Monday, July 25, 2011

No Longer the Perfect Victim? Nafissatou Diallo Defends Herself

As the Manhattan District Attorney's office weighs whether or not to prosecute the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, his accuser has stepped forward to tell her side of the story. Nafissatou Diallo — a 32-year-old refugee from Guinea who worked as a maid at the Sofitel where
Strauss-Kahn stayed and allegedly attacked her — told Newsweek reporters that she wants to correct her portrayal in the media, which has included allegations that she is a prostitute and under the influence of a criminal boyfriend. Much of Diallo's counter-media blitz may be a legal strategy aimed at ensuring Strauss-Kahn is prosecuted. But in attempting to reclaim her image and identity, Diallo has forced all of us to confront a uniquely American legal concept: that of the ‘perfect' victim.
In a system where the accused are innocent until proven guilty, their victims tend to take on nearly impossible traits of righteous perfection. And if there are any cracks in that flawless profile, as there allegedly are in Diallo's case, we start to question the victim's integrity. “What really struck me about her speaking out was that she wasn't silenced by the fact that someone said, ‘this is not the perfect woman,'” said Carol Gilligan, a professor of Gender and Law at NYU School of Law. “At first she was put forth as the perfect victim: she was from Africa, she was poor. I think where gender comes in [to a case like this] is this idea that a woman is either on a pedestal, spotless, or if she's not on the pedestal, then she's a fallen woman.”
Indeed, initial accounts of Diallo were a prosecutor's dream: she was described as pious, dutiful, modest. But after her life was revealed as messy, complicated  — full of cultural incongruities and fuzzy details that didn't seem to fit our preconceived notions of how a victim of sexual assault should be — investigators seemed to want to distance themselves as much as possible and the DA's office decided to release Strauss-Kahn from house arrest.

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