Friend Request

Friday, February 03, 2012


Not long ago, writer Emily McCombs received a friend request from a man who had raped her in her adolescence. She talks to Brooke about how you handle that particular social networking quandary, and about how the interaction was ultimately a surprisingly positive one for her.

Sigur Rós - Flugufrelsarinn (performed by Kronos Quartet)

Comments [37]


I admire Emily's strength to talk about what happened to her in her past and how it did surpirse her by turning into something postitive, or perhaps closure. I could never be as strong as Emily, to even discuss or come to terms seeing him on my friend request list. Facebook's way of bring your past to your present will continue to happen. Thankfully it is up to you to 'accept' or 'decline' that past to now be a part of your present.

Feb. 16 2012 05:31 PM
Sarah from Michigan

I am very impressed in Emily's strength to accept him and respond to him. Facebook really does have a way to bring people from your past to your present, whether you like it or not. His motives in contacting her must have come from some kind of guilt, maybe just wanting to see if it was evident that the situation still played a part in her life. I think her going through with talking to him was a helpful way for her to move on, which would never have happened without the Facebook world. It is truly a bittersweet thing.

Feb. 15 2012 11:37 PM
Robin from Ulster Park, NY

Under all of the content this is about forgiveness. A forgiveness that reckons us all equal and in need of each other. I can see and understand being offended or hurt or angry. Being and expressing these feelings is a projection onto that which you perceive is outside of you and as a result you feel all of those feelings inside yourselves more profoundly. I love the idea of all of us forgiving not in the belief that it betters us but that it frees us and them from the guilt and fear we believe to be real.

Feb. 13 2012 10:17 AM
rhiana from ny

I am very disturbed. I thought I was listening to a story about facebook not about a rape victim! Why would you give us that much information and no more? Why did you bring us into that warehouse and tell us about the dog chain and handcuffs? It'd be one thing if it was a complete story, about a tragic rape. but instead it was a story about facebook and how it got a rape victim in touch with her rapist so that she could find out that he's a good guy who did a bad thing- oh and he he likes to watch scrubs. Bad rapist dont watch scrubs? What the hell kind of message are you sending to young women and men? It's okay to rape people as long as you friend them years later on facebook and let them know that you're a good guy??? I am so grossed out that that story made it on air without being edited more thoughtfully. I hope to hear an explaination and apology on the next show.

Feb. 09 2012 11:35 PM

As a fellow victim of rape, I applaud Emily on her strength and her ability to forgive her rapist. Forgiveness is for the victim, not the rapist. By forgiving anyone who has hurt you, you free yourself from the trauma and emotional significance of what happened. You free yourself and can move on. The same goes for gratitude. By having gratitude for even the worst experiences, you can learn and grow and move past them. Otherwise, they will have a hold on you for the rest of your life.

I was 16 when I was raped, and I did go to the police. And the justice system did not work in my favor. My attacker was the son of a prominent businessman in my town, and he silenced the district attorney. Even if my attacker had been convicted, I don't think justice would have given me peace. Victims have to make peace with themselves. The justice system can't do that for them. And while I understand people's concern about rapists going unprosecuted and walking among us, please understand that rape is a deeply traumatic and psychological experience that can take decades to get over. It's not like reporting a stolen car. Emily's willingness to share her story gives strength to those victims who have not yet found their voices. Thank you for sharing your journey, Emily. I wish you all the best.

Feb. 09 2012 01:42 PM

@cmih and @RC from New England

I could not agree more. I am thankful that Emily was so brave and candid in her story, but the tone of it left me feeling empty. This was still an act of a monster, regardless of what this man has accomplished later in life (like raising a family with young children), or whether or not he has moved on to become a better person. At the end of the day, I am glad that Emily has been able to move forward. Still, why does it seem like there is a complete lack of reprehension and punishment for this horrible act?

Feb. 09 2012 01:36 PM
AH from Reality.

Emily is the face of many rape victims out there. The fact that people shame victims by accusing them of lying or handling their rape incorrectly is the kind of thing that keeps them silent and leaves us all wildly misinformed about rape.
Emily is a pioneer and the day people can speak about rape as openly as she does will be stepping stone for all of us.

