A hotel maid says that she was raped by a powerful man who has since derided her just to maintain his innocence. The man in question first denied even being there but quickly changed his story when a semen sample from the woman's uniform turned out to be his.
The story blew up wider and wider in the media when it became the word of an immigrant maid with questionable credibility against the ex-head of the International Monetary Fund and potential president of France. People took sides. Further accusations were made. Gender and racial implications became stronger. Lawsuits were filed.
But of all the things that were alleged in the now-dissolved rape case between Nafissatou Diallo and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, we know one thing for certain: On May 14, in the Manhattan Sofitel hotel room where he was staying, something happened involving him and Diallo.
And since that something happened, whether it was rape or not, Strauss-Kahn is clearly the sleaze bucket he's being made out to be in some press accounts.
Strauss-Kahn, who is married, had previously been accused by Tristane Banon, a young French journalist, of a similar assault attempt. She has described him as a "chimpanzee in heat" when he tried to disrobe her during an interview. She has also confirmed that she is going forward with attempted-rape charges against him. Strauss-Kahn's lawyers have called the allegations a "fantasy."
Strauss-Kahn has admitted to a brief affair with Hungarian economist Piroska Nagy, one in which she said she felt coerced into having sex with him during the 2008 World Economic Forum. Strauss-Kahn used his position and power to force the affair, Nagy said. Of the tryst, he later said, "I firmly believe that I have not abused my position."
None of this is to say that the credibility issues with Diallo, a 32-year-old immigrant from Guinea who lives in the Bronx borough of New York City, were not serious. The phone conversation conducted in Fulani with an inmate in an Arizona prison, a fellow immigrant, in which she spoke of Strauss-Kahn's wealth, was the first wound to the prosecutor's case.
But other vague pieces of evidence, or nonevidence, were the true death knells: the DNA that was never found in the sink where Diallo said she spat out Strauss-Kahn's semen; the redness on her genitalia that could not be conclusively linked to an attack; the two versions of the same story that she told investigators. At the end of the day, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said that he was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Strauss-Kahn could be proved guilty of rape.
But it should also be said that Vance has been accused by Diallo's lawyer and others of siding with Strauss-Kahn. Probably not lost on Vance is the high-profile nature of this case, as well as lessons learned in the Duke lacrosse team's rape-accusation case (which resulted in the disbarment of prosecutor Mike Nifong) and of course the O.J. Simpson murder case — both of which revealed evidence that was not enough to get a prosecution. Whether or not he feels that Strauss-Kahn raped Diallo, politically he has much to lose if he cannot stand up to the former IMF chief's robust war chest.
More often than you might think, politics weigh more heavily than justice in legal cases. If Vance wanted to pursue the case against Strauss-Kahn, he would.
Then, of course, there's the notion of a powerful white man raping a helpless immigrant black maid and then trying to run to the airport, which angered everybody when the case emerged. That's what established Strauss-Kahn's reputation in the States as grimy, and based on everything that came out since, that's where his reputation will stay.
Among African Americans, the details of the case come as shocking but not surprising. Behavior like Strauss-Kahn's is a reason we are a multihued, hybrid population in this country. It is a truth, yet to be admitted by mainstream society, that powerful men have a history of sexually mistreating their servants.
And it is for this reason that Strauss-Kahn did whatever it is he actually did. If he did not feel that he could get away with having sexual contact with Diallo, he would have kept his pants on and gone about his business, allowing her to finish cleaning up his room.
But until he faces a civil suit from Diallo, and provided he doesn't beat that as well, Strauss-Kahn and men like him will continue to use women as prey and their power as claws — and the timid legal system and voracious media as tools at their disposal.
Madison Gray is a New York-based writer and Web journalist. Follow him on Twitter.