On the Day of Atonement, the holiest of Jewish High Holy Days, Matt Lauer gravely sinned. Not only did he apparently once rape a young colleague, causing her to bleed for days, he now has penned an open letter that takes victim-shaming to a depth I have never seen before.
I worked with Matt for nearly a decade. It was well-known in the media industry that he was a philanderer, but what many of us did not know was that he was also, apparently, a sexual predator. The time has come for some radical truth-telling.
I know Lauer’s victim well, and for a long time I have known her excruciating account of being forced into painful anal sex with him. When he reportedly forced himself on her at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, she was, relatively speaking, a kid. While technically an adult, she was no match for his advanced years and extraordinary power at the network. What he did to her was profoundly confusing and traumatizing to her, and afterward she behaved in ways that some may find confusing. It is worth remembering that many child sex abusers enlist their victims into ongoing contact through psychological manipulation. In my view, Matt employed a similar dynamic.
Now to Matt’s howling screed. It’s helpful to begin with an academic term originated at the University of Oregon by Prof. Jennifer Freyd and colleagues, called DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender). This is a common tactic used by accused sex offenders, and Matt’s letter is straight out of the DARVO playbook.
First, he denies, claiming repeatedly that it was instead a consensual sexual encounter. Then he goes on the attack, embroidering his screed with lurid, graphic details intended to slut-shame Brooke Nevils. Rather than admit that he had bought his junior colleague repeated rounds of drinks until she was too stumbling drunk to fight him off, he tries to undermine her credibility by trying to portray her as a libertine who eagerly engaged in varied sex acts.
Nevils finally found the courage to give her account to NBC executives in November 2017, quickly leading to Lauer’s termination. But now Matt invents a conspiracy theory that “within a year she was trying to sell a book. And it appears that she also sought a monetary payment from NBC. Now she is… stepping into the spotlight to cause as much damage as she can.” He wants us to blame the victim and believe she is nothing more than a vengeful, jilted lover seeking money and fame. He attempts a jiu-jitsu, insinuating that he is the real victim of this scandal, rather than the perpetrator.
I want to state emphatically for the record: Women do not step forward to expose a predator for wealth and notoriety. That’s laughable. The pain, exhaustion, and sleepless nights are already so great, no one wants to add to their shame by being in the press. The only reason I have seen women trepidatiously speak out is because, at long last, they want accountability for what was done to them and they want to protect other women from the same humiliation. This is the only reason why I exposed Tom Brokaw for sexual harassment, and it’s my conviction that it’s the only reason why Brooke Nevils reported Matt Lauer.
Near the end of Matt’s screed, he sinks to even greater depths by inviting other people who know Nevils to publicly tarnish her, suggesting that “what they can share is a vital truth, even if it may seem unpopular.” And then, in his final paragraph, he levels what is clearly a menacing threat to “the women with whom I had extramarital relationships”: “I will no longer provide them the shelter of my silence.” The contention that Matt has been sheltering any of his alleged victims is gobsmacking, but to go further and warn publicly that he will slut-shame them must be answered with loud and swift condemnation.
Matt may pretend with this bizarre letter that all he desires is to “set the record straight,” but those of us who have survived sexual harassment and assault know better. I believe his words are intended to harm and silence women. They are the rantings of a self-absorbed coward who has yet to take true responsibility for what he has done.