Mattress as Protest? Rape Survivor Raises Awareness of Sexual Violence on College Campuses

Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University senior, is carrying around more than just textbooks and a laptop when she attends class. She’s been seen traveling around campus with a mattress, which she says she’ll continue to carry wherever she goes as a form of protest against the way the university handled her rape complaint.

Sulkowicz says she was raped by a fellow student in her dorm room on August 27, 2012. Like many women who have been raped, Sulkowicz says she kept quiet after her attack due to fear, shame, and embarrassment. However, her rape was reported to campus authorities in April 2013 after she learned that other women had also been sexually assaulted by the same student. Columbia found the student “not responsible” for the attack seven months later, after conducting an investigation she says was insensitive and poorly handled.

In May 2014, Sulkowicz filed a report with the NYPD, but no arrests were made due to the fact no evidence was collected after the assault. Columbia unveiled a revamped sexual misconduct policy this summer, but Sulkowicz and other female students claim it’s not enough. Sulkowicz says she’ll continue to carry her mattress to class as a form of protest until the school expels her rapist.

Rape on college campuses continues to be a major problem. According to One in Four, roughly 25% of college aged women have survived a rape or attempted rape. Of these attacks, 60% occurred with a perpetrator who was an acquaintance of the victim. Just 8% of all college campus rapes involved an unknown perpetrator. Women in sororities are 74% more likely to be victims of rape than other college women. Women who drink alcohol on a regular basis are also at an increased risk.

Although educating students about the importance of consent and taking steps to minimize binge drinking remains the basis of rape prevention efforts at most schools, there have been several creative solutions proposed as well. NightOwl, a party planning app that lets students upload guest lists and keep tabs on suspicious activity, is in development at the Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. North Carolina State University students Ankesh Madan, Tyler Confrey-Maloney, Stephen Grey, and Tasso Von Windheim have created a nail polish called Undercover Colors that changes color when exposed to date rape drugs such as Xanax, GHB, and Rohypnol as a way to help keep women safe when they are out drinking with friends.

College students who have been sexually assaulted and need free, confidential information regarding counseling and how to press charges against their attacker can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE. The hotline is available 24/7.

[Photo courtesy of Fabio Venni via Flickr.]

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