Nafissatou Diallo, the woman who accused former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, has publically told her side of the story in exclusive interviews with Newsweek and ABC News. The move is unusual for an alleged victim in such a high-profile case but Diallo felt it was necessary to speak out after her character and credibility were assaulted in the media. Also, the threat that she might never have her day in court with Strauss-Kahn influenced Diallo’s decision to come forward. If what Diallo alleges is true – Strauss-Kahn is charged with sexual abuse and attempted rape – she is brave for speaking out and even for reporting the crime in the first place. I can personally attest to the difficulty in reporting sexual assault.
About five years ago I was sexually assaulted by a man who took me out on a nice date. We met at a get together thrown by a mutual friend. He was a doctor (at least that’s what he told me), tall and had an inviting smile. He asked me out and I accepted. That Saturday evening, I left my car at his place, we got into his ride and headed out for dinner and dancing. As far as first dates go, this one was going pretty well. We went to a new dance spot in the city and I ordered my favorite drink at the time, a “Godfather” – a mix of scotch and amaretto. The music was good and the crowd was friendly so I wanted to dance. My date said he preferred to sit and watch our drinks so I danced an arm’s length or so away from the cocktail table where he was perched. Looking back, that was likely when he took the opportunity to drug my drink.
Let me say that I had a few drinks that evening, three Godfathers in all after dinner, but at that point in time, that was not an unusual amount for me to drink. In fact, I’d been known to drink much more and get drunk, of course, but I had never before felt the way I did that night. This was not like being “white boy wasted,” it was much, much more. I remember telling this guy that I wasn’t feeling well. I said I was dizzy and needed to leave. I couldn’t walk out on my own and had to rely on him to get back to the car. That in itself was strange because one minute I was dancing and feeling fine, the next I was nearly incapable of putting one foot in front of the other by myself. He put me in his car and the rest of my memory is spotty after that.
I remember him helping me out of the car and into his house. I collapsed on the sofa where I thought I’d stay. I didn’t have any intention of staying over his place that first night, but it was clear that I was in no shape to drive myself home. I don’t know how long I was on the couch before he came and got me, bringing me into the bedroom. I won’t go into too much detail at this point but all my clothes were removed even though I remember saying I didn’t want them off. I felt paralyzed, totally unable to move. My muscles were like Jell-O. Much of what I recall is interrupted by periods of blacking out but let me be clear – nonconsensual sexual intercourse took place which I believe was aided by the drug Rohypnol (“roofies”) or something similar. I awoke in the morning with wretched nausea like I had never before experienced. It was hours before I was stable enough to drive myself home where I came to terms with what happened.
Even though I worked in the domestic violence/sexual assault field at the time and had friends in local law enforcement, I never reported the crime. In a way, I think knowing so much about the system and its processes made me more reluctant to come forward. I knew that date rape is often hard to prove, especially when alcohol is involved. I knew that common date rape drugs don’t remain in your body very long and I wasn’t sure whether he used a condom and if there was any “evidence” left behind. There certainly was no evidence of struggle since I was physically unable to provide any. More than anything, I think the social barriers to reporting were a major deterrent. Like we’ve seen with Diallo and many women before her, the accuser is often put on trial just as much as the accused. Increasingly, we see detectives and juries waiting on that “smoking gun” DNA evidence, a problem so huge it has a name – the CSI Effect. I didn’t want to mount a losing battle and I really just wanted to move past the whole thing. Instead of turning to the police or victim-support agencies I worked alongside every day, I saw a doctor for pregnancy/STD tests and spent a lot of time in anger and reflection.
It’s not up to every survivor of sexual or domestic violence to report the crime or become a public face for victim’s rights. That’s a very personal decision not entered into lightly. However, if one does want to report an incident, she/he should be able to do so without fearing the very systems put in place to protect them. We have got to improve the way drug-assisted rapes are investigated if we’re to meet the needs of victims and stop perpetrators. As a law school graduate, my years of education allow me to see both sides – the rights of the accuser and the accused – so I try to proceed without bias. Still, in my opinion, the criminal justice system has checks built in to provide due process to the accused. For the accuser, however, it’s often factors outside of the courts that pose the greatest obstacles to obtaining justice. We need only look at Nafissatou Diallo’s recent media spree to see how far one must go to be heard.
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