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These Facebook messages were enough to convince the world he didn't rape her. They shouldn't have been.

If a man rapes you but you flirt with him on Facebook, did it really happen? Of course it did.

You might not know Emma Sulkowicz by name. It’s more likely you’ve heard her described as “That chick who’s carrying a mattress around her college campus because she was raped”.

The senior Columbia University student vowed to take her flimsy single bed everywhere until her alleged rapist — a former friend of hers called Paul Nungusser — is punished. He was found not-guilty of her attack by a university-adjudicated panel in September last year but Emma is one of 23 people who officially complained the case was mishandled.

She’s also one of three women who’ve specifically accused Paul Nungusser of rape.

The world had not heard his side of the story. Until today.

Emma Sulkowicz (front left) gets help carrying her mattress. Image via Getty.

Unsurprisingly, the young man wants to defend himself. He wants to clear his name and restore his reputation and to do that he must destroy Emma’s credibility.

Now, it’s worth noting here that Emma Sulkowicz has become somewhat of a celebrity. Her courageous decision to name, shame, and identify her alleged attacker has earned her support the world over. Sexual assault survivors applaud her, famous artists praise her work, and she recently attended the State of the Union address as a special guest.

Read more: Emma Sulkowicz started a revolution of honesty about sexual assault. 

Emma has the attention and support of millions of people. Unlike most survivors, she is highly visible and persistently vocal. So, unlike most women in her position, she should have been hard to discredit.

It should have been difficult for Paul to make the world doubt Emma’s word. But it hasn’t. All it took was a series of abrupt but affectionate Facebook messages. All it took was the revelation that Emma had feelings for Paul after the attack.

Emma Sulkowicz.

Paul published some screenshots of Facebook messages Emma sent him around the time he is said to have pinned her down and anally raped her. These are the ones that supposedly prove that Emma’s story is false. They were sent weeks after the attack took place in her dorm room:

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Emma Sulkowicz Tuesday, 21 August 2012 at 22 36 EDT

i want to snuggle with you

and talk about our summers

but not right now

i also love you

They’ve made headlines like this:

So, this is what we get from those messages: Emma wanted to see Paul after the attack. She had feelings for him. She told him she loved him. She possibly wanted to sleep with him again. She may even have wanted to be in a relationship with him. BUT none of that means she wasn’t raped. None of it.

Given that the alarming majority of rapists are known to their victims, Emma’s experience is common. Intimate violence is an epidemic, so I’d wager many assault survivors have feelings for their attackers. It’s part of why it’s so difficult to report someone you care about.

Anyone who doubts Emma’s story because of these messages fundamentally misunderstands what it’s like to be raped.

And how very lucky for them.

You might like: Domestic violence orders, AVOs, whatever you call it – here’s how to get one

Emma didn’t come forward with her account of the attack for several months, during which time may have experienced shame, guilt, confusion, anger, denial, fear, depression, sleeplessness, anxiety, numbness, pain, and insecurity. She may have blamed herself, even doubted herself. She may have tried to convince herself that it didn’t happen, that Paul loved her, that everything would be OK. Because that’s a more comfortable reality to live with, isn’t it? And that’s how the traumatised mind works.

It’s entirely possible that Emma loved her attacker. It’s probable, even.

But that has no relevance to his culpability at all.

Here she is, explaining how scared she was to know she could run into her attacker any day (post continues after video).

We live in a society that routinely disbelieves women who say they’ve been attacked — despite the fact that false rape allegations are so rare, the figures are negligible. We live in a society that does little to protect women from sexual violence, but will sink substantial time and money into blaming her when she does speak up.

Also relevant: If we talked about other crimes the way we talk about rape

Emma’s behaviour — the Facebook messages, the months it took her to report the attack — is completely normal. What makes this case revolutionary is Emma’s refusal to be silent. She forced the world to listen to her account of assault in a way we almost never do. She’s spent months demanding the attention millions of survivors never get. She’s changed the way we think about survival.

Let’s not make it quite so goddamn easy for a guy to undo all of that extraordinary work.

If you have experienced, or are at risk of domestic violence or sexual assault, you can receive help by calling 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732. If you are in immediate danger please call the police on 000.

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