Posters Calling Emma Sulkowicz A "Pretty Little Liar" Go Up Around Columbia
Emma Sulkowicz graduated from Columbia yesterday, carrying her mattress across the stage with the help of several friends as part of her ongoing protest against the fact that the student she claims sexually assaulted her remains on campus. But even though many see her actions as courageous, some do not, and have gone so far as to put up posters of Emma Sulkowicz with the hashtag #RapeHoax anonymously around Columbia. And there's even a Twitter account — also anonymous — called @FakeRape that has taken up the cause of targeting Sulkowicz as well.
Although many people at and around Columbia have been supportive of Sulkowicz and her Carry That Weight project, she has also faced criticism and backlash ever since she first went public with her story. The man identified as Sulkowicz's alleged attacker has continually maintained his innocence, claiming that the sex was consensual, and has even sued Columbia for not doing anything about the damage Sulkowicz's protest and the surrounding media attention have done to his reputation.
The student in question, Paul Nungesser, has been accused of rape by Sulkowicz and two other female Columbia students, but has never been found guilty either in a Columbia disciplinary hearing nor by the criminal justice system. Sulkowicz never named Nungesser in media interviews, but he did come forward last year. Nungesser claims he was falsely accused on all counts.
Regarding the latest wave of backlash against Sulkowicz, it is unclear who might be behind the posters or the Twitter account. The @FakeRape account has focused on tweeting pictures of the posters, though it has not claimed responsibility for putting them up in the first place.
One thing does seem clear, though: Even though Emma Sulkowicz has graduated, thus officially bringing an end to her project, there are people out there who just won't let it go.
There are also posters featuring Lena Dunham, which might be an indirect reference to the account in Dunham's recent memoir of being sexually assaulted while in college.
Although Sulkowicz and Nussenger are the only two people who know for sure what happened between them, the fact that someone would be so invested in attacking a young woman for speaking out about sexual assault as to put up posters calling her a "Pretty Little Liar" is depressing. According to the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, estimates for the rate of false rape reports made from "methodologically rigorous research...converge around two to eight percent" — but even so, it seems there are still people will automatically disbelieve survivors.
But lest you lose all faith in humanity, plenty of people haven't been content to let the posters stand.
It's easy to understand why Sulkowicz's mattress project provokes so much reaction. It makes visible something that usually goes unseen: The struggle that sexual assault survivors must go through. Seeing Sulkowicz literally struggling under the weight of a mattress representing the one on which she was allegedly raped makes it impossible for people to ignore something they usually can't or choose not to see. And for people who don't want to face the facts about rape, that can be an intensely uncomfortable experience.
Still, the degree to which people have lashed out at Sulkowicz continues to surprise me. Putting up posters that say "Pretty Little Liar" and "#rapehoax" the week of her graduation? Who thinks that is acceptable?
Still, it really just goes to reinforce how admirable Sulkowicz is, that she has not let any of the backlash stop her from speaking out.