Nate Parker’s Rape History, Parallel Process, and Mental Health

Nate Parker and his college friend were accused of raping a woman 17 years ago. I have two immediate reactions: empathy for the alleged rape victim and anger/annoyance at Nate Parker’s youthful misogyny and recklessness. As a clinical psychologist and womanist, my compassion for the alleged victim, who subsequently spiraled into psychosis and killed herself, is strong. I have often been on the other side of the room of women and men who have disclosed – maybe for the first time – being sexually violated and the mental health impact of that violation. Rape blurs the boundaries of self and the world. When one is raped, she/he is literally unable to maintain her/his body integrity. With no body control, the mind sometimes takes over to protect the victim during the attack. Rape survivors have often reported experiencing dissociation – feeling as if one is out of her/his body, having no self – during rape. This disconnection from the present moment of trauma can be protective in the moment but have lasting consequences. Some people never recover and continue to feel as if they have no control over their bodies or their lives. This seems to have been the case for Nate Parker and Jean Celestin’s alleged victim. I am angered/annoyed at Nate Parker and Jean Celestin for their alleged actions 17 years ago because they were just wrong. Although, I recognize that they were 19-year-old adolescents, they were still old enough to know not to rape. Briquelet and Nestel’s extensive report on The Daily Beast paints a picture of macho male athletes whose patriarchal drive to dominate over others and have sex with as many women as possible intertwined with racial marginalization resulting in narcissistic and excessive actions.

Nate Parker and his friend were subjected to several racial microaggressions at Penn State that left them feeling devalued yet hypervisible due to their athletic prowess and physical embodiment. In a similar way, the alleged rape victim was devalued on several occasions throughout her life (e.g., in her family, due to mental illness, by fellow students who called her a liar) and blamed for her physical presentation that was often rendered hypervisible in a misogynist society.

This is what psychotherapists call parallel process: experiencing similar emotions, thoughts, experiences as another person(s) in the same space. Nate Parker, Jean Celestin, and their victim were all marginalized during their time at Penn State. Yet, again, this does not excuse rape. Although, the psychology of race relations assesses the world through the lens of Black and white – in this case: Black man, white woman – such myopic analysis is petty and perpetuates a status quo of centering Black males at the cost of intersectionality and critiques of male supremacy. Black men must be held accountable for not only voicing the ways in which we are victims of white supremacy but also take responsibility for ending all forms of oppression including patriarchy.

This is not a simple situation; there are no easy answers. But one thing is clear. We must take mental health more seriously. The mental health of Black men– whose abuse by systems of patriarchy and racism contribute to a narrowing of perspective and dominance orientation – and the mental health of rape survivors. If we are to prevent actions like these in the future, we must listen to and take seriously the pain of oppression and violation that people report. We must provide avenues for them to get the help they need. As a psychologist, I know healing takes time and requires a multipronged approach that addresses the hurt and provides opportunities for empowerment. Unfortunately, Nate Parker and Jean Celestine’s alleged rape victim will not have the opportunity to move towards healing. I hope that we all take this opportunity to do more to open up spaces for affirmation and resistance related to the pain of oppression and violation.

Jonathan LassiterComment