ROME — It is increasingly difficult to report the details of the death of American Ashley Olsen without sliding into the dangerous territory of victim-blaming.
The 35-year-old Florida native was found dead on Jan. 8 in her studio apartment in Florence, Italy, purportedly at the hands of a man she met at a nightclub and brought to her home. The two had consensual sex, the prosecutor said Thursday, and they “weren’t exactly lucid.”
Her funeral was held in Florence on Friday afternoon at Santo Spirito church, where she was often seen sitting on the steps with her dog.
Yet as the gory details of Olsen’s senseless death emerge, the local press in Italy have started slut-shaming her corpse, implying that she was as much to blame for her death. Headlines about “cocaine-fueled sex” and Olsen’s “habits of the night” and “preference for Africans” have replaced those about what a nice, sweet person she was. And the photos of her sitting with her beloved beagle, Scout, have been replaced by those with her in lacy black dresses.
Let’s be clear: She may have made a series of seriously questionable decisions the night before she died, but even if she did consent to sex, as the prosecutor believes, she does not deserve this slut-shaming and certainly did not deserve to die.
Authorities have said Olsen’s official cause of death was strangulation with something “other than bare hands.” She also suffered two cranial fractures that the prosecutor suggested were serious enough to kill her. A 27-year-old Senegalese man named Cheik Diaw, who is an undocumented immigrant in Italy, was picked up as the prime suspect after the two had been seen together on surveillance footage leaving the members-only Montecarla nightclub early last Friday morning. Investigators say DNA tests confirmed his presence in her apartment from a condom and a cigarette butt found at the scene. When announcing the arrest Thursday, lead prosecutor Giuseppe Creazzo said the pair hooked up at a nightclub and she had invited him home. “There was no sexual aggression,” he said. “The sex was consensual.” Diaw has not been charged with a crime.
Diaw’s lawyer, Antonio Voce, told The Daily Beast that the two also drank and did cocaine during their encounter. Toxicology reports from Olsen’s autopsy are not yet available.
Because Olsen is dead, Diaw’s version of events is the only one we have. His lawyer says that after the two had sex, Olsen told him to go away out of fear her boyfriend would return. “He was offended,” Voce says.
Florence’s La Nazione newspaper, citing a transcript from Diaw’s initial interrogation that has apparently been leaked, reported that Diaw said they snorted cocaine that Olsen “had in her house.”
Those press reports indicate he says he left her apartment to buy cigarettes and then returned and the two had consensual sex. After that, Diaw reportedly told authorities, Olsen demanded that he leave. “She treated me like a dog. She pushed me and hit my side,” he told investigators, according to the leaked transcript. “I pushed her back and hit her in the neck.”
The two then apparently pushed each other around, with Diaw admitting to pushing her hard onto the tile floor, where she hit her head, according to the transcripts. He then lifted her by the neck up to her bed on a mezzanine loft in the studio apartment and left. Voce maintains that his client “had no intention to kill her or hurt her.” He says Diaw told him Olsen was alive when he left the apartment with her cellphone, which he was using at the time of his arrest after replacing her SIM card with his.
Even if the prosecutor’s theory results in a guilty verdict against Diaw, no one will ever know what truly transpired between the pair because Olsen took her version of events to the grave. That’s why victim-shaming her, even if we don’t agree with the behavior, isn’t fair—because she will never get the chance to speak for herself. Making a blanket statement that Olsen consented, based on one-dimensional forensic evidence, silences the victim.
One might wonder what Olsen might say in court if she had survived. What was she doing with Diaw? Who can possibly say? Did she really want to die? Most certainly not.