Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

Carrying Her Weight, Demanding Justice: Columbia Student Spotlights Sexual Assault Case

 

Have you heard the name Emma Sulkowicz recently? She’s a Columbia University student putting the spotlight on a topic that has been gaining more and more attention: sexual assault. Specifically, Emma is bringing to light how colleges respond to sexual assault on campus. According to a Time's article, "the number of sex crimes reported by colleges rose 52 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to a government report". It's not that the number of sexual assaults hasnecessarily increased, but that colleges have taken steps in acknowledging these crimes that have always existed.  These new policies could partially be explained by the Obama admnistration's priority of reducing violence against women. This is why Emma's case is relevant; she is proving the need for massive involvement in the regulation of sexual assaults to avoid mishandlements of these cases, and in the long run, presenting a portrayal of institutions' indifference to violence against women. 

Emma Sulkowicz explains in her video why she choose to name her senior thesis, “Carry That Weight.”  Her piece of performance art consists of her carrying the dorm mattress she was raped on: her own bed. “Since then,” she confesses, “I feel like I have been carrying the weight of what happened there with me... where I will be carrying this dorm mattress everywhere I go for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.”

On the first day of her sophomore year, Emma Sulkowicz was raped. Along with two other women who had suffered assault at the hands of Emma’s attacker, she decided to report her attacker to the university. Despite three separate complaints and a hearing that took place seven months after the incident, where Emma was forced to explain how it was “physically possible for anal rape to happen”, the cases were dismissed. Columbia essentially deemed the assaulter not guilty and allows him to walk freely on campus amongst his past survivors as well as new potential targets. 

Emma Sulkowicz’s piece thus became a concrete representation of what is wrong with how our Westernized society deals with sexual assaults. In our society, there is still a very strong "blame the victim" mentality. In 2011, a police officer from Toronto suggested that "women can avoid sexual assault by not dressing like 'sluts' ". The fact that a public institution worker can think like that is a scary thought, because if the person attacked is to blame how can one be expected to be protected? With these thoughts present, it is clear that reducing sexual assault rates aren't the only issue; the real problem is how society views and react to these crimes. The point of view should not be to blame the survivor, but to swiftly punish those who attack. A change in mentality will depend on today's young generations who will later determine as adults what is passed on to future generations. Emma Sulkowicz is making big strides towards this change by carrying her mattress around. She showcases her emotional distress in a very obvious way, making it difficult for others to look away from the problem she aims to represent. 

Another aspect of Emma's story is her decision to report the case to Columbia University rather than to the New York Police Department. She had chosen not to file a report with the NYPD because she had heard horrible stories about the police dealing with sexual assault cases. After she received harsh comments on her decision, Emma decided to see if the stories she had heard were correct.

“The officer basically treated me as if I was the criminal,” she retells. “After you've been physically violated the last thing you want is to have a policeman who is high on his own power telling you that everything you've just experienced is invalid.” Yet the police aren't the only ones approaching the sexual assault issue with insensitivity. Emma also explains that she has lost a few friends “because some people just don’t understand what it means to be raped… because I think many men see rape as kinky sex that went wrong. They say girls are confusing and it’s hard to tell when you’re supposed to stop.”

Fortunately, there have also been positive rallies around Emma and her project, proving that there is hope. On September 12, students at Columbia organized an anti-rape protest. Others have participated in Emma's piece by helping her carry her mattress around campus. Tons of voices are being joined to fight against how “dismissive” Columbia University was in handling the rape case.

Emma’s story is just one of a few that is gathering more media attention today than in the past decade. I am hopeful that in the future, there will be more talks and more action regarding the length of time incidents are reported and dealth with, and how inconsequently people are dealing with sexual violence against others. I encourage everyone to share and talk about this topic. Mitigating our opinions and having friendly debates are how we can progress towards making a statement against sexual assault.  

In recent news, McGill University sent every student an email concerning a member of the football team's arrest. It contains an apology regarding how the university has been treating all incidents regarding football players. A couple of years ago, three football players "were charged with the sexual assault of a Concordia student in April 2012, [and] were allowed to remain enrolled in the university and continue to play". The players quit the football team in November of 2013, but it is not clear whether or not they were still enrolled at the school. McGill is taking its first step in recognizing that, "a few incidents in recent years... concerning football players was not dealt with appropriately at McGill" and is taking "responsibility for those errors and are committed to preventing them in the future". Our university seems to be aware of the incidents that occurred and wishes to acknowledge them, but there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made for campuses to put into action what is wished in words. 

 

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9hHZbuYVnU#t=92

http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/05/columbia-spectator-prints-n...

http://time.com/99780/campus-sexual-assault-emma-sulkowicz/

http://bwog.com/2014/01/23/accessible-prompt-and-equitable-an-examinatio...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/columbia-mattress-emma-sulkowic...

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/us/fight-against-sex-crimes-holds-coll...

http://time.com/2853826/college-sex-assault-reports-campus-rape-data/

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2011/02/18/cop_apologizes_for_sluts_rema...

http://globalnews.ca/news/985364/mcgill-campus-football-team-the-centre-...

 

Images obtained from:

http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/05/04/us/ASSAULT/ASSAULT-master675-v...

https://38.media.tumblr.com/7ffe51028528ce1ef222e5ed05dd72ba/tumblr_nbtk...

http://images.bwog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/no-red-tape.jpg

Similar Reads👯‍♀️