In a ferocious assault on the personal character, professional arrogance, and sexual predilections of former International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, lawyers for the hotel chambermaid who has accused him of attempted rape and criminal sexual assault filed a civil suit in New York today.
Strauss-Kahn has denied all criminal charges lodged against him, and still stands a good chance of having them dropped by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. But in their complaint on behalf of Nafissatou Diallo, a 32-year-old illiterate African immigrant employed by the Manhattan Sofitel hotel, attorneys Kenneth Thompson and Douglas Wigdor depict a scene of physical confrontation and forced oral sex characterized by more “sheer depravity,” to use their words, than previously described.
Strauss-Kahn will have at least 20 days to respond to the civil complaint from the time he is served with the papers. As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, that had not happened. He is due for a new hearing on the criminal charges on August 23.
If the rhetoric of Diallo’s attorneys could condemn, then Strauss-Kahn would be headed straight for perdition—or at least massive payments, whether settled before a jury or out of court. The burden of proof in a civil case is much lower than in a criminal case, which requires that guilt be established “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But the tenuousness of the criminal case against Strauss-Kahn (or DSK, as he’s widely known) stems from doubts about the plaintiff’s past and her history of lying on official documents, including a fictionalized claim of rape on her asylum application. How those will play in a civil court remains an open question, and Thompson and Wigdor have been fighting a high-profile battle to keep the criminal case engaged even as they prepared the civil suit.
After an exclusive interview with Diallo last month, Newsweek reporters were impressed by several aspects of her account, especially the way her fear of losing her job weighed on her mind in the frantic scene she described inside Strauss-Kahn’s luxury suite on May 14. Although physically taller and probably more physically fit than the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn, she said she was afraid of hurting him as they struggled, and finally submitted to his forcible demands for oral sex, apparently thinking that was her only way out of the confrontation.
But the complaint filed by Diallo’s attorneys on Monday makes no mention of such fears. Instead, it emphasizes physical coercion and alleged injuries during a “volent and sadistic attack.” Specifically it cites an injury to Diallo’s shoulder as well as “redness” on her vagina where Strauss-Kahn is alleged to have groped her, ripping her pantyhose and forcing her to her knees. Added to that are “false imprisonment” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” on Diallo through stories leaked to the press to the effect that she was a prostitute and a woman out to squeeze money from her alleged attacker.
Some passages in the complaint are perfect for a soapbox presentation:
“Ms. Diallo now brings this lawsuit to vindicate her rights, to assert her dignity as a woman, to hold Dominique Strauss-Kahn accountable for the violent and deplorable acts that he committed against her in Room 2806 [the luxury suite at the Sofitel], to teach her young [15-year-old] daughter that no man—regardless of how much money, power and influence he has—should ever be allowed to violate her body, and to stand up for all women who have been raped, sexually assaulted and/or abused throughout the world but who are too afraid to speak out.”
In several passages, the complaint ascribes motivations to Strauss-Kahn that may impress a jury, especially in the Bronx where Diallo lives, and which is famous for big jury awards in personal injury cases. But Strauss-Kahn's state of mind, as alleged in the complaint, will be hard or impossible to establish as fact. True enough: He was rich and powerful–a leading contender to be the next president of France. Not so clear: that he supposedly attacked Diallo “believing that he was immune from the laws of this country [the United States].” This is an apparent reference to some initial questions about diplomatic immunity he raised immediately after his arrest at Kennedy Airport, but did not pursue.
Indeed, in some respects the complaint’s depiction of Strauss-Kahn appears to be contradictory. It seems strange that a man who allegedly thinks he is above the law should also be “acting like a common criminal” who “had just committed a horrendous crime,” fleeing the Sofitel and jumping into a cab “before he could be detained by security.” Strauss-Kahn in fact headed to a lunch with his youngest daughter, Camille, before heading to the airport on a flight to Europe booked well in advance. The complaint alleges the lunch was merely to establish an alibi.
If the rhetoric of Diallo’s attorneys could condemn, then Strauss-Kahn would be headed straight for perdition—or at least massive payments, whether settled before a jury or out of court.
Diallo’s lawyers attack Strauss-Kahn not only for the alleged incident, but for the media circus that it has provoked, especially after Diallo’s decision to “stand up for her rights” in public by giving interviews to Newsweek & The Daily Beast and to ABC television. (The interviews were conducted at the Fifth Avenue offices of Thompson Wigdor LLP.) The complaint specifically cites what it says are erroneous reports in the New York Post, “a Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid,” to the effect that Diallo was at least a part-time prostitute and had turned tricks while in a hotel under the protective custody of the district attorney’s office. These were “no doubt instigated by Strauss-Kahn’s defense team,” the Diallo team alleges. DSK's lawyers have denied they were party to any such leaks.
The speed with which Diallo reported the incident, the evident emotion she showed in the immediate aftermath, and the consistency of her story as told to co-workers, security personnel, and the police, are what led to the speedy arrest of Strauss-Kahn just after he boarded an Air France flight for Paris.
An abundance of physical evidence—including DNA collected where Diallo said she spit out Strauss-Kahn’s semen—makes it clear that some sort of sexual encounter took place, and Strauss-Kahn has not denied that. His lawyers have suggested it was consensual. Interestingly, one woman who claims she was Strauss-Kahn’s lover in the late 1990s reportedly says she believes he may have done what the maid claims, but did not believe he had committed a crime.
Neither Strauss-Kahn nor his lawyers have offered their own version of events.
Although hotel key records and cellphone records show that whatever happened in Room 2806 of the Sofitel transpired in less than 20 minutes, and possibly in less than 10 minutes, the legal battles surrounding the incident are now set to continue for years to come.
Strauss-Kahn's lawyers, Bejnamin Brafman and William Taylor, said the lawsuit proved that Diallo and her legal team has a financial motive. "We have maintained from the beginning that the motivation of Mr. Thompson and his client was to make money. The filing of this lawsuit ends any doubt on that question. The civil suit has no merit and Mr.Strauss-Kahn will defend it vigorously," they said in a statement.