[TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE, SEXUAL ASSAULT, RAPE CULTURE]
Thanks to a very brave piece written by another woman from Columbia University (Do Not Link used as the piece was published on Jezebel), I either learned or was reminded of the fact that Paul Nungesser has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault, and found guilty by the university at least once.
I phrase it that way because I feel like I must have at some point read somewhere that Paul Nungesser had multiple victims, but in the wake of Emma's graduation, which stirred up the whole controversy once again, I was tackling denialists and rape apologists without this knowledge in my mind.
When Emma's story came out, I couldn't really even read about it. I knew the basics, but because I never felt I had the strength to delve into it, I may very well have missed the fact that he'd been accused and found guilty of sexual assault before Emma, and was accused two more times, once by an ex-girlfriend.
Whether I'd missed it or simply forgot, it's clear that my brain was trying to protect me. What many people don't realize, because they know nothing about the human mind, is that the brain's #1 directive is survival. People know about fight or flight, but there's much more to it than that. Because the human brain has evolved to produce intense and complex emotions, it must also be able to protect us from those. Psychological pain is just as real and dangerous as physical pain, and in the same way that our brains tell us to run from bears and angry people with guns, it tells us to run away from potential psychological pain and trauma.
That's why I avoided reading about Emma's case. That's why I find myself frequently forgetting about key disturbing facts about cases like Emma's. My brain is just as invested as anyone else's in denying rape culture. It's too painful.
Honestly? I've doubted Emma. There have been plenty of moments where I thought "maybe people are right, maybe she did lie." Or "what if she is lying, that would hurt my position and credibility." Selfish, yeah, but the brain is that. I've even gone so far as to think that maybe the anti-feminists and so-called "egalitarians" are right, that I am too invested in believing victims, and that all my motivation to believe and defend Emma comes from a desire to be a victim myself, or to further reinforce feminist ideas because I don't want to ever challenge them.
Thank fuck for the feminist community, which works to spread the facts that inevitably tear me away from such comforting doubt. Paul Nungesser was not only accused by three other unrelated people (two women and one man) of sexual assault or rape, but was found guilty at least once. He only won the appeal because the victim who wrote the Jezebel piece was too exhausted to go on, so she withdrew from the case. She didn't withdraw her complaint. She just declined to testify against him when she'd already spent so much energy doing so and won before. Therefore, in the eyes of the campus "court," none of her evidence was permissible to the case and they had to find him not guilty.
It's easy to doubt one woman, to think that she was only doing this for "attention" (never mind that a huge amount of this attention has been negative and her name has been totally dragged through the mud), but four people? With one remaining anonymous to avoid what happened to Emma?
I'm a human being. I'd love to believe that rape culture doesn't exist, that the "one in four" statistic is wrong, that Emma wasn't assaulted, or the three other people. It would certainly be easier on me to believe all the women in my life who have told me about their assaults were liars rather than victims. Caring about people and knowing something so horrible has happened to them is hard. Caring about young girls and knowing that in all likelihood, something so horrible will happen to one in four of them is devastating.
My brain wants me to run, too. I fight against that instinct every day. It's only by believing and listening to victims that I keep myself honest and open to the truth. I believe Emma. I believe anonymous. I believe Paul Nungesser's other two victims. They need people to believe in them because the natural instinct is to not want to believe them, which is why so many people look for reasons not to. They focus on the text messages from Emma that seem to "prove" that she wanted it while leaving out the fact that he's been accused by three other women. One who clearly does not want any "attention."
The only way to end rape culture and protect countless other women, non-binary people and men from sexual assault is to face the truth in spite of the pain. We need to be strong because the victims have already suffered enough. Anonymous shouldn't have to be giving interviews and writing another piece for Jezebel when she's already been assaulted. We need to find the strength to fight for her, Emma, and all the other victims. Or if you can't fight, at least don't give in to the protective denial and spread rape culture narratives that leave out essential facts.