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Good News About the Maid and the Powerful Man

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This is not just a case of he said, she said.

This is a scenario better suited to the movies: the powerful man and the hotel maid. She enters his high-priced suite, thinking it's unoccupied, and before she learns better, he emerges from a room naked and tries to rape her. When she attempts to flee, he drags her to another room, and forces her to give him oral sex.

She flees again to tell her superiors what's happened -- and he splits too, this time with clothes on but in such a hurry that he leaves his cell phone in the suite, to his first-class seat on a flight out of the country. Moments before the plane takes off, the police nab him and treat him, it seems, like any other man accused of a violent crime.

Hours later, the news has gone viral. His wife insists on his innocence. His country-people, known for their sexual tolerance and open secret affairs, are mortified by the alleged violence, the alleged non-consensual sexual encounter -- and the man's political career is in shambles. The breezy can-do narrative of his privileged life is blown to bits. And the political landscape, in which he was expected to prevail, is desperately seeking a new hero.

In real life, these alleged events took place at a hotel near Times Square, but beyond the allegations of sexual assault, there is no question about the facts: the abandoned cell phone, the last-minute apprehension at JFK, the police line-up and news that the powerful man spent Sunday at the Special Victims Unit of a police department in Harlem, a long way from his first-class seat out of town. His photo is everywhere, in handcuffs, amidst a cluster of dour-faced detectives and then in the courtroom.

There is no good news in any of this for the players, from the alleged victim, described as a 32-year-old African immigrant, to the powerful man's wife and family. His colleagues and political allies will recover more easily than his relatives. Only his political opponents may be discreetly celebrating.

But the rest of us have matters more lasting to celebrate: that the 32-year-old African immigrant who cleans hotel rooms for a living -- or a pittance of a living -- spoke up instead of suffering in silence, as so many rape victims do, and that her complaint was taken seriously by her employers and by the police. Her employers, apparently, did not attempt to brush this under the hotel rug, and the police did not, apparently, dawdle in their efforts to apprehend the man. No one looked the other way in deference to his power and her lack of same.

An article in the New York Times brings word from another maid at the hotel that those in charge "asked other hotel employees not to question the woman about what happened." Said the maid, "The office said, 'Don't ask too much because she is sad... Just give her a hug when she comes back."'

The case will no doubt be front-page news for weeks, possibly longer, but today, this should be front-page news: that the word of a young woman with no money and no political power was taken seriously in her allegation of a sexual assault by one of the most influential men in the world.

No one in this story will live happily ever after, but this is a kind of fairy tale ending to a sad tale of alleged violence and cruelty. And what are we to make of the fact that the alleged perpetrator had only minutes in which to plan his crime, since the maid's presence was unexpected? The powerful man is known in his country as "the Great Seducer," but this was not much of a seduction. Alas, it's the sort of alleged behavior that powerful men are used to getting away with.

Elizabeth Benedict's most recent books are the novel The Practice of Deceit and the anthology, which she edited, Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives.