Earlier this week, former NBC staffer Brooke Nevils went public with an allegation of rape against Matt Lauer, two years after her initial complaint led his firing from the Today show for sexual misconduct.
According to an excerpt of Ronan Farrow‘s upcoming book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, published in Variety, Nevils alleges that Lauer anally raped her in his hotel room at the 2014 Sochi Olympics when she was “too drunk to consent” and stated multiple times that she did not want to have anal intercourse.
Those who worked with Lauer say they are shocked by the severity of the rape allegation.
“It’s all just heartbreaking,” a longtime NBC News colleague tells PEOPLE. “My heart breaks for Brooke, absolutely. But it also breaks in a way for Matt because when he put out his statement, it became clear to me that he still just doesn’t understand the role he played in all this, and that he has now moved to some strange version of this story in which he is the sole victim. It’s really unfortunate.”
(In a statement to PEOPLE, Lauer’s attorney Elizabeth M. Locke says: “In 25 years at NBC, Matt Lauer did not have a single complaint brought to his attention until November 28, 2017. NBC has already stated this for the record after an internal investigation. I am sure NBC will have much to say about Ronan’s claims.”)
Nevils said in the book that she had more sexual encounters with Lauer back in New York City, according to Variety, telling Farrow: “It was completely transactional. It was not a relationship.”
In his letter to Variety, Lauer — who was married to now ex-wife Annette Roque at the time — repeatedly characterized his relationship with Nevils as “mutual.”
“At no time, during or after her multiple visits to my apartment, did she express in words or actions any discomfort with being there, or with our affair,” he said. “She also went out of her way to see me several times in my dressing room at work, and on one of those occasions, we had a sexual encounter. It showed terrible judgment on my part, but it was completely mutual and consensual.”
Lauer acknowledged that people were aware of the affair, but insisted he has “never assaulted anyone or forced anyone to have sex. Period.” He also said Nevils did not work for him officially at the time of the alleged encounter, writing, “at no time during our relationship did Brooke work for me, the Today Show, or NBC News. She worked for Meredith Vieira (who had not worked for the Today Show in several years) in a completely different part of the network, and I had no role in reviewing Brooke’s work.”
But PEOPLE’s source points to the unbalanced power dynamics between Nevils and Lauer.
“I hope no one follows Matt’s lead in his statement and begins attacking her or starts a narrative in which continuing a relationship with someone who attacked you therefore negates any chance that an attack actually occurred,” says the source. “Because that isn’t how it works, and it especially isn’t how it works when that person is, in many ways, your boss. No, she didn’t work directly for him. None of us did. But there was not a single person within NBC News who wouldn’t have told you that the most powerful man there, other than maybe Andy [Lack], was Matt. He had the power to get people fired, or to make life at NBC less than ideal, and we had all seen it happen.”
The source continues: “Brooke was taken advantage of, manipulated and used, and that’s to say nothing of the physical attack she endured. He really thinks any woman would choose to forever be known as a victim of anal rape just so that she could avoid saying the words ‘I cheated? That defies logic. She is brave for coming forward, she is brave for not backing down, and she is to be believed.”
Nevils responded to Lauer’s letter on Wednesday night, calling it a “case study in victim shaming.”
“There’s the Matt Lauer that millions of Americans watched on TV every morning for two decades, and there is the Matt Lauer who this morning attempted to bully a former colleague into silence,” Nevils said on a statement that aired on NBC Nightly News.
“I am not afraid of him now,” Nevils said. “Regardless of his threats, bullying, and the shaming and predatory tactics I knew he would (and now has) tried to use against me.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to online.rainn.org.