Student protests school’s handling of her sexual assault by carrying mattress

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At least one in four college-aged women is the victim of sexual assault. According to recent reports, sexual assault is actually on the rise on campuses. Unfortunately, because so many of these situations go unreported, it’s impossible to know for sure how big this problem really is. Although this important issue has received widespread attention over the past few years, many health officials believe that not enough is being done to curb incidences of rape and sexual violence at our nation’s colleges and universities.

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz agrees with this sentiment. In May, Sulkowicz – a senior at the Ivy League university – filed a police report that a sexual assault that took place at the hands of her classmate. Although the incident occurred when the visual arts major was a sophomore – in August 2012 – she didn’t report it right away due to the embarrassment and shame she felt over the ordeal. However, in April 2013, after learning that the person who assaulted her had also sexually assaulted two other women on campus, she decided to report him to Columbia. Ultimately, the university found the student “not responsible.”

Rather than remain quiet, Sulkowicz has decided to take back her power by turning the experience into a performance art piece for her senior thesis. Calling the venture “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight,” Sulkowicz has vowed to carry her dorm room mattress with her everywhere she goes until either her assailant is expelled or she graduates – whichever comes first.

“A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it, enough that I can continue with my day but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it,” she told the Columbia Spector. Per the guidelines of her project, Sulkowicz is not allowed to ask for help, but can accept it if it’s offered to her.

Sulkowicz is a brave young woman to take a stand on such an important and rampant problem. Although Columbia has not indicated that it will revisit her case and it’s unclear if police will decide to press charges against the young man involved, it’s safe to say that Sulkowicz has drummed up support for her cause nationwide.

If you have been the victim of sexual assault or rape, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault and there are resources available to help you cope with the shame, guilt and despair you might be feeling. The worst thing you can do is to stay quiet. By reporting it to the proper authorities and reaching out, you might prevent this tragedy from happening to another person.

Randi Whitcomb

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