Feb. 08 2012 11:03 AM

Assault survivors very commonly go into a state of shock after the fact, questioning their own experiences: did this really happen? was it really as bad as I think it was? why am I not feeling anything right now? I can understand how just hearing the rapist verify that this happened was a relief in and of itself.

Emily, you are so brave and this is a selfless path to choose for dealing with your experience, so that other women and men can learn that rape is not always with a bogeyman lurking in your closet, but can happen with someone you know, with the shopkeeper you thought was so nice, etc...

Feb. 08 2012 09:26 AM
Ava from Baltimore

Your piece left me disturbed. I listened to a women victimized not once, but three times. First by the unspeakable violence she suffered at 14 and the long aftermath such trauma leaves. That one is as obvious as it is tragic. It is the second and third victimizations that I would like to address here. She has been victimized by the social stereotyping of rapist. We raise our daughters to see rapist as the “other”. We like to portray them as openly hostile, crude, aggressive, bullies, as losers with little education, frightening monsters that grab us in alleys exhaling whiskey and obscenities with every breath. This makes our daughters sitting ducks. They look for the boogey man when they have to walk to their cars at night, but they never guard against the lawyer down the street, the family man next door, the clean cut guy at the dry cleaners, or the guy in the three piece suit. We give them a pass, when they are the most likely offenders because they are our neighbors. Rapists tend to prey mostly on their own social class and in their own neighborhoods. Her rapist is a guy with daughters and a wife, probably a job and house, a computer and looks like a normal guy. In a bargain that probably buys her peace, she chooses to see this as evidence that he is not a monster. Any human being who can look into the face of a child who is terrified, crying, in pain and probably sick with revulsion and fear and rape her is a monster. Full stop. People can change, but the fact that he did this and does not see it as wrong, and can even justify his actions by saying he thought a terrified child in obvious pain “Was into it” argues that he has not changed, not reformed and never will do so. How many other crying children did he see as “into it” or “asking for it” or “deserving it” over the years and rape? Logic and his own behavior argue that she may not have been his first and certainly wasn’t his last. I worry for her. She has looked a monster in the eye and didn’t recognize him. Is she setting herself up for another hit because she’s only guarding herself against movie rapist and not the day to day real thing? Her third victimizer is the same as her first one. He watched her terrified, hurt, confused and crying years ago and he “friends” her on face book. You have to wonder what kind of a rush that gave him. That and how many other victims he’s sent a Face book message to.

Feb. 07 2012 01:19 AM
paul from panama city beach, fl

Upon deeper reading of the responses, I'm intrigued that some took my comment to be "negative" and some "positive".

Perhaps there's a new piece somewhere in here on how what is said, isn't always what is heard?

All the same, thank you for sharing such a personal, and powerful, story Emily.

Feb. 06 2012 09:52 PM
paul from panama city beach, fl

Perhaps I should clarify my earlier statement.

I have neither raped nor been raped and can share no personal thoughts or feelings that would be relevant. However, knowing the passion surrounding the issue, I simply found it strange that I was the first to mention it.

Feb. 06 2012 09:33 PM
Matt from Bosstown

The problem lies in trying to shoehorn a story about what appears to have been an organized rape of a child involving multiple actors ("they led me...")into the broader topic of...Facebook?! As the details of the story emerged, my interest in Facebook went out the window. It's as if NPR had a show about how the recent landing of alien spaceships effected the stock market without telling us anything about the aliens. A different program might have given the story the attention it deserved.

Feb. 06 2012 11:23 AM

I think McCombs is very brave for going public with what happened to her. Please understand that the following is not meant as criticism of McCombs, but it seems to me there is an inconsistency in her view of her rapist. If there is, well, maybe it is just part of the process of dealing with the trauma. I don't know. I am not a therapist.

At first, McCombs says, " his memory it was all consensual", but "'s obvious that he knows there's a little more to it." Then she says he apologized and was "genuinely sorry."

First, I get the impression McCombs believes that her attacker doubts that he raped her. Is it plausible he could truly doubt such a violent act that he obviously remembers very clearly? Second, how can he be "genuinely sorry", how can his apology be sincere, how can he take responsibility for what he did, if he does not even admit that he committed rape AND face consequences for what he did?

