The firing squad known as social media has set its sights on Sarma Melngailis, the raw food restauranteur and focal point of Netflix's latest true-crime series, Bad Vegan. But in piling on to Melngailis, critics are missing the point.

To summarize the tale of grand larceny, tax, fraud, and stranger-than-fiction plot twists as briefly as possible: Melngailis, the owner of high-end vegan restaurant Pure Food and Wine, met a man named "Shane Fox," a purported ex-Navy SEAL who wooed her with promises to pay off her business debt.

Eventually, Melngailis discovered that Fox was actually Anthony Strangis, a shadowy figure with a rap sheet. Despite confusion surrounding Strangis' career and flashy lifestyle, Melngailis quickly married him after his father corroborated his backstory.

By then, Strangis had sucked Melngailis into a bizarre alternative reality involving a cult-like organization of superhumans. By completing tasks that Strangis dictated (mostly transferring large sums of money to his bank account), Melngailis could join another, more powerful tier of existence — and her beloved dog, Leon, would become immortal.

Believing that her money would keep Strangis' enemies at bay and help her ascend to superhuman status, Melngailis drained Pure Food and Wine's bank accounts and stole millions from investors. In reality, the money funded Strangis' extravagant gambling habit, leaving employees of the restaurant completely and utterly screwed.

Bad Vegan does well to give Melngailis' former employees a platform to air their rightful grievances. It also paints a disturbing picture of domestic abuse.

While certain aspects of Melngailis' story might seem difficult to believe from an outsider's perspective (why would she willingly hand over her e-mail and bank account passwords to Strangis?), there's ample evidence that "Shane Fox" was operating with malicious intent, to put it very lightly.

Strangis' tactics read as an abuser's playbook: he love-bombed Melngailis with grand gestures and assertions they were soulmates; simultaneously inserted himself into her business while isolating her from her friends, family, and co-workers; controlled her finances; monitored her communication and impersonated her over e-mail.

There are video recordings from Strangis' phone showing Melngailis crying in bed, unable to get up. Audio recordings of Melngailis asking for explanations end with Strangis instead declaring that his safety rests on her absolute, no-questions-asked compliance (a modus operandi also implemented by Shimon Hayut, AKA the Tinder Swindler).

There's even a disturbing scene in which Melngailis recounts Strangis bringing her a bottle of wine, blindfolding her, and — as Melngailis strongly suggests but doesn't outright state — sexually assaulting her.

But by the last episode, the documentary seems to flip and suggest that Melngailis married Strangis for his money, thereby making her the con artist (the last time I checked, marrying up in the hopes of advancing your business isn't exactly a crime).

Melngailis isn't totally blameless. She did, in fact, withhold wages from employees under her care and lie to investors. But surely, we can recognize her guilt while also acknowledging what she suffered.

Since Bad Vegan aired, I've seen countless tweets proclaiming that Melngailis should have known better and was too well-educated to have fallen for Strangis.

Others even suggest that Melngailis makes the victims of the Tinder Swindler look "good," as if pitting victims of emotional abuse and coercion against each other makes any sense.

But the internet has largely erased Strangis from the conversation. To put it casually: people aren't coming for him with the same "holier than thou" energy they've been aiming at his female counterpart.

Strangis didn't voluntarily participate in the documentary, a wise choice from his point of view. Instead of appearing in the flesh, he's portrayed as some mysterious force, an incomplete silhouette on which viewers are less inclined to pin their rage.

Melngailis functions as the face and voice of the story, a vulnerable position that the public has wasted no time in exploiting, primarily by bringing her sex life into the conversation.

The Daily Beast published an article titled, "When 'Bad Vegan' Sarma Melngailis Accused Louis C.K. of Giving Her an STD." Elsewhere, detractors are re-circulating links to a New York Post piece from 2019 proclaiming Melngailis had an affair with her lawyer.

The volume of vitriol aimed at Melngailis makes me wonder: must a woman pass some sort of purity check to be believed?

Onlookers seem to believe that Melngailis' sexual history, including her involvement with Strangis, negate the fact that she is a survivor of abuse.

The public is unable to accept that two dialectic truths can co-exist: Melngailis is not guiltless and she deserves compassion for the trauma Strangis put her through.

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