On the first day of her second year at Columbia in August of 2012, Emma Sulkowicz filed charges against her friend, a fellow student named Paul Nungesser for violently raping her. For many months she decided to not file any complaints, until she heard about the other victims that Nungesser had allegedly assaulted. She decided to step forward, bringing charges against him before her college’s disciplinary board and Nungesser was found “not responsible.” It is important to note that earlier, he had been found “responsible” for another sexual assault, but had appealed and won after the woman grew tired of fighting the proceedings. This woman, who chooses to remain anonymous, recently wrote an article titled “I am not a ‘Pretty Little Liar’”, on Jezebel explaining her experiences and trails.
Sulkowicz started her “Carry That Weight” project as part of her Visual Arts major’s senior thesis. She hoped to draw attention towards the flaws in the University’s handling of such issues through this project. She vowed to carry a 50lb mattress everywhere around campus until her rapist, Paul Nungesser was removed from campus. Unfortunately for her, even though her project caught the attention of various feminists and activists, it did not move the University into looking further into the case. She carried that mattress even to her graduation this year. He responded by filing a lawsuit against the University, some members of the administration, and the supervisor of Sulkowicz’s thesis claiming that the authorities allowed her to carry on with a project that was ruining his reputation.
There are many who believe Paul Nungesser’s side of the story like Cathy Young of ‘The Daily Beast’, who published an article, “Columbia Student: I Didn’t Rape Her“, defending Paul. She ends her article saying, “And if Nungesser is not a sexual predator, he could be seen as a true victim: a man who has been treated as guilty even after he has proved his innocence.” Many who believe that the allegations against Nungesser as simply false rape claims have labelled Sulkowicz as a “pretty little liar“. The question arises here that how innocent can a man who has already been proven guilty of sexual harassment be. If he is innocent, why would 4 completely unconnected women who were all at one point a friend, or more, of this man, suddenly decide to accuse him of such a serious crime?
Maybe we will never truly know who is speaking the truth, especially since both sides sound so convincing. However, the way in which the University, the press and the authorities have handled the situation is appalling. The victims were subjected to invasive questioning, and forced to relive their horrific experience. This is clearly a result of the patriarchal hegemony that rules our lives. It is an extremely sad state of affairs when a woman is terribly wronged by an acquaintance simply gets away by virtue of being an acquaintance.