The Rise of the Walking Mattresses


At the beginning of her sophomore year, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, was sexually assaulted by a classmate. Shortly after, she found out that he had also sexually assaulted other students. Columbia University had dismissed each case that was filed against him. Currently at Columbia, twenty-three students have filed federal complaints against the University for mishandling sexual assault cases. In her interview, Sulkowicz states reasons for the lack of fair treatment for these sexual assault cases. The investigator that listens to the case is the only person who is allowed to give a statement; not even the victim is allowed to give his or her own testimony. Therefore, investigators may, intentionally or unintentionally, give a false statement. Moreover, the hearing panelist is also untrained and unqualified to interpret the sexual assault case. Sulkowicz even stated that, “… one panelist kept asking me how it was physically possible for anal rape to happen.” Because these panelists do not have the knowledge to deal with sexual assault, they are unaware of the sensitivity of rape and ask demoralizing questions, trivializing rape culture. Another aspect of the mistreatment of sexual assault cases that is flawed is that one victim may not speak about other victims who had been raped in the trial. If victims of the same perpetrator were given the opportunity to communicate with each other, it would further strengthen their arguments. Because of all of these loopholes in the sexual assault case system at Columbia University, the perpetrator was found innocent and the charge was dismissed due to “not enough evidence to determine that it was more likely than not that the respondent engaged in behavior that met the definition of sexual assault”. Because sexual assault charges have been dismissed so quickly, many victims feel that it is useless and is also a burden to report offenses that have been made against them. As Eliza Gray points out in The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses, only 12% of rapes of college women were reported to law enforcement. This indicates that colleges are doing something wrong when it comes to protecting their students against sexual assault. If victims are too afraid to come out, it allows rapists to continually assault other victims because they are not being caught.

I believe that Sulkowicz’s rapist could have been given the proper punishment had there been a statement from the victim, a trained hearing panelist, and a look at the correlation of certain sexual assault cases. Moreover, the argument is also made that adequate resources be allocated to teach students about the gravity of sexual assault and to help survivors with the recovery process. The video also sheds light on a grave misconception: that colleges with lower reports of sexual assault are safer and that colleges with higher reports of sexual assault are more dangerous. This misconception is indicative of two major problems: the first is that with the statistic of one in four women being raped on college campuses, colleges are allowing rapists to go scot free to continue sexually assaulting other victims (as most rapists are repeat offenders) and second, that colleges are purposely hiding these numbers because they are more concerned about their school’s reputation than the safety of their students. It makes sense that colleges, including Columbia, have created a sexual assault case system try to display to the public that they are concerned about this issue but also have many loopholes to make their cases of sexual assault seem unimportant. This Time article is powerful because it gives a real, personal example of sexual assault and humanizes this issue. This article includes interviews with a survivor of sexual assault and a college student that has a lot of knowledge about this issue. The one part of the article that detracts from its impact would be its use of only two young, female interviewees who currently attend college. If the interview included perspectives from experts on sexual assault or administrators from other colleges, Sulkowicz’s argument could be strengthened through including both evocative and statistical evidence.

Before watching and reading this interview on the Time website, I had read a New York Times article about a Columbia University student who had used art as a form of political protest. Quickly, I realized that this same artist was the person being interviewed. By carrying a mattress around campus as a form of protest against Columbia University’s sexual assault policies, Sulkowicz literally made headlines and even made enough waves for Columbia University to change some of their policies.

Sulkowicz used art as a way to protest sexual assault policies on college campuses. What are other ways in which the public can force colleges to fix their sexual assault policies? What are other current loopholes in college sexual assault policies that can be closed? How can we overturn the misconception that less sexual assault offenders found guilty equals less sexual assault?

One thought on “The Rise of the Walking Mattresses

  1. This article shocks me because first off I can not believe she walks around with a mattress everyone. But I do understand why she does it to get her point across! People need to take sexual assaults more serious. I think having a class on sexual assault that is mandatory should be necessary for freshman so they are well aware. Sexual assault happens a lot! 1 out of 5 women get assaulted at their time at college. All this could scare off students on attending. So yes we do need to find more resources on stopping this madness.


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