Strauss-Kahn sex crime charges hit Guinean exiles

23rd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Verses from the Koran were chanted in this little corner of Guinea in the heart of the Bronx, but all thoughts were on the titanic struggle looming for the woman who accused former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of trying to rape her.

There is an awkward feeling about the accusation in the tight-knit Guinean community, where women who become the victims of sexual assault often are shunned as damaged goods.

There is also pride however that a woman of humble origins can seek justice against one of the world's most powerful men, and have a hope of prevailing.

"Whoever you are -- and everyone knows who Strauss-Kahn is -- you face the law like everyone else," said Boubacar Diallo, a community leader here.

Strauss-Kahn has denied the sex assault charges against him, and media reports say private investigators he has employed already are digging into the woman's history in New York and her native Guinea.

Prosecutors have said however that they are building a "strong" case against him.

The 32-year-old employee at the Sofitel hotel normally spends her time among exiles from her West African nation, in streets near the mosque at the corner of Third Avenue and 166th Street. It is an enclave of African Muslims in a mainly Latino district.

Some 100 ethnic Peul men from Guinea listened to an old man reading verses from the Koran as they sat in the red brick mosque -- a converted factory with no minaret.

Here to attend a wedding on the second floor of the Islamic center, they pull out dollar bills as a gift for the couple, while their women tend to the children downstairs.

Although her identity has been kept secret in the United States, everyone at the center knows the woman who told police she was attacked by Strauss-Kahn in the Sofitel suite where she was tidying up.

The woman told police he forced her to perform oral sex and tried to rip off her clothes.

Members of the Guinean community here in the Bronx suggest she is not the sort of woman to lodge a frivolous claim.

"She is a humble person, a hard working," said one man at the ceremony as he ate some of the wedding food spread out on a plastic sheet over the mosque carpet. "We don't know a lot about her, she is quite discreet."

The alleged victim married in Guinea at the age of 17, but was widowed early in her marriage. She has a daughter who is now 15 and a sister who lives in the United States who help her to immigrate here.

An older brother who lives in the US Midwest is now in New York to help the woman whose accusations have forced Strauss-Kahn to quit as managing director of the International Monetary Fund and give up his ambitions to stand for the French presidency next year for the Socialist party.

Community leaders say they are now dealing with the brother.

"In our culture, men work with men and women with women. If we have to go to someone we go directly to the men," said Souleymane Diallo, president of Pottal Fii Banthal, a Peul community organization in New York.

"I am sure that if the woman had the choice this affair would not have been made public. In our community it is as if she is damaged. If she has no husband it will be difficult, maybe impossible to get one," he added.

"People know that she did not seek the publicity, but men do not want a woman who is marked," he said in his office behind the Jalloh Family restaurant, near the mosque.

"It was a big shock for us when the news came out. People said: 'What has happened. Is it some kind of curse? In Guinea this kind of thing happens, but not in the United States."

Many Guineans left the country after mass rapes carried out by security forces in a stadium in the capital, Conaky, on September 28, 2009.

"The difference between what happened in 2009 in Guinea and here is that this is a country of laws," said Diallo.

Added another community member, Algassimou Balde: "That is what makes this country so great."

© 2011 AFP

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