She says, "He's not some monster" and, "He's a person who did a bad thing..." Is rape just "a bad thing"? Is he not a monster because it happened years ago? What if he is still raping teenage girls? Would that qualify him as being a "monster", or is he still just "a person who did a bad thing"? If viewing it that helps McCombs heal and move on with her life, so be it, but I truly fear for other girls and women around this "person who did a bad thing."

McCombs: "I mean, he remembers all these things happening, but in his memory it was all consensual. His explanation is, 'When they led you over to me in a dog collar and handcuffs I thought that you were into it.' I think that's just how he rationalized it. There are moments when I'm speaking to him when it's obvious that he knows there's a little more to it."

Gladstone: "Like the fact that he recalls you saying 'No' repeatedly?"

McCombs: “Well, that... He said that without really any inclination that that might mean that something wasn't consensual. You know, he said like, 'Oh, but then it seemed fine (pause) after you said 'No'.' But there are, there are times when he said, 'Oh, I've wondered about you over the years, and when I heard you weren't doing so well I wondered if maybe I was responsible.' You know, which doesn't makes sense unless on some level he realizes that he did something to me."

McCombs: "I mean, maybe he was looking for some kind of absolution. I mean, he apologized. He was sorry. You know, although he never admitted, 'Yes, I raped you', he apologized for what happened. He was genuinely sorry. You know, and this is also a young guy when this happened. He's not a monster. I mean, that was the other lesson in this, was like, this is just a guy on Facebook. You know what I mean (laughs)? This is just a guy who listens to Bob Marley and likes Scrugs (laughs). He's not some monster. He's a person who did a bad thing, and it's not too late for him to accept responsibility for that and apologize. And you know what, I can accept that."

Feb. 05 2012 10:46 PM

@ Pliggett Darcy

"The comments on this piece are totally insane. It's not a rape victim's responsibility to ensure that her rapist is criminally punished; if you think otherwise, you really are just blaming the victim."

Whose responsibility is it, then, to report a crime (any crime)? I do not think that saying it is the victim's responsibility to report a crime is the same as blaming the victim for the crime itself. Once reported, though, it is the responsibility of the law enforcement entity to ensure the criminal faces prosecution. But then, this is really another topic.

Feb. 05 2012 08:47 PM

This was easily the most BIZARRE story I have ever heard. On the one hand, I don't know what to make of it. On the other hand, I know exactly what I think of a rapist.

If contact with her rapist helped her move on, then I guess the contact was a good thing, but the idea of her thanking her rapist for anything left me very queasy and unsettled.

It wasn't my experience, but I still think a rapist *is* a monster.

Feb. 05 2012 08:20 PM
John from New York

I heard this story driving and I founds it so interesting I sat in my car for maybe ten minutes in the parking lot listening till the end. What I appreciated so was the complexity and richness of the story this woman told. It would have been so easy to say oh how terrible, unthinkable, how could he and end the story there but the fact she talked to him, and from my impression maybe possibly forgave, I'm not sure. she seems to have dealt with this on her terms which is for her to do. I thought very specifically that I would not judge or think of how I or anyone should handle such a happening. It is so far beyond any listeners comprehension, what an extraordinary presumption on the part of a "listener" to determine what should have been done in response to such happening. The story was poignant, compassionate, and I admire the young woman's actions, I hope her course, actions and understanding heal the trauma. truly a moving piece,

Feb. 05 2012 07:59 PM
Mike from NYC

Took my breath away.

Couldn't decide whether to cry or heave. Perverse, perhaps, but inspiring graciousness. Thank you for this story.

