As previously reported, former The Real World cast member Tonya Cooley sued MTV after learning that the network knew about her sexual assault by two male cast members but didn’t do anything about it (aside from replacing the toothbrush that was used to penetrate her). When I first heard about it, I didn’t expect her suit to get too far, as Viacom has some serious lawyer-age going on. Now, THR reports that MTV has settled the suit out of court for an undisclosed sum. (Which I hope is a lot.)
But not without first engaging in some good old fashioned slut shaming! In her suit, Cooley alleged that MTV encouraged male cast members to abuse her, and that eventually sending her home for slapping someone (some who’d just said something shitty about her assault) was a retaliatory gesture for complaining about what had happened to her. Here are the gory details of what happened after male cast mates violated her with a toothbrush while she was passed out:
“The following morning, unaware of the sexual assault, Plaintiff noticed that she was sore in her vagina and had lacerations/rash like abrasions on her labia. Plaintiff assumed the lacerations/abrasions were some sort of rash caused by her participation in various physical challenges.”
In response, Viacom’s lawyers did not deny the attack had occurred, but countered:
“In addition to failing to avail herself of VMN’s policies and complaint procedures, Plaintiff failed to avoid the injuries of which she complains. For example, while she was a contestant on The Ruins, Plaintiff was frequently intoxicated (to an extent far greater than other contestants), rowdy, combative, flirtatious and on multiple occasions intentionally exposed her bare breasts and genitalia to other contestants.”
In other words: she was asking for it.
This is disturbing, but I can’t say I’m terribly surprised, as that tactic has worked time and again to shift the blame for sexual assault onto the victim. It’s also not the first time MTV has reacted inappropriately to a rape; in 2004, a female guest was allegedly raped by a male guest at the house, but MTV wouldn’t let the police in to inspect the scene until they came back with a warrant. Even if it’s technically legal to sign away your right not to be raped (WTF), and extremely legal to blame the victim, is that really the right thing for a company to do? In addition to the fat stacks they are giving Tonya Cooley, I think MTV owes rape victims everywhere an apology.