As Unearthed continues its second season, we’re bringing you the weekly recap. This week the second season, “Boundaries: Sex and Consent,” provides an interview with Michael who talks about the process of cutting out a friend with a history of sexual assault.
Michael remembers playing video games, eating cookies, and drinking hot chocolate with his best friends, Chris and Matt, in first grade. Through their senior year, Michael, Chris, and Matt were a trio.
So, when Chris told Michael that he had been accused of sexual assault, undergoing a Title IX investigation at his university in their freshman year, Michael immediately thought it was all a misunderstanding. After all, Chris had always been forward in the way he approached girls.
It wasn’t Chris’s first time being accused of sexual misconduct. Earlier in their freshmen year, Chris told him that he attempted to rape his former girlfriend during their senior prom night. Chris told Michael that he decided against it and profusely apologized to her.
Michael: “Chris knows that I’m someone who appreciates both sides, [someone who] enjoys playing Devil’s Advocate. In this case, he took advantage of that by knowing that I would listen to his side before coming to any judgment first, and that’s what I did. I trusted him throughout the whole thing… Maybe that was my fault.”
Yet, as Michael listened to Chris’ former girlfriend’s perspective, he began to realize that Chris had bent the truth. He began to believe that Chris’ interpretation of blatant sexual assault was simply not “aligned with what societal norms are,” according to Michael.
Michael decided to tell Matt, their closest mutual friend, and confront Chris together; Matt didn’t take the news well. He sat speechless for 10 minutes. Then, Matt insisted they call a lawyer and Chris’ ex-girlfriend to apologize for aligning themselves with Chris after the incident. Chris’ ex-girlfriend did not want to come forward. However, Michael and Matt insisted that they try to bring a criminal case against Chris.
Michael: “She was held back from her parents who thought she was doing very well in college. She had a new boyfriend who did not know of the situation, and she [thought people would ask] why didn’t you go to the police right afterward [because] it had been two years since the event.”
Ultimately, Chris’ ex-girlfriend and her family decided not to “air the dirty laundry.”
Michael and Matt then decided to confront Chris directly at his house. Wordlessly, Chris printed out his statement for the Title IX investigation for them to read. The statement painted Chris in the best light and dismissed all allegations as a simple misunderstanding. Two days later, Michael and Matt went to Chris’ house again. This time, Chris was angry.
Michael: “He did not seem to express any sort of remorse for the event, only frustration that it had followed him back [to his home town].That was so telling to Matt and I that he wasn’t genuine in his previous apology to his ex, and I don’t think he learned any lesson.”
Together, Michael and Matt decided to end their lifelong friendship with Chris. They stopped seeing him. They stopped talking to him. When a couple of months after the confrontation Chris gifted Michael an expensive video game for his birthday, Michael angrily refused the gift.
It’s been three years since Michael ended his friendship with Chris and he’s not sure if it’s helped or done anything to fix Chris’ behavior.
Michael: “[Chris] was telling [his friends] that [his ex-girlfriend] had brainwashed Matt and I and that we were being overly liberal and we weren’t giving his side of the story a fair level of consideration. He’s created a narrative where he is still the victim.”
Michael still grapples with his decision. Did he make a difference? Or, did he unfairly cut his best friend off?
Michael: “He’s not getting any other punishment. This is the most I can do to make him realize that he’s done something wrong.”