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February 4, 2015

CATHY YOUNG WRITES ABOUT THE COLUMBIA GUY ACCUSED OF RAPE WHO WAS CLEARED BY COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY AND BY THE POLICE.

Sulkowicz has said in interviews that she was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone about the rape, let alone report it; an account of her mattress protest by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith says that she “suffered in silence” in the aftermath of the assault. Yet Nungesser says that for weeks after that night, he and Sulkowicz maintained a cordial relationship, and says she seemingly never indicated that anything was amiss.

Nungesser provided The Daily Beast with Facebook messages with Sulkowicz from August, September, and October 2012. (In an email to The Daily Beast, Sulkowicz confirmed that these records were authentic and not redacted in any way; while she initially offered to provide “annotations” explaining the context on the messages, she then emailed again to say that she would not be sending them.) On Aug. 29, two days after the alleged rape, Nungesser messaged Sulkowicz on Facebook to say, “Small shindig in our room tonight—bring cool freshmen.” Her response:

lol yusss

Also I feel like we need to have some real time where we can talk about life and thingz

because we still haven’t really had a paul-emma chill sesh since summmmerrrr

On Sept. 9, on a morning before an ADP meeting, it was Sulkowicz who initiated the Facebook contact, asking Nungesser if he wanted to “hang out a little bit” before or after the meeting and concluding with:

whatever I want to see yoyououoyou

respond—I’ll get the message on ma phone

On Oct. 3, Sulkowicz’s birthday, Nungesser sent her an effusive greeting; she responded the next morning with, “I love you Paul. Where are you?!?!?!?!” Nungesser claims that these exchanges represent only a small portion of their friendly communications, which also included numerous text messages. But he also says that during those weeks, they were starting to drift apart; they saw each other at meetings and parties, but plans for one-on-one get-togethers always seemed to end in “missed connections.” Nungesser says that he assumed it was simply a matter of hanging out with a new crowd and, in Sulkowicz’s case, being in a new relationship. He says that “it was very amiable; nothing was changed or different or weird or anything in her behavior.”

Read the whole thing, as there’s much, much more. Of course, doing actual reporting makes Cathy Young some sort of antifeminist according to some, because you should never, ever doubt what a rape accuser says.

Meanwhile, Kathleen McWilliams writes:

Sulkowicz says “Normally I don’t respond to people who use my rapist as collateral in order to make me talk to them…It’s an awful feeling where this reporter is digging through my personal life. At this point I didn’t realize that she’s extremely anti-feminist and would do this in order to shame me.”

In my opinion, Daily Beast reporter Cathy Young did the right thing by contacting Sulkowicz and giving her the opportunity to refute Nungesser’s claims.

In any case, Sulkowicz is absolutely wrong to be upset with Young. Young is a reporter tasked with a difficult story and in today’s journalistic climate one cannot afford to make mistakes, let alone on the subject of sexual assault. As Rolling Stone’s in-depth article on UVA’s alleged sexual assault culture proves, when you report on campus assaults you need to cover every base, check every fact and get every account of what happened. Young was not holding Sulkowicz’s rapist collateral, nor was she shaming Sulkowicz. If Sulkowicz felt ashamed and uncomfortable with the situation she should have simply told Young as much instead of attacking the character of a journalist who approached her for her side of the story.

Young was journalistically responsible and other reporters should follow her lead. Just because sexual assault is difficult to talk about, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. More importantly, just because stories about sexual assault can be painful for victims, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t report responsibly on the subject.

Yeah, some responsible reporting would be nice. It would also be nice if New York’s Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand hadn’t joined the lynch mob, embracing Sulkowicz and calling Nungesser a “rapist” even after he was cleared by two different proceedings (one of which required only a preponderance of the evidence to convict).

As Susan Kruth notes at the Fire Blog, Public Presumption of Guilt Motivates Unfair Policies, Even as Details of Sexual Assault Allegations Come to Light.

In other words, it doesn’t really matter if an accused student is required to prove that he or she obtained consent for every step within a sexual encounter (a nearly impossible task), or if he or she was punished based on three out of five fact-finders’ conclusion that he’s simply more likely than not guilty. The policies that deprive accused students of a fair hearing are not generally of great concern to the public, in part because the public has already decided—frequently based solely on the accuser’s story—that the accused probably did it.

Maybe as the public learns more about cases like Nungesser’s, or that of John Doe at Occidental College, the problem with this uncritical acceptance of an allegation’s veracity will become more apparent. People are, of course, free to judge accused students without evidence or serious thought—but they should not push institutions of higher education, who are making life-altering determinations, to do the same.

See also this referenced piece by University of Chicago civil-liberties professor Geoffrey Stone:

The concern with campus sexual assault has begun to take on the characteristics of a panic in which government officials and school administrators have increasingly lost sight of other fundamental values that must shape the culture of institutions of higher learning. . . .

Women students fought long and hard to be treated by colleges and universities as individuals capable of making responsible decisions for themselves. The days of parietal hours are happily behind us. For the federal government — or for colleges and universities — to suggest that women students are incapable of making appropriate decisions or of expressing their minds clearly denies them equal dignity and reinforces all the wrong messages about the integrity, independence, and maturity of women. Colleges and universities should not treat their women students as if they are frail, helpless, and weak.

No, they shouldn’t. And Kirsten Gillibrand shouldn’t have joined a lynch mob.

Plus, Jim Treacher’s take: “Why are reporters digging into my personal life? Can’t they see I’m carrying a MATTRESS?”