It was a story that riveted the world, one that read like a tawdry French novel with dark chapters about a high-powered, charismatic politician and a seductive, but illiterate, maid who swept him off his feet only to crush his heart – and his reputation – when her greed and avariciousness were finally revealed.
Only that isn’t what happened.
It was a story that riveted the world but the true facts were far from romantic, and ultimately devastating for the maid and career-crushing for the politician. It was May of 2011; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund; he of the silver hair, accommodating French wife and reputation as a “libertine” (by his own admission), was in New York on business, readying to announce his run for the presidency of France, and staying at the cushy Manhattan Sofitel in New York. As the story was reported by Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old illiterate, Guinea immigrant who worked as a maid at the hotel, she came to Strauss-Kahn’s room having been told it needed cleaning. She knocked, announced herself, no one answered; she went in, no one was there … she thought. She proceeded to the bedroom and was startled when a “naked man with white hair” suddenly appeared. Diallo talked to Newsweek about what happened from there:
“You’re beautiful,” Strauss-Kahn told her, wrestling her toward the bedroom. “I said, ‘Sir, stop this. I don’t want to lose my job.” He said, ‘You’re not going to lose your job.’” An ugly incident with a guest — any guest — could threaten everything Diallo had worked for. “I don’t look at him. I was so afraid. I didn’t expect anyone in the room.”
“He pulls me hard to the bed,” she said. He tried to put his penis in her mouth, she said, and as she told the story she tightened her lips and turned her face from side to side to show how she resisted. “I push him. I get up. I wanted to scare him. I said, ‘Look, there is my supervisor right there.’” But the man said there was nobody out there, and nobody was going to hear.
Diallo kept pushing him away: “I don’t want to hurt him,” she told us. “I don’t want to lose my job.” He shoved back, moving her down the hallway from the bedroom toward the bathroom. Diallo’s uniform dress buttoned down the front, but Strauss-Kahn didn’t bother with the buttons, she said. He pulled it up around her thighs and tore down her pantyhose, gripping her crotch so hard that it was still red at the hospital, hours later. He pushed her to her knees, her back to the wall. He forced his penis into her mouth, she said, and he gripped her head on both sides. “He held my head so hard here,” she said, putting her hands to her cranium. “He was moving and making a noise. He was going like ‘uhh, uhh, uhh.’ He said, ‘Suck my’—I don’t want to say.” The report from the hospital where Diallo was taken later for examination notes that “she felt something wet and sour come into her mouth and she spit it out on the carpet.”
As the rest of the well-reported story goes, Diallo rushed from the room when the incident was over, hovered in a corner, terrified about what had just happened as well as fearful of losing her job. She was immobilized in the hallway for several minutes and watched as Strauss-Kahn exited the room nine minutes later – he walked by her without a glance and, in her state of shock, she simply went back to the room and did her job – she cleaned the room where she had just been assaulted.
Later a supervisor found her in the hallway, clearly shaken, and that’s when the story came tumbling out. About an hour later, convinced she was telling the truth, the supervisor called 911. Shortly after, Strauss-Kahn was pulled off a plane at JFK, given the “perp walk” to the police station and the world was handed a new and lascivious scandal to buzz about for many months to come.
The archetypes were immediately noted: wealth, privilege, power and male on one side; poor, immigrant; a woman of color on the other. Though he said very little publicly, his attorneys stated the encounter was consensual and Diallo was bitter because she’d done it for money and hadn’t received any. From there the slut-shaming went off the charts (and that was even before “slut-shaming” became part of the cultural vernacular): Diallo was accused of being a prostitute, an extortionist, a black-mailer, a criminal, a liar, and an illegal immigrant. There were enough smatterings of truth in some of the accusations to diminish her credibility and the high-powered defense attorneys for Strauss-Kahn left no stone unturned in tarnishing her as thoroughly as possible, successful enough that the prosecuting attorney felt she was not a credible enough witness and the charges against Strauss-Kahn were dropped.
From there, Diallo sued Strauss-Kahn and he countersued her. His wife, Anne Sinclair (now an editor at the Huffington Post), always one of his staunchest defenders (according to The Guardian, she told L’Express in 2006 that she was “rather proud” of his reputation. “It’s important for a politician to be able to seduce.”), has since separated from him. His clear liability as a presidential candidate in France became a hot topic. According to The Daily Beast:
DSK, as the French call him, allegedly participated in orgies with women who turned out to be prostitutes—which he has not denied—and in the company of men seeking political influence. DSK’s main political rival, then President Nicolas Sarkozy, was well aware of the police dossiers compiled against him. DSK had earlier admitted to an affair with a subordinate at the IMF, and told reporters privately, long before his arrest, that his compulsive relations with women might hurt him in a presidential campaign.
That kind of talk took him quickly out of the running. But perhaps most damaging to the “seductive” Strauss-Kahn were the women who began emerging of the shadows with their own stories of his aberrant and aggressive sexual misbehavior. The critical mass of eerily similar circumstances to Diallo’s story ultimately began to sway world opinion. Strauss-Kahn resigned from his position at the International Monetary Fund.
But it’s been quiet in the last year and the story moved well out of the headlines. Except for an occasional “whatever happened to….?” query, no one has been talking much about it. Until yesterday.
According to The New York Times:
Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the hotel housekeeper who accused him of sexually assaulting her last year have quietly reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit she brought against him stemming from the case, which made international headlines, people with knowledge of the matter said Thursday.
The lawyers for Mr. Strauss-Kahn, 63, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, and the housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, who accused him of attacking her at a Midtown Manhattan hotel, are scheduled to appear next week before Justice Douglas E. McKeon in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, the people said.
Details of the agreement, including any monetary damages to be paid by Mr. Strauss-Kahn, could not be determined on Thursday, and one of the people with knowledge of the matter cautioned that no settlement had yet been signed.
However, The Daily Beast reports:
The respected French daily Le Monde, citing unnamed sources close to Strauss-Kahn, reported Friday that the settlement agreed to is $6 million, of which three million will have to be raised by a bank loan, and three million will be loaned to him by his wife, Anne Sinclair, an heiress and prominent journalist who now edits the French edition of the Huffington Post. Although she and Strauss-Kahn have been separated since last summer, she stood by him throughout the ordeal in 2011, posting his bail and helping to pay his attorneys and private investigators. None of the lawyers involved in the case, nor the principles, were immediately available for comment in an arrangement that is not due to be signed officially until the end of next week.
Diallo has never wavered from her story and the settlement appears to be in her favor. As details are forthcoming, it’s clear the narrative has been written for the, hopefully, last chapter of this tawdry tale. There are many who will be grateful when the book finally closes.