Feb. 05 2012 04:06 PM
Holly from Providence, RI

During the last few weeks, we've heard many stories about children who were raped by Jerry Sandusky, in relation to Penn State's child abuse scandal. Other sports related scandals followed, and they prompted some new reflection on the recurring child sex abuse scandals of the Catholic church. Few would suggest, in these cases, that the perpetrators were anything other than monsters. How could the perpetrator of Emily's rape be anything other than a monster? Binding a barely 14 year old girl, handcuffing her, and raping her? This is, by definition, monstrous. And, it is only because we insist that it is. In fact, all people have good sides, right? There were plenty of people who saw Hitler as "just a guy." But, luckily for us, we draw lines in the sand and establish what is beyond the pale of acceptability in our society. Emily's rapist went far beyond that, and he should be festering in jail for it. He should be made to account for his actions. I can understand how a girl who was brutally raped at fourteen years of age could find it empowering to see this man as "just a guy." Nonetheless, the rest of us have a responsibility to ensure that all young men know that we unequivocally deem these kinds of actions as monstrous, and hold people accountable for them.
Self-esteem? This is not about self-esteem.

Feb. 05 2012 03:41 PM
Barb Muller from NJ

I can agree that there are awkward moments to this piece, but they are mainly with the concept that this happened through Facebook. That a sexual predator contacted a woman he assaulted through Facebook (as a Friend), and she accepted his invitation (as a Friend?!).
I have a similar story, where I was assaulted and did not believe that I'd been assaulted for at least 6 or 7 years. It can be part of the brain's ability to help a person survive trauma. If a person could remember what’s happening to them while it’s happening or after, they would die from the shock. Flashbacks last for years, though, and can cause a feeling of "going crazy." The effects of trauma can be devastating, and it is extremely difficult to find experienced, qualified, compassionate professionals to diagnose AND to treat trauma.
What's been far more disturbing for me (as someone who was raped) was to find a quiet space free of the relentless Penn State abuse coverage. (Thank goodness for the Republican debates.) Or, the constant depiction of sexual violence on television (CSI, Law & Order) and the graphic violence in a blockbuster movie like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Those types of “entertainment” cause minor triggers for someone with a history of trauma. Why does our society find violence, specifically violence against women, so entertaining? Can OTM do a story about that topic?
Healing comes in unusual ways for those of us moving forward with our lives after trauma. Reducing one of Emily's attackers into "just a guy," then the fact that she used her strength to have an impact on HIS life, by telling him to raise his daughters so they are strong and so that his son respects others -- WOW! That's some incredible stuff.
THIS is the type of storytelling I'd rather be hearing. I can genuinely relate to Emily’s reality.
There was no justice for me, either. I do not know who my attacker was. It is not so simple that someone recalls an assault 10 years later, then goes to the state prosecutor, case closed. And, if she had tried to have him prosecuted, there could be further trauma for her. It is good to know that this man seems to have turned out to be just another guy in society. The fact that Emily is telling this story will likely get back to this man, and he will have to identify his actions as assault. Again, SHE will impact change on him.
The way to impact change is for people to discuss assault in this type of an informed manner and for viewers/listeners/readers to be open (when possible) and to stop buying into "rape culture" as a consumer good. Sexual assault really happens. It should not be so grotesquely commoditized to titillate and entertain.
Thanks, OTM and Emily, for having the guts to put this story on the air.

Feb. 05 2012 02:38 PM

To me, this was a piece about the the dark side of near-universal connectivity, something that was not possible before Facebook. (Not the telephone, not the mail, not even Google ever made finding someone so very easy.) That's one reason why Emily's story appealed so much to me. Other reasons include her honesty (and the courage that demands), her emotional transit following her rapist's friend request, and the way she turned a potential nightmare into a stage of recovery. That was the story I wanted.
In fact, I do believe that what she said may help others, but that's not why I asked her to be on the show.
I had no interest in challenging or judging her reactions or behavior or litigating her trauma.
Sometimes I do try to nail people - but certainly this was not one of those times. I admire the way she handled this situation - but even if I didn't - this is her life, not mine.

Feb. 05 2012 02:32 PM

"Not long ago, writer Emily McCombs received a friend request from a man who had raped her in her adolescence."

Who needs criminal punishment when NPR has the power to convict in absentia?

This is what makes this story truly reprehensible.

Feb. 05 2012 02:22 PM
Pliggett Darcy

The comments on this piece are totally insane. It's not a rape victim's responsibility to ensure that her rapist is criminally punished; if you think otherwise, you really are just blaming the victim.

