International tabloids have long since spun the story of Nafissatou Diallo into so much gossip gold. Diallo, an African immigrant working as a maid at the Sofitel in Manhattan, was thrust into the glaring media spotlight after an unfortunate encounter with Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Diallo attests that DSK assaulted her in his hotel room while she was on the clock, forcing her to perform oral sex on him. As one of the most powerful men in France (if not the world) and an old school philanderer, DSK probably didn't expect much push-back from Diallo. This underestimation would be his undoing.
After seven long months, during which her story has been subject to gross exaggerations and victim-blaming suspicions, DSK has settled with Diallo. The criminal charges against DSK were ultimately dropped; without any witnesses, the matter fell frustratingly into the realm of “he said, she said”. But the civil charges stuck, and had the case made it to court, a less rigid standard of proof would have been needed to bring DSK down.
DSK agreed to settle with Diallo, rather than subject himself to court proceedings that would have, undoubtedly, revealed the ugly truth about his conduct. But the fact that he, a financial maven and possible candidate for the presidency of France, settled with Diallo, a maid and mother 30 years his junior, speaks volumes about what really went down in that NYC hotel room.
That Diallo was able to persist with her charges against opposition and ire on many fronts is something to stand in awe of. Hopefully, with each new instance of a woman refusing to be silent about her sexual assault, it will become the rule to speak out, rather than the exception. Just yesterday we related the story of Savannah Dietrich, an American teenager who refused to abide by a judge’s order that she keep mum about her own experience with sexual assault.
Encouraging women (and men) to speak up about sexual assault must begin with a show of solidarity. If we can open ourselves to receiving these narratives of assault and abuse, we can help to neutralize the shame that often comes along with such an admission. There are so many groups and movements rising up to push this new initiative of support, from Hollaback to SlutWalk, but we have to participate on an individual level as well. We can’t erase sexual assault that has already come to pass, but we can damn well revise the way we care for and support those who have gone through it.