#TheresNoPerfectVictim

Last week, most of my Twitter network (over 200 followers now!) were talking about the hashtag #TheresNoPerfectVictim. It was started in response to a piece written by Cathy Young of the Daily Beast which portrayed Paul Nungesser (the Columbia University student who raped Emma Sulkowicz and assaulted at least two other students) as the real victim. Emma has been celebrated for her activism – she carries her mattress around on campus in protest against the university’s decision not to expel Nungesser. While Emma made headlines, her rapist tried to stay under the radar – until recently.

Paul Nungesser was cleared of a rape charge but faced a harsh trial-by-media. Now, as new details come to light, he’s speaking out and fighting back.

Cathy Young’s story checks all the boxes for a typical victim blaming approach.

This story…is dramatically at odds with the prevailing media narrative. On one point, however, Nungesser and his supporters agree with the pro-Sulkowicz camp: A grave injustice has been done.

The author points out that “Sulkowicz has said in interviews that she was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone about the rape, let alone report it…” And then she publishes text messages meant to demonstrate that “he and Sulkowicz maintained a cordial relationship.” Here, she’s implying that one can’t be ashamed and cordial at the same time.

Later in the article she (or an editor, maybe?) mentions:

(To be sure, many rape victims’ advocates would argue that women traumatized by sexual violence, especially by someone they trusted and cared about, may deal with trauma in ways that don’t make sense to an observer.)

So I started to have a little hope…but not for long. Right after that she goes on to say that of the other two complaints against Nungesser, “Actually, only one of the charges against Nungesser was a clear allegation of rape. What’s more, there are indications that the accusations may not have been completely independent of each other.” Here, she’s implying that sexual assault is somehow acceptable if it isn’t (to paraphrase some Republicans) an ‘honest rape’ then it shouldn’t count. She also implies that because there were three women who came forward, they were somehow LESS likely to be telling the truth.

So far, she’s been relatively subtle compared to many of her comrades in promoting rape culture. But then she throws any shred of grace out the window and goes straight for it:

Natalie was apparently wrestling from her own personal issues: The Bwog article mentions that she “was suffering from serious depression before meeting [Nungesser] and had recently ended an emotionally abusive relationship.”

Ah yes, there it is. Blaming the victim and stigmatizing mental illness at the same time. Classic.

It is likely that some facts in this case will never be known. Nungesser’s feminist upbringing does not make him incapable of sexual assault, and his former girlfriend’s reported psychological problems prior to their relationship do not mean that he did not abuse her. The reported interaction between Nungesser’s alleged victims does not necessarily prove that they unduly influenced each other’s stories.

Yet this case is far from as clear-cut as much of the media coverage has made it out to be. And if Nungesser is not a sexual predator, he could be seen as a true victim: a man who has been treated as guilty even after he has proved his innocence.

It’s easy to see why this article sparked an outrage amongst, well, any decent person. The hashtag #TheresNoPerfectVictim was started and throughout the day there was a lively discussion on why and how we need to support victims and not place expectations for them on how to respond, how to act.

I suppose I acted in a lot of ‘wrong’ ways after my rapes…I didn’t call the police right away, I didn’t get a rape kit, I didn’t file a report, I didn’t tell my teachers or University. In none of the cases did I call out for help…and I (thankfully) don’t remember all of the details.

I started writing this post last Wednesday – the day the hashtag #TheresNoPerfectVictim was trending. That was almost a week ago. My intention was that, at this point in the post, I’d list the top 10 (of many more) reasons why I didn’t report.

And now I realize I’m not ready. Like so many survivors, there is more to the story that you don’t know – that you may never know. Fifteen years later, I’m not even ready to tell you why I didn’t report.

Here are a few 140-characters-or-less snippets from Twitter. Somehow, sending these out into the great unknown of the internet was possible for me last week because I was virtually surrounded by others who ‘get it’. Someday, I’ll start to post the rest of the story here – when I’m ready.

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And a few other related thoughts:

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Author

Lauren

Lauren

Lauren Reid is the founder of When You're Ready.org, a three time survivor of rape who built this community to let other survivors of sexual violence know that they're not alone. When you're ready, I'll be here.

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