Cathy Young on Flawed Narratives, Perfect Victims, and the Columbia Rape Allegations



In recent months, Emma Sulkowicz (pictured), the Columbia University senior who carries her mattress around campus as a protest against the university's non-expulsion of her alleged rapist (and an art project for her senior thesis) has been hailed as a heroine in the battle against campus sexual assault. Last week, The Daily Beast published Cathy Young's article about the case—based mainly on interviews with the alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, and materials he provided—which raises serious questions about the pro-Sulkowicz narrative, partly because of her friendly behavior toward Nungesser for weeks after the alleged rape.

The response from the rape-culture feminist camp has been to argue that there's no "right" way to deal with sexual assault, generating a #TheresNoPerfectVictim Twitter hashtag. But it's a straw (wo)man argument. Yes, of course victims deal with trauma in different, often startling ways. However, "no perfect victim" doesn't mean that anything an alleged rape victim says or does, no matter how it defies common sense, reason and human experience, must be rationalized as "that's what some victims do!" in deference to the commandment, "Believe the survivor.