The hotel maid who is accusing Dominique Strauss-Kahn of raping her is named Nafissatou ("Nafi") Diallo, and she is speaking out. Her media debut has arrived with a bang: she granted an exclusive, cover story interview to Newsweek on Saturday at the office of her attorneys, Thompson Wigdor. Then a major interview with ABC will air in full on Tuesday, with a portion shown on Good Morning America on Monday.
We begin with the Newsweek interview: in depth, fact-based, written in a dispassionate tone, with few descriptions. The writers put in observations, but not too many -- just enough to keep it from being a pure transcript -- and each observation in favor of Diallo seems to be balanced by one against her, as though to ensure the interview is as fair as possible. If anything, the interview reads like Diallo's trial, with the reader as the jury, so that we may each draw our own conclusions as to whether or not Diallo is guilty of the crime of lying. The sexual assault (which she describes in detail, this time for the public) is a lesser issue. So what do we learn?
1. For one, we learn what she looks like. Soon we will see her on television. For the moment we have this description:
“Nafi” Diallo is not glamorous. Her light-brown skin is pitted with what look like faint acne scars, and her dark hair is hennaed, straightened, and worn flat to her head, but she has a womanly, statuesque figure. When her face is in repose, there is an opaque melancholy to it.
The description is not just for those who are merely curious about these sorts of details: the interviewers analyze her build as she tells the story of Strauss-Kahn's attack on her, commenting: "Diallo is about 5 feet 10, considerably taller than Strauss-Kahn, and she has a sturdy build." Something to file away?
2. What she acts like. The interview seems to take a balanced approach to Diallo's persona, which has been painted as everything from wholly guileless to masterfully manipulative. At moments, she is completely sincere:
Some of Diallo’s most upbeat moments in the interview came when she recounted the small promotions and credits available at the Sofitel for a job done well... Diallo’s eyes lit up talking about the routine and about her colleagues. “We worked as a team,” she said. “I loved the job. I liked the people. All different countries, American, African, and Chinese. But we were the same there.”
But then the writers also note some calculated moments:
Occasionally as Diallo talked, she wept, and there were moments when the tears seemed forced. Almost all questions about her past in West Africa were met with vague responses.
3. What her life is like. The interview makes plain that Diallo's responses on her past life are vague, but grim. "Her husband died of 'an illness,' she said. So did a daughter who was 3 or 4 months old—she wasn’t sure." She had suffered genital mutilation as a child. Even though she admittedly embellished details on her asylum application, she maintains she was raped by two soldiers who arrested her for a curfew violation at night in Conakry, the Guinean capital.
As for her life now, there isn't much to know: "Diallo cannot read or write in any language; she has few 'close friends,' she says, and some of the men she has spent time with, whom she does not call fiancés or boyfriends, but 'just friends,' appear to have taken advantage of her."
4. But is this really how we are deciding a sexual assault? The Newsweek article barely touches on any possible strangeness with regard to the interview itself: that a woman is in a position of having to describe the events of her alleged sexual assault to a magazine and television network while her prosecution is deciding whether or not to go forward. It does not discuss what this says about power and money and the way that sex crimes are prosecuted. It only offers this to Diallo's detractors:
It’s possible that Diallo is a woman who has lived for the last few years on the margins of quasi-illegal immigrant society in the Bronx, associating with petty con artists and dubious types trying to get a foothold in this country. But that does not preclude her having been the victim of a predatory and powerful man. Nor does it mean she will rule out an attempt to make some money from the situation.
5. The evidence. We are treated to a concise summary of the evidence considerations in the rape case, which appear to be by and large be in favor of the fact that Diallo is speaking the truth. For example:
Many aspects of Diallo’s account of the alleged attack are mirrored in the hospital records, in which doctors observed five hours afterward that there was “redness” in the area of the vagina where she alleges Strauss-Kahn grabbed her. The medical records also note she complained of “pain to left shoulder.” Weeks later, doctors reexamined the shoulder and found a partial ligament tear, she said.
And then there are some less than perfect pieces:
If there is one inconsistency for defense lawyers to dwell on in the hospital records, it is a passage that says her attacker got dressed and left the room, and “said nothing to her during the incident.” In her interview with police and her account to NEWSWEEK, Diallo recalled several statements Strauss-Kahn made during the alleged attack.
Following her ABC televised interview, there will be much more to consider. And after all this, perhaps a courtroom trial will be a breeze.