Feb. 05 2012 01:55 PM

Actually, my primary criticism here is of Brooke Gladstone. Both for the tone of the piece and for ignoring the criminal aspect. Emily can deal with this in any way she wants personally, but it should be obvious to her and every one else that she is shielding an unrepentant predator. Given that she has been so public about everything else about the ordeal, it's disingenuous to protect this malefactor's identity.
Frankly, crime goes beyond the victim's 'own experience'. That's why we have a legal system and don't leave judgement to the victim(private revenge or absolution). I'm surprised if no civil or criminal charges can be brought, even after so many years. Polanski is still on the run, isn't he? Sandusky and Paterno were forced out, correct?
Finally, it's a laugh that the FCC bans rude words as 'obscenities' but is fine with a piece like this. The spectacle of two ostensibly sane adults simpering about the kidnap and rape of a child is among the most gratuitously obscene things you can broadcast. NPR should apologise and do an investigative follow-up at the very least.

Feb. 05 2012 01:32 PM

Oh dear, it appears the PC Thought Police have arrived in the form of "pvogt" to remove any point of view that doesn't fall in line with their own.

Here's why Ms McCombs's story is so dangerous: To accuse someone of a crime as serious as rape, even ten years hence, even anonymously, is very serious stuff indeed. To do so without providing even a scintilla of evidence -- and this is not to say such evidence doesn't exist -- is chilling, all the more so when a respected news provider such as NPR accepts the accusation as fact without asking the first critical question.

Feb. 05 2012 01:20 PM

Hey all,

I had to remove a comment which veered into personal attack. It's fine to disagree with one another or the story, but please keep your comments civil to one another and to Emily. Otherwise I'll have to turn comments off for this story.


PJ Vogt
On the Media

Feb. 05 2012 01:05 PM
Marisa from NYC

I'd like to reply to each of these comments individually but don't want to engage much with the judgement & hate. So instead, I'll say that Emily's story is the opposite of disingenuous. And as I've read other pieces by Emily about this incident, there is no doubt in my mind that she is speaking truth, and if she sounds comfortable with her truth, that is because she's worked hard to be able to do so. I hope all victims of abuse can reach a place where they can speak as openly and calmly about trauma they've endured, because the more voices the better. There is no such thing as too much talking about the every-day nature of violence against women and children. Or against anyone. It is the burden and responsibility of those who've endured it but have been able to recover and get to a place of being able to share to let society know just how common this violence is.

@BrendaKilgour This I can't let go: The idea that the dog collar is a ploy for Internet attention rather than a fact of Emily's rape is downright mean. You obviously have a particular feeling about the website, where Emily works, to which you are completely entitled, but that has NOTHING to do with Emily McCombs the rape victim. How dare you.

Feb. 05 2012 12:46 PM
Hollie Conley

This was a sad and bizarre story, but it had nothing to do with Facebook. This encounter could just as easily have happened via telephone, mutual acquaintances, accident, e-mail, etc. Social networking has always been part of human life; Facebook simply brands it & reduces it to one form.

Feb. 05 2012 10:58 AM
RC from New England

"Just a guy" "Not a monster" "Never admitted to it but apologized"

The tone of Emily's telling of her experience just feels so...I don't know...lacking in magnitude to me.

Feb. 05 2012 10:57 AM

Shree, thank you for telling Emily that she's taken the wrong approach to HER OWN EXPERIENCE.

The internet truly is a wonderful thing.

Feb. 05 2012 12:28 AM

Emily, thank you very much for your considered response. I'm sure that reliving this horrible episode is a painful process that you are courageous to undergo, no matter how wrong-headed it may seem on the outside to me.
Nevertheless, it's a shame that you came across as disingenuous in this piece. You are an adult now who has a much better understanding of what really happened and should know that glossing over a serious crime is irresponsible. You've revealed the worst of it from your end, are you willing to expose your attacker in a similar fashion?
If he has truly 'taken responsibility' and is sorry for his actions, he should have no compunction in saying so publicly. Otherwise his words are just empty piffle. He has nothing to fear if the statute of limitations has expired, so what's stopping him? What necessity is there for you to shield him? I do hope you can see that there is none.

PS. Out of curiosity, where were your parents/guardians/teachers after this happened? Did they know? If so, any silence on their part is probably worse than that of the perpetrator's.

