NEW YORK – In a quiet, breaking voice, the hotel maid who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault said Thursday that she has started speaking publicly because she needs to be strong for her teenage daughter — and for women around the world.
Nafissatou Diallo, visibly nervous and her hands fidgeting, told a throng of reporters that she wanted to "let people know a lot of things they say about me is not true." She spoke at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn amid a score of supporters from the church and around the city.
"My daughter is crying but one day, she goes, 'Mom, please promise me you're gonna stop crying,'" the Guinean immigrant said in accented English.
"People call you bad names. People tell bad things about you because they don't know you. You have to remember this guy, he is a powerful man, everybody knows that. But for you, only the people that you work with, or our neighbors, or the people back home, knows you."
Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted rape and other crimes. He was freed from house arrest after prosecutors admitted publicly that they had uncovered information that cast doubt on Diallo's credibility.
The 62-year-old former head of the International Monetary Fund has not spoken publicly — save for a letter of resignation he wrote to the powerful money institution on May 18. "I want to say that I deny with the greatest possible firmness all of the allegations that have been made against me," he wrote.
His attorneys say the case should be dropped, and they have decried the maid's going public.
Diallo broke her silence in recent interviews with ABC and Newsweek, but Thursday's event was the first time she spoke to an uncontrolled crowd of media.
The news conference, billed as a way for Diallo to thank her supporters, was nearly derailed when she left after her brief speech. Photographers and TV cameras chased her out the door, tripping over cords and each other, while Dr. Mohammed Nurhussein, chairman of the United African Congress Inc., tried to speak.
It's nearly unheard of for an alleged sex assault victim to speak publicly before the end of court proceedings, and it's not clear whether Diallo's decision to come forward affected her already-tenuous relationship with the prosecutors investigating her case.
She said she felt she needed to come forward because people were saying things that were untrue about her — including articles published claiming she was money-grubbing and a prostitute. Her lawyer has filed a libel suit against the New York Post for reporting the claims of prostitution; the paper stands by its reporting.
But she also said that she made a promise to her daughter she needs to keep.
"I told her, 'I promise I'm going to be strong for you and for every other woman in the world,'" she said. "What happened to me, I don't want it to happen to any other woman, because this is just too much for me. It's too much for me and my daughter."
She also thanked her supporters. Her attorney, Ken Thompson, said he has received a slew of letters and emails supporting her.
The Rev. A. R. Bernard, senior pastor of the cultural center where the news conference was held, said he was proud to stand with her.
"It is unfortunate that we live in a world where too often justice is held captive by falsehood, and that falsehood when proclaimed is too readily accepted by our society," he said. "Such is the case for Nafi Diallo, who had no recourse but to seek an alternate platform where she could tell the truth."
Thompson said they were still planning to file a civil suit but he did not give a time frame, and said he was not clear what the prosecutors would do.
The Manhattan district attorney's office has not commented about its plans since the last court hearing where Strauss-Kahn was freed. (He is still not allowed to leave the country.)
The next court date was postponed again until Aug. 23.
On Wednesday, Diallo and her attorney met with prosecutors for nearly eight hours, their first sit-down since the district attorney's office announced it had doubts about her credibility because she had lied about what she did in the moments after her encounter with Strauss-Kahn and about her background, including by telling prosecutors a false story of having been gang-raped in her native Guinea. She says now she was raped, but just not in the manner she described on her application.
Prosecutors also were concerned that the woman had mentioned Strauss-Kahn's wealth in a recorded conversation with an incarcerated friend, and that she had little explanation for tens of thousands of dollars other people had deposited in her bank account, a law enforcement official has said.
Thompson said they listened to the recordings during Wednesday's meeting with prosecutors, using a translator for the native Guinean dialect. He said the tapes established that Diallo recounted the attack to the man during their first conversation, a day after the alleged attack, Thompson said. Her lawyer said that showed that her focus was on what had happened to her, not on the former French presidential candidate's wealth or stature.
During her brief statement Thursday, Diallo started to question why the encounter happened to her, but she trailed off and stopped talking.
"It is too much," she said.
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