who come forward with their sexual assault, causing even more hoops to jump through, more background checks, more victim blaming, more and more reasons to not come forward with ones sexual assault. Of course for every Heidi Jones case, we have a Cleveland Texas case, Acworth,GA case, the Jeffrey Marsalis case, or the thousands of other cases that either get tossed out or canned due to the questionable nature of the victim, as opposed to the accused assailant.

Did I mention Strauss Kahn has another pending rape charge against him in France? No worries.

Statistically speaking, the number of those who make up rape claims are pale in comparison to those who actually experience rape. But why is it that a majority of men always assume that rape claims are false? Perhaps its the lack of experience men have had in being a sexual assault or rape victim(and even those who are assaulted are rare to come forward). Or being cat called. Or abused. Or the thousands of other examples of ways that certain behavior just doesn’t register personally on a guys radar,that many women find inherently threatening and are all too familiar with. Perhaps its the fear of being called a rapist. But no worries, even if you are called a rapist, there’s a 6% chance you will actually be convicted and even then you might serve a maximum of a handful of years. Thats also if the rape kit is tested and not backlogged like the estimated 400,000-500,000 rape kits in this country.

Josh, I assume you have some female friends or sisters and I know you must have a mother present in your life. Have they ever broached the subject of rape or sexual assault with you? Has anyone ever confided in you about the nature of their own sexual assault? Has a woman ever talked to you for real on what it means to be put through the ringer about their sexual behavior?
I genuinely ask because if not, there may be a reason.

Of course, you might be surrounded by women who have not experienced this or think that rape is a womans way of saying she didn’t like sex. I don’t know. All i know is that theoretical conversations about rape within a structure of people who have not experienced it, are far different from those who have.

If you are going to quote Blackstones formulation, may I suggest googling “false rape claims” , which will take you to a variety of sites that talk about bitches and cunts ruining mens lives with their “false” rape claims. All with Blackstones quote. And of course, some of this anger might be true and some might not, but I will say that if one wants to make a case of proving that they did not rape someone, it might be best to not use semi-violent and misogynistic language, saying that even though they didn’t rape them, they deserve to be just to shut them up.
Of course, Blackstones formulation seems to never be regarded to, say, the incarceration rates of young men of color and the targeting that goes on by the legal system. It often seems to be a quote reserved for those who seem to always take it personally when a woman comes forward with a rape charge. Like its a personal vendetta on all those who carry a dick.

Josh, I assume you yourself have never been raped and then been through the process of reporting your rape. Please check me if I’m wrong. Its a process I hope you or anyone you care about never about have to go through. Its humiliating, dehumanizing, and all together a great way to ensure that you will feel ashamed for the fact that you were assaulted, a shame that your assailant will most likely not be put through.

Well, I think I might have yammered on a little too long now, but I hope I have clearly expressed that I don’t think doubt is wrong, but the constant doubting that is ever present in almost every rape case of the actual victim and not the accused. One might say that there is even a pattern in that type of behavior.

i have no idea what it’s like to be raped or anything like that, i’m sure it’s one of the most horrible things a person can experience…i think doubt about ANY crime needs to remain until all is said and done… innocent until proven guilty, and all that. that being said, i think o.j. did it…and it’s a screwed up justice system, no doubt. but being a man, i know that a charge of rape is fucking terrifying and it follows you your whole life (as it should if you’ve done it). so i think it has to be carefully considered, as opposed to just labeling people rapists in the court of public opinion. as i said, i feel this way about any crime. Coco, you are being completely reasonable and i can respect your position… the position i can’t respect is “men shouldn’t ever doubt rape accusations.” it’s not because it doesn’t add up for me as a man, but because it doesn’t add up for me as a skeptical person.

ultimately, i think he probably did it based on the evidence so far. i just think everyone should have the benefit of the doubt until they’re declared guilty and that it shouldn’t be stated as fact yet.

At no point did I say “men shouldn’t ever doubt rape accusations.”. My position was ” It is not that doubt is not needed here, its that doubt is always there. In every case of sexual assault. Now, again, this would not be a problem if the person being accused of rape or sexual assault was put through the same ringer. But often more than not,they aren’t.”
I have no issue with doubt. I have an issue with only doubting one side of the story, which based on the Diallo case and many others like it, is usually a doubt aimed at the victim, not the accuser. If you consider yourself a skeptic, then you would be able to equally doubt both sides till evidence came out, but again, that sort of logic is not present in this case, nor many more like it.
To boot, I again, offer the evidence of everything that has been dredged up about Diallo’s character, much of it, if you saw in the news today, proved untrue. Yet Strauss Kahn has a pending rape case against him in France, financial connections to the NY post ( the same magazine that called Diallo a prostitute) and a history of sexually aggressive behavior, yet it is Diallo’s credibility we are questioning. Not Strauss Kahns.
I understand your position as a skeptic, but I think in theory its much easier to say ” oh we have to doubt her story for the sake of the innocent until proven guilty” . There is a large, systematic history of rape victims going forward with their assaults and being shamed, humiliated and constantly doubted – the same doubt that is nowhere near expressed towards their assailants. That is the problem.

Your trust in the justice system, as suggested in your last sentence, is quaint and charming – but the percentage of rapists who are actually found guilty by a court of law is miniscule. Does that mean the overwhelming majority of rapists aren’t guilty? Does it mean they didn’t do anything wrong? That what the rape victim went through didn’t happen, or that some culpability lies with the victim? Not in my book.
So I trust victims when they come forward, because it’s nearly impossible that they’re going to get a fair shake at a trial.
Why don’t you? I can understand skepticism, but approaching every rape claim from a position of doubt contributes to rape culture, and makes it easier for rapists to get away with their crimes. And frankly, the “as a man, i know that a charge of rape is fucking terrifying” bit – you want to think for a moment, and compare what being falsely accused of rape might feel like, in comparison to actually being raped and then not trusting in the system to be able to report it? Or reporting it, and having your story constantly questioned by absolutely everyone, from the police to your friends/family to, in this case, the media?
Both the justice system and our culture is fundamentally fucked up when it comes to dealing with rape, and neither can be trusted. The only thing left to do is to trust the victims.

Also, your ignorance and condescension on this topic is incredibly frustrating.

I admire her for coming out. I fear for her, but I admire her very much.

It just killed me that she describes not fighting back as much as she could have when he grabbed her, because she didn’t want to lose her job, and she didn’t want to hurt him.
Oh, that man – I hope she gets justice, but it’s not looking good right now:(

Leave a Reply