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Advocates Mull Whether Strauss-Kahn Accuser's Decision to Go Public Helped Her Case

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Victim advocates have mixed reactions to the decision by the accuser in the ex-International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sexual assault case to go public.

Nafissatou Diallo broke her silence last week in interviews with Newsweek and ABC News before appearing at a press conference in Brooklyn on Thursday.

“It allowed the public who has heard so much about this case to finally see someone in flesh and blood who could be their mother or their neighbor or the woman that they work with and they could hear directly from her what happened,” said Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women, who said she felt the appearances helped humanize Diallo.

But attorney Dorchen Leidholdt, director for Battered Women Legal Services, said any benefits gained are outweighed by the potential harm to her legal case.

“If the goal is for DSK to be held accountable, this has made that goal much more difficult,” Leidholdt said.

And Leidholdt said that by losing her anonymity, Diallo will have a harder time resuming a normal life: “This will undoubtedly define her for years to come.”

Until her media appearance last week, news organizations in the U.S. had kept Diallo's name and picture out of reports. The French press had not.

Some say anonymity only reinforces the stigma associated with sexual assault. But Lynn Frederick -Hawley from Mt. Sinai's Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention Program says changing the culture and ending the stigma is not a victim’s responsibility.  

“Let the decision be up to each individual survivor,” she said. Frederick-Hawley says sexual assault is vastly under reported and would be even more so if anonymity wasn't granted.

While victim advocates called Diallo brave and said what she did was empowering, they also said most women choose not to do the same.

Ossorio, the head of the city's NOW, said the way women are treated in rape cases changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Until the 1980s, she said, prosecutors had to prove that a woman fought back or resisted an attack in order to convict someone of rape.

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