Matt Lauer denied the new rape allegation in a letter from his lawyer to Variety. His former NBC colleagues called the allegation “painful.”
Former NBC News employee Brooke Nevils reported to NBC in 2017 that Matt Lauer raped her during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, according to new details published in a forthcoming book by Ronan Farrow. (Nevils, who had previously been anonymous, filed a complaint that led to Lauer’s firing from the “Today” show nearly two years ago, though the public only knew then that he had been terminated over “inappropriate sexual behavior.”) Lauer, on Wednesday, denied the rape accusation as “categorically false.”
That Nevils waited years to report the alleged incident and go public is unsurprising, sexual violence experts say.
Only about one in four survivors report being abused and, of those who do, delayed reporting is “definitely the norm,” said Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Rape is the most under-reported crime: 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals, according to RAINN.
“No matter how old you are or what the context is, it can be incredibly difficult to make a report of sexual assault,” said Emily Martin, the vice president for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center.
Helplessness, terror and shame
The reasons for not disclosing are myriad, ranging from the fear of not being believed to not wanting to have to relive the assault to not wanting the assault to become their identity. There is also the fear of retaliation if the abuser is in a position of power.
When someone is physically attacked or experiences other kinds of trauma, they may feel helplessness, terror and other extreme, negative emotions. However, it’s likely they will be able to get support from others and unlikely they’ll need to keep it a secret. But when the trauma is sexual, it violates the most intimate parts of a person’s body and psyche. Added to the feeling of helplessness is humiliation with a long and strong cultural history, creating a complex, potent cocktail of shame.
Beverly Engel, a psychotherapist who’s worked with sexual assault victims for almost 40 years, notes that not reporting an assault is more common than reporting it – and shame is a big reason why.
“People who are full of shame don’t have the self-confidence to report,” she said. “They have a very strong belief it was their fault already and then they have a belief they’re going to be blamed.”
Harassed or assaulted at work: Here’s what steps you can take
June Tangney, a clinical psychology professor at George Mason University, agrees that reporting, even outside of law enforcement, can seem like “a no-win situation.”
“It feels like such a terrible, terrible risk to tell someone, because a lot of bad things could happen. There’s the feeling that they will now see you as spoiled or dirty or damaged in some way,” Tangney said. “Are they going to see me as a different person? Are they going to believe me? Being invalidated in that way is very harmful.”
People have a hard time believing ‘good guys’ rape
Sexual predators don’t have a scarlet S on their foreheads. They don’t dress in trench coats. Most, in fact, appear to be nice, normal people – making it that much harder for anyone to believe they’re capable of such heinous acts.
“People who carry out sexual assault are skilled at manipulation, not just the victim but people around them. Appearing kind and friendly,” said Kristen Houser of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
Before his firing, Lauer had become one of the most recognizable faces in morning television. But as Variety reported in 2017, “work and sex were intertwined” for Lauer, who developed a pattern of inviting women late at night to his hotel room while covering the Olympics over the years, and to his secluded office within 30 Rockefeller Center.
“They’re great at presenting a public persona much of the time that does not add up to what we think someone capable of sexual assault looks like,” Houser said.
For their victims, yet another reason for silence.
“The victim is often left really confused because they’ve now seen two sides of a person that don’t add up,” Houser said. “They’re much more familiar with the manipulation side, the side that looks nice and trustworthy.”
So survivors often question themselves, Houser said, wondering whether the abuse really happened or if they did something to provoke it. Some will remain in contact with the abuser, even stay friends with him or her, hoping the “normalcy” will protect them from a future assault.
“People often don’t want someone to do time in jail. They just want them to never do that to them again,” Houser said. “And they don’t want them to do it to someone else.”
Confidants have a lot of power and responsibility to help survivors release shame, therapist David Bedrick says.
“I think when someone gets shamed by … gas-lighting, they need the opposite. Someone who doesn’t deny it. ‘I believe you’ is really important. ‘I want to know the details,’ that’s really important,” Bedrick said. “When someone takes interest in the details not to figure out why you screwed up but because they want to know, [the victim] feels like they see them. And having a feeling response.”
Though not for everyone, speaking out about the experience upends the shame for many women.
“I want to thank the many survivors who shared their stories with me today and offered their support,” Nevils tweeted Wednesday. “It takes courage, and I am truly grateful.”
Contributing: Alia Dastagir.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/10/matt-lauer-accused-rape-why-brooke-nevils-waited-go-public/3929152002/