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N.Y. community groups, activists unite to support Strauss-Kahn accuser

From Susan Candiotti, CNN National Correspondent
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Strauss-Kahn case prompts legal fallout?
  • Community groups and activists urge the district attorney to continue the case
  • French financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty
  • He is charged with sexual abuse and attempted rape of a hotel maid
  • Supporters say the maid deserves her day in court, despite credibility issues

New York (CNN) -- Despite admitted lies about her past and before the grand jury, the maid at the center of the sex assault case against French financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn is getting support from at least a dozen New York City community groups, activists and religious leaders.

At a news conference Sunday in Harlem, they urged the Manhattan district attorney's office to press on with its indictment against the former head of the International Monetary Fund.

The activists call the maid's credibility issues "rumors" and insist that the woman -- a 32-year-old single mother and native of Guinea granted asylum in the United States -- deserves her day in court.

"Rumors about this woman's past that have nothing to do with the case and even if they were true should not prevent her case from being heard," said New York state Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem.

Virginia Montague, who leads the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women, called the unidentified maid "courageous" for coming forward to file charges against Strauss-Kahn.

"We're talking about the face of women (who) have been victimized, too often judged by the media and public on rumors and innuendos ... and not about facts that will ultimately be determined in a court of law," said Montague.

Prosecutors and police repeatedly said the maid gave a credible account of how the 62-year-old Strauss-Kahn allegedly sexually attacked her. Authorities say there is forensic evidence of a sexual encounter.

Strauss-Kahn has pleaded not guilty. After a meeting with prosecutors last week, his attorneys insist he "will not plead guilty to anything." He remains free on his own recognizance until his next scheduled court date July 18.

On June 30, prosecutors told a judge they discovered several credibility issues about the woman's past. Among many difficulties, they said she admitted lying to them and a grand jury on a political asylum claim that she was gangraped in Guinea.

Authorities also are examining phone records and a recorded phone call the maid received a day after the attack from a boyfriend in jail in Arizona, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

The woman is paraphrased as saying "she's fine and this person is rich and there's money to be made," the source said.

On Sunday, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Cyrus Vance said the investigation isn't over, and the spokeswoman added that Vance won't decide until the investigation is complete whether to dismiss the case.

Many legal experts have said the maid's credibility issues are virtually insurmountable.

The woman's civil attorney, Kenneth Thompson, says she's made mistakes, but that it doesn't change the alleged sexual assault.

Salamishah Tillet, who wrote a book about surviving rape and founded the nonprofit A Long Walk Home, which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against girls and women, said it should be up to a jury to decide what happened in the hotel room despite the maid's credibility issues about her background.

"They may be troubling but it doesn't mean that something horrific didn't happen in that hotel room -- and until we have evidence otherwise, I think we should continue. (The case) shouldn't be dropped."

Regardless of whether the district attorney moves ahead with the case or dismisses it, Tillet worries about potential fallout on future rape victims, especially those in lower socioeconomic groups.

"Women of color, immigrant, working-class women -- they're the most vulnerable populations. They're disproportionately victims of sexual assault. (There are) very few resources for them to come forward and share their story," Tillet said.

In an interview with CNN, rape victim Natasha Alexenko recalled testifying in a 2008 trial in which her attacker was convicted and sentenced to up to 50 years. She founded a victims' advocate program called Natasha's Justice Project.

She is not taking sides in the Strauss-Kahn case, but she said she has confidence that the Manhattan district attorney's office, which prosecuted her case, will make "the right decision."

"I was fortunate to have my day in court, and I would like to see this go to court. If there's not enough evidence, if it's not going to work out, the DA's office will do the right thing." Alexenko added.

CNN's Christina Romano contributed to this report.