Strauss-Kahn accuser: elephant in the room among NY Guineans
The hotel maid whose rape allegations brought Dominique Strauss-Kahn crashing down is like a shadow -- hardly visible since that fateful encounter with the then-IMF chief last year in New York.
Aside from her lawyers, few know where the accuser Naffisatou Diallo lives. And her name has vanished from the mailbox in her apartment building in the Bronx.
But the native of Guinea in West Africa is nonetheless on the minds of many in her local Guinean community in the Bronx, even if it takes a bit of prying to get people talking about her.
"I've been here four years, never heard of her," said one hurried tenant at her building.
Lips are also tight at the African Market, a little neighborhood grocery store.
"We don't know her. We are not talking," said the owner, as his wife, wearing a Muslim face-covering niqab, worked the cash register.
In the back office, people watch Guinean television, in French. They do not want to talk, either. But once the initial wariness eases, it seems everyone knows the case, in which an out-of-court settlement with Strauss-Kahn could be announced Monday.
Criminal charges over the May 2011 encounter were brought quickly, only to be thrown out when Manhattan prosecutors said Diallo's testimony wouldn't stand up in court.
But Diallo filed her own civil lawsuit in a Bronx court, alleging that the 63-year-old leapt on her, naked, and forced her into oral sex.
Strauss-Kahn says a hurried, but consensual, sex act took place in his luxury room. He returned immediately to France after the criminal case disintegrated.
However, by then his career was in tatters, his marriage was on the rocks and he soon faced a string of other sex-related investigations by French authorities.
Amid crates of ginger and onions at the African Market, the owner talks of Strauss-Kahn's other woes in France.
And others present are keenly aware the whole sordid affair could end up with a payout to Diallo, 33. But they say at the same time it makes Africans look bad.
At the nearby Jalloh Family Restaurant, the female chef, Awaa, age 37, does not feel sorry for Diallo, who, she says, lied about what happened in Strauss-Kahn's luxury hotel suite.
"As a woman, you need to have dignity," the chef said. "Africa has a lot of problems. They are doing bad stuff to women. And now nobody will believe any African."
Osman Diallo (no relation), parking his car outside the same modest mosque that Naffisatou Diallo attends, is happy the whole affair is coming to a close. He said he believes Diallo's side of the story.
Another man, Elijah, says Strauss-Kahn can afford to settle out of court and should have known better than to get himself in this position. Diallo, he said, got lucky.
Across town, sitting in a tiny Guinean restaurant on 30th street in Manhattan, Al Hassan Bah says Diallo was indeed a victim and deserves compensation.
But in her largely Muslim country, to some people it will not look good for her to take money. Rather, it will look like she is getting paid for sex.
Asked if a settlement will allow her to start her life over, Bah says Diallo will be able to go home now and then. But she should not resettle there. The country is not safe, and some people think she is not telling the truth. "They could kill her," he said.
Amadou Diallo, sitting at the same table with Bah, says Strauss-Khan is guilty.
"He should pay, but he should also go to prison," he said.
At the next table over, Rose-Therese Diallo says she, too, is opposed to the case ending with an out of court settlement, but for a different reason.
"Everyone has the right to their day in court," she said.
"And that's better for the dignity of all the African women that live here. I would never have settled out of court, even for millions of dollars. Because an African woman's body is not for sale."
© 2012 AFP