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Lysiane Gagnon

The chambermaid’s ordeal never ends Add to ...

The chambermaid who accused former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault is going through such an ordeal that one wonders how many women, after this, would dare denounce their aggressor – that is, if he’s rich and powerful.

The French press didn’t respect the North American rule that forbids the media to reveal the identity of alleged victims of sexual assault. The woman’s full name, her address, even her teenaged daughter’s first name, plus a host of details about her personal life, have been exposed, which means of course that this information is widely available on the Web.

The woman, who is in hiding under police protection, must also suffer the pain of being shunned by part of her own community. She is a black Muslim immigrant from Guinea who came to the United States a few years ago with her daughter, after the death of her husband. Even though she is known in the tight-knit Guinean-American community as a serious woman and a devout Muslim, being a victim of a rape, alleged or real, is not well seen in this community.

“If you disagree,” said a man interviewed by Le Monde in front of a New York mosque, “you yell, you defend yourself. Our guess here is that she was willing.”

As one Senegalese specialist on Africa told Le Monde, “Islamic Americans have a culture of machismo. If a woman is a victim of a rape, they tend to believe that she looked for it.” Some Guinean-Americans even suspect her of having invented the story to extort money from Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

“By the way,” another Guinean man asked the French newspaper, “why did she wait so long to call the police?”

According to some French news reports, the answer is quite simple: After the alleged assault, she was found by other hotel workers cowering in a closet, trying to throw up, spitting on the floor and incapable of speaking – traumatized, in other words.

One interpretation is that it is her supervisor and the hotel management who insisted on calling police and convinced her to lodge a complaint. This is why the police were called more than an hour after the encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn and the woman. This is entirely believable: A shy, semi-literate African immigrant, a Muslim woman to boot, might have instinctively preferred to shut up rather than denounce a man whose identity she didn’t know at the time but who was certainly important since he stayed in an expensive suite. And true to her country’s culture, she might have felt shamed even if she had no responsibility in the event.

The woman is surrounded by a good team of lawyers, and her colleagues at the Sofitel hotel are supportive, but she faces the equivalent of a legal war machine. Mr. Strauss-Kahn and his wife, former journalist and heiress Anne Sinclair, will spend millions to try to clear his name. The two high-profile lawyers hired by Mr. Strauss-Kahn are tough as nails.

They hired Guidepost Solutions, a prominent detective agency, which is now searching for any wrongdoing that they could find in the complainant’s personal history. The agency will be conducting a search as far as Tchakulé, the dirt-poor tiny village the complainant comes from.

If Mr. Strauss-Kahn is eventually found guilty – or if he pleads guilty in exchange for a smaller sentence – this woman will have been twice victimized.

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