Feb. 04 2012 11:06 PM
Emily McComb


The statute of limitations on this rape is long over. There are, as I'm sure you're aware, many complicated reasons why women do not take legal action. For my part, I was 14 years old at the time of this assault, and it took me another decade to realize that I had been assaulted and that it was not my fault. If you want to know why I speak about rape in a manner that may sound informal or casual to you, you can read more about that in my piece "Why I Talk About Rape"

You may also want to keep in mind that speaking about your own sexual assault on tape for a radio program is an unusual situation and that people react differently to talking about difficult subjects. Some people laugh at funerals.


By saying my rapist was "just a guy," I meant only that in our heads we often make rapists out to be inhuman monsters because it is too horrible to realize that they are just people like those we know. We want rape to be scary and foreign, a stranger jumping out of the bushes, because if it looked familiar, like our own boyfriends and sons, how would we keep going?

Feb. 04 2012 09:59 PM

I like and enjoy your show and am a big fan of Ms Gladstone, but this has to be the most offensive piece of broadcasting I have ever encountered on radio or any other mass media.
There are two and ONLY two questions worth asking about this incident and Brooke avoided them. Specifically, has this guy been to jail, and if not, why is Emily not trying to send him there?
If Emily wants to titter and giggle about the confinement and rape of a minor, she can do it off the air. Ignoring the crime and making this about 'Facebook' is enabling the exculpation of a heinous felony.
Brooke, you're a very talented broadcaster, but this piece makes me question not only your journalistic skills but your human ethics as well.

Feb. 04 2012 07:18 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

This is the first segment upon which I will comment on this show, so first let me thank Ms. McCombs and Brooke (forgive my informality but, after years of listening, a certain familiarity pertains) for this interview. It helped me.

Having been, early on, involved in far more benign versions of this - from both sides - I can report that FB did facilitate reducing my own self-horror into a manageable pang of guilt over what my opposite termed child's play. My rapists, however, I suspect had more insidious, racist motives but Emily succeeded in reminding me that they are 'just guys', to paraphrase her. They definitely ruined the imaginary life I had planned by age 11 but in a far different manner than they had in mind.

I have no doubt that I could easily meet any challenges they might offer if confronted by any on FB. It is the ghosts of those whose stories literally have ended whom I could only answer through weaving spirituality, fiction AND true history! No unaccounted for sexuality, there.

Feb. 04 2012 04:20 PM
Corina from Ohio

But in reality, most rapists are "just a guy". That is to say that most rapists do not see their actions as rape (as this guy did not), and have lives that include doing good by others. It would be so easy to see rapists as monsters, but the reality is they are not usually monsters in all areas of their lives - just to their victims. That is why, as Emily says, teach your son to understand that any signs of no - you no, like when she actually is saying "NO!" (crying, hesitancy, excuse-making, bargaining, silence, acquiescence, age of the victim (and yes, everyone should know if their partner - regardless of the kind of sex acts one is engaging in such as the BDSM described, should be done with full consent of both partners - underage means no consent - this isn't rocket science after all), and any other sign that your partner is not comfortable and consenting - then all activity should stop, or better yet, not engaged in at all.
I guess I am surprised that folks think that there should be a trigger warning. Rape is a reality, and we should be able to listen to a survivor without censoring her/him. I mean do folks censor the tv station or the paper when there are graphic stories of rape - or walk out of the movies (like I do) when there is no point to the rape scene except to get some thrill out of seeing a woman in terror?
Just Saying...

Feb. 04 2012 04:05 PM

@Paul - I totally agree! What is this, rape apologist hour?

Feb. 04 2012 03:39 PM
paul from panama city beach, fl

After the assertion that her attacker was "just a guy" I thought the board would light up. I can't believe this piece only got one comment so far.

Feb. 04 2012 03:01 PM
Vera from Boston, MA

Next time you're going to have a segment with someone describing the scenes and set up of their rape - you should have a trigger warning!

I was having a fine time listening to this hour of radio and this type of story slapped me in the face!

Please consider announcing trigger warnings for those who are victims of sexual violence and may not be comfortable listening to such details.

Feb. 04 2012 01:53 PM

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