The woman who ended perverted IMF chief's presidential ambition

Nafissatou Diallo (right), a Guinean immigrant who accused former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn (left) of sexual assault. 

Photo credit: Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • Nafissatou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant working as a housekeeper at a New York hotel, was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then President of the IMF.
  • Despite initial mishandling of the case by the Manhattan District Attorney's office, she pursued justice, resulting in a $6 million settlement.
  • This effectively ended Strauss-Kahn's political career, the man who was a potential French presidential candidate.

The Sofitel, an opulent 30-storey elegant glass tower hotel, is nestled in midtown Manhattan and consists of an aura of supremacy that has been New York City’s French traveller’s excursion since its inception in the year 2000.

On May 14, 2011, 32-year-old Nafissatou 'Nafi' Diallo, a soft-spoken Guinean immigrant fluent in Fulani, French and moderate English, was undertaking her housekeeping shift on the 28th floor. At 12:05pm after completing the cleaning of suite 2820, she left to inspect other rooms.

She used her security key card on her hip pocket to open the presumably empty, $3,000-a-night suite 2806. As she walked in, she instantly noticed a white haired naked stranger approaching from a nearby bathroom. A perplexed Nafi apologised in humiliation and tried to flee the room.

The lewd stranger obstructed Nafi, momentarily paralysing her by his provocative insistence while he pushed her towards the bedroom. He was a few inches shorter than her, but was aggressively assertive while she pleaded with him to stop. He violently reached for her underpants and tried to yank them off injuring her egregiously, but luckily she had fortuitously worn two pairs of pantyhose that impeded his motive.

He then pinned her on the floor, gravely injuring her shoulder and causing a contusion while forcing his manhood into her mouth. When he was done, Nafi raced out of the suite in distress, and back to suite 2820, where she repeatedly spat on the carpeted floor in an impulsive reaction to negate her attacker's unsettling semen from her mouth.

She would find out later that the white haired man who had just sexually assaulted her, was 62-year-old Dominique Strauss-Kahn. President of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the publicly ordained Socialist Party candidate expected to replace the then French President Nikolas Sarkozy in the April 2012, French presidential election.

Strauss-Kahn possessed threads of past sexual violations. On February 2003, he attempted to rape Tristane Banon, a 22-year-old aspiring French journalist who requested counsel on a book she was writing. He attacked her, groped her breasts and tried to rip off her pants, but she hurriedly fought his grip and fled the room.

In another sexual offence, Strauss-Kahn blackmailed an IMF subordinate into an affair during a sexual harassment ordeal in 2008 in Paris, authorising his accuser to keep her occupation and eventually earn a promotion.

Nafi Diallo had initially experienced this aura of escalating angst and it relayed traumatising flashbacks of her past misfortune. As a seven-year-old child, she underwent the excruciating experience of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Guinea. She then endured debilitating torment as a teenager when two soldiers took turns raping her incessantly in a prison camp, after arresting her at the cafeteria where she sold sandwiches.

At the age of 22 in 2001, she lost a child after a premature delivery and her husband passed away of HIV-related complications shortly after. In an effort to prevent her daughter from undergoing FGM, Nafi left her behind in Conakry Guinea in 2003, to find a better life in New York City and eventually fly her over.

She soon learnt her way around New York’s bustling West African immigrant community in Bronx and Harlem, picking up odd jobs. She initially braided hair, then worked in a bodega, and landed a waitress occupation in a restaurant.

She was granted asylum in 2007 and began building the proactive life she had yearned for. She reached out to non-profit International Rescue Committee, which assisted immigrants locate permanency in their occupations and was sent for temporary vocation in the laundry room of the Sofitel.

She subsequently entered the Sofitel housekeeping training program and advanced into a full-fledged maid in three months, earning $25 an hour in the job that would decisively provide the full-time security, union benefits, and enough income to save and fly her daughter from Conakry. The two tearfully reunited in her Bronx apartment in 2007, after an agonising four-year separation.

The meticulously written crime story DSK: The Scandal that brought down Dominique Strauss-Kahn, by Newsweek journalist John Solomon, elaborates how Strauss-Kahn was arrested at JFK Airport. Just before his departure for a European debt crisis meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel, the same day he violated Nafi.

However, the Manhattan District Attorney’s incompetent office selected an inept sloppy and sham prosecution team, which made several missteps that blatantly flouted sacred judicial morals that impugned the complexion of the case.

Star witness

The hotel security key card records containing immutable facts, which had evidential details about Nafi's movements on May 14, 2011 from Suite 2820 to 2806, were not collected from Sofitel. Subsequently, the forensic evidence assembled by NYPD crime lab from Nafi’s housekeeping uniform and the carpet where she spat Strauss-Kahn’s semen were not corroborated and used to pursue his prosecution.

Instead of seeking justice for Nafi, the disillusioned prosecution team undercut their star witness’s credibility by rushing to court and administering a Brady letter. This eventually led to the dismissal of the case and exonerated Strauss-Kahn.

Nafi's lawyer Kenneth Thompson, played a pontifical role by filing a civil lawsuit to redeem the reputation of his client. Nafi was awarded a settlement of $6 million in an out-of-court settlement and befittingly decimated Strauss-Kahn’s conniving political career. Her pursuit of justice further led the Union for Housekeepers and New York City hotels to equip chambermaids with panic buttons to avert sexual offences, a lasting positive effect from Nafi’s agitating episode.

 Jeff Anthony is a novelist, Big Brother Africa 2 Kenyan representative and founder of Jeff's Fitness Centre @jeffbigbrother