At this point, I should be used to seeing backlash against Emma Sulkowicz, but I still wasn’t fully prepared for what came this week: endless tittering of people around me in real life and in my social feeds saying they “weren’t sure” about Emma’s choice to carry her mattress to Columbia’s graduation; the insistence that Emma’s alleged assailant Paul Nungesser had been “proven innocent” by Columbia and exonerated by the NYPD; the posters someone put up around Columbia with Emma’s picture on them, calling her a “PRETTY LITTLE LIAR.”
Every time I read another version of this narrative—that Nungesser merely “picked the wrong friends,” that the complaints against him were a calculated vendetta—my stomach flopped. Don’t forget: before he appealed away the conviction, Paul Nungesser was found responsible for sexually assaulting a woman at Columbia. And I’m writing this because that woman was me.
. . . If you’re reading this and doubting Emma—if you’re reading this and doubting me—please ask yourself why I’m taking the time to write this. Ask yourself why I filed a complaint against someone I had considered a friendly acquaintance (before my assault). Ask yourself why four unrelated people have taken the time and energy to come forward and file complaints against him. Read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula. Get outside what happened on Columbia’s campus. Try to realize that our stories are everywhere, on every campus, and we’re not all activists like Emma or unreliable sources like Jackie. Some of us are quiet about our stories even if we’re completely sure.
And, after all, it’s safer to be quiet. The reason I’m writing this anonymously is because of what happens to people like Emma, who speak out. Their names are plastered on disgusting posters on their graduation day. They’re inundated with violent threats and graphic comments every time they log into their email and check their Facebook. They’re forever associated with something that happened to them; not their achievements or accomplishments or talents. When I was younger, I naively hoped maybe one day I’d write a book noteworthy enough to make it into The New York Times. The first time my words were printed in The Times, they were anonymous, and they were about someone who had sexually assaulted me. I’m glad I’ve made the decision to decline interviews and stay small and quiet, but, simultaneously, I’m so proud of Emma for showing her face and sending a message. She has a particular kind of strength that I do not, and that’s okay. Maybe by writing this and risking having my name out there—and realizing that telling my story is worth that risk—I’m getting a little stronger.
But even if you don’t believe me, I don’t care. I didn’t report him for you. I reported him because it was the right thing to do. And if I’ve protected even one person from him, it’s been worth it.