A Columbia University student is protesting the silence surrounding her rape case by bringing the burden of her experience into her physical space.
Emma Sulkowicz claims she was raped in her dorm room bed in her sophomore year of college. Now a senior, Sulkowicz has tried — and failed — to convince administrators and authorities that her claims were legitimate.
She and other students have taken legal action again Columbia for failing to respond properly to sexual assault claims, but Sulkowicz has taken her protestation to a new level: performance art.
As part of her thesis as a visual arts major, Sulkowicz has hoisted a twin-size mattress with her everywhere she goes, as she says, “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.”
The act is a pretty solid symbolization of the weight a rape victim carries — a mattress like the one she was allegedly violated on, a constant presence haunting and exhausting the bearer.
The project is getting a lot of attention. As atmospheres surrounding campus assaults and rape culture continue to be a hot topic, women — and men — seem to be shedding the shame unjustly associated with being a victim of assault. Survivors are coming forward with their stories in full force, to heal and to spark change.
In June, a 16-year-old girl was allegedly assaulted and pictures of her unconscious, half-clothed body became internet memes. Instead of remaining anonymous, Jada and her family spoke out against the disgusting behavior surrounding the incident. The teen allowed herself to be photographed, allowed herself to become part of a pushback that created a national conversation.
“There’s no point in hiding,” Jada told KHOU after news of her assault went viral.
In 2013, Heisman Trophy candidate and eventual winner Jameis Winston bypassed a claim of sexual assault despite conflicting evidence. He was never charged. In response to reignited debates regarding rape and athlete privilege, a former FSU grad detailed, minute by agonizing minute, being raped and shot by an FSU football player in 1993. She used her full name, noted her occupation, even said she still roots for FSU. She put a face to a heinous crime that that luckily, unlike so many others, ended in punishment for the perpetrator.
So what do these survivors have in common? They aren’t staying quiet. They’re carrying the conversation around, in mattresses, in internet memes, in grim, unvarnished honesty.
It is every survivor’s right to deal with their pain privately, but with every person who speaks up, the cry for justice gets a little louder.
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