Sexual Assault Survivors Use Art for Justice

People carrying a mattress.

We all know that stories about rape in college are common. Also common: Stories about colleges doing absolutely nothing to help support sexual assault survivors!

The women who go through these horrific assaults typically have to work diligently to receive justice — and solace. Well, while the following story is similar to the ones we’ve heard lately, this one has a slight, totally awesome and unique twist, and involves a woman taking a stand to get action.

A Columbia university student raped Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University senior. The university found the rapist not responsible, but later, it came out that Columbia had botched its investigation, as well as 23 other sexual assault investigations.

Later, Sulkowicz decided to report the rape to the police, but officials dismissed her. Sulkowicz’s rapist has allegedly assaulted two other women, and his name appeared on the “Rapist List” that was circulated this May.

Since Sulkowicz has gotten absolutely nowhere with officials, she’s embarking on a new fight – in the form of her thesis project. Recently, the Columbia Daily Spectator reported that Sulkowicz will carry her mattress to class every day until her rapist is expelled, or leaves the school. Sulkowicz is calling this act an “endurance performance art piece.” Well, in a recent act of solidarity, other Columbia students are joining her in her journey to justice.

Sulkowicz explains that she’s choosing to carry her mattress because that’s where the assault took place – on her own dorm bed. To show the emotional burden she has to carry inside herself, she’s decided to represent it as a physical burden. She said to the paper that: “I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there everywhere since then.”

Her protest couldn’t have come at a better time because recently another university – the university I attended — had a similar, inept reaction to a woman who was raped on campus. Recently, the University of Kansas’ administrators have received a vast amount of criticism for how they handled a student’s assault. As punishment to the rapist: He was banned from university housing and had to write an apology letter to the victim… Seriously. To add insult to injury, the university referred to the assault as “non-consensual sex.” Obviously, this has garnered a lot of attention locally, and luckily, the outcry has changed how the university will handle these issues in the future. However, the changes are not perfect.

I’m so happy that young women like Sulkowicz and other sexual assault survivors aren’t taking their universities’ inaction. The swell of young women who are forcing the world to see the gritty truth of rape are incredibly strong, and I hope that one day all of their work will be recognized. Large institutions, such as colleges, need to realize that they can’t blame victims, and must investigate rapes with force and speed.

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Image: Greg Chiasson

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.