“Sexual assault is almost impossible to prove. We have no idea what happened in that room that night.”
Vanessa Grigoriadis, author of Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus, is talking to Mia Freedman’s No Filter about former Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, 25, and her story of sexual assault.
Long before the hashtag, Sulkowicz lit a fire under the issue, paving the way for women like Ashley Judd, who was the first to publicly accuse film producer Harvey Weinstein, and ‘Emily Doe‘, who told the world how it felt to wake up and learn she’d been raped by college student Brock Turner.
Sulkowicz, too, started a conversation. This is her story.
Sulkowicz, who later became known as ‘The Mattress Girl’, was 19 years old and starting her second year at Columbia University in New York in August 2012.
She and a friend, Paul Nungesser, who lived in her co-ed college house, were at a party together.
Sulkowicz wasn’t really drinking – she’d had a sip of gin and soda – but Nungesser was making his way through a bottle of vodka. They kissed in the courtyard, the air warm around them. They’d slept together before, twice at the very beginning of their first year of college. And that night, they both wanted it to happen again.
So it did. They went to her room and had consensual sex and oral sex. But then, something happened. Nungesser, Sulkowicz alleges, pushed her legs against her chest. He allegedly slapped her and anally penetrated her, continuing to do so even when she was struggling and saying ‘no’.
Emma Sulkowicz on the cover of New York Magazine. Post continues below.
He left without ejaculating. Text messages show Sulkowicz messaging him in the days following her alleged rape, arranging to meet up. She said later she wanted to talk to him about what happened, but didn’t know how to start the conversation.
Almost a year later, Sulkowicz filed a complaint with Columbia University requesting Nungesser be expelled for the alleged rape. Two other students came forward with similar allegations about him.
Nungesser denied it was rape.
“To me, what Sulkowicz describes is unquestionably sexual assault,” Grigoriadis told No Filter. “You are permitted to not consent to any additional sex act, even you’ve consented before.”
“What I do find very interesting, and part of what my book is about, is the fact that not everyone would call it sexual assault because consensual sex had already happened.”