Paul Nungesser, the German exchange student at the center of a major campus-rape scandal in the United States (the woman who accused him of rape was invited by a US Senator to Obama's State of the Union address!) has decided to come out and publicly fight for his reputation, and his parents — from Germany — are supporting him:
“What really struck us as outrageously unfair,” says Nungesser’s father, Andreas Probosch, a schoolteacher who speaks near-perfect English, “was the university’s non-reaction to Emma Sulkowicz's public campaign. After investigating the allegations against Paul for seven months they found them not credible, but when Ms. Sulkowicz went to the press and claimed Columbia had swept everything under the rug, why didn’t they stand by his side and say, ‘We do have a process and we followed that process and we stand by the acquittal’? Instead they declined to comment and just threw him under the bus.”
Both Probosch and Nungesser express bafflement at the practice of letting colleges handle allegations of violent rape. But if such a process must exist, says Probosch, “doesn’t [it] only make sense if people accept its outcome?” In this case, he says, “Paul went through this whole process with endless hours of hearings and interviews and cooperated in every way possible. And yet if you Google him, in half of the articles you´ll find, he is still labeled a serial rapist.”
For Nungesser’s mother, Karin, the situation is laden with additional irony as a self-described committed feminist. Paul Nungesser’s comment to The New York Times, “My mother raised me to be a feminist,” caused predictable controversy; but his mother, at least, agrees. She points out that she and her husband took an equal role in parenting and that gender issues, which were part of her journalistic work, were often discussed in their home when her son was growing up: “I think we did not just tell him that men and women are created equal, but we lived it.”
Karin Nungesser fully understands the desire to support someone who comes forward with an accusation of rape: “This is a good cause—but even in a good cause, you have to try to check the facts.” What she views as the failure to check the facts in this case appalls her not only as a feminist but as a journalist. “We can’t understand to this day why the major media never asked Paul about his side,” she says. “Going back to our own history, the media in western Germany were built upon the model of The New York Times. It was the idea of good journalism, of good fact-checking, of not doing propaganda.”
You know, I can't give legal advice and this is not legal advice, but even under American libel law, which is much less restrictive than its German counterpart, you are not allowed to go around referring to an identifiable person as a 'rapist' unless they are, you know, a rapist. No legal system worthy of the name permits citizens to falsely accuse each other of serious violent crimes. This is defamation. Nungesser was cleared of all charges by the university and Sulkowicz declined to press criminal charges against him because it was 'too draining'. So at least since December, when his name became public, she should think very very carefully about continuing to refer to him in public as a 'rapist', assuming she is still doing so. And Nungesser and his parents should consult a lawyer.