Even if you don’t know Emma Sulkowicz’s name, you’re probably familiar with her thesis. Titled “Carry That Weight,” the idea behind the Columbia student’s project was simple yet powerful: She vowed to carry her university-issued mattress around campus until her alleged rapist left the school. Sulkowicz’s performance art piece quickly made headlines, and she became a highly visible face in the movement to address sexual assault on college campuses.
Sulkowicz found herself in the headlines again on Tuesday when The Daily Beast published an interview with Paul Nungesser, the student Sulkowicz accused of assaulting her. In addition to speaking with the writer, Nungesser provided the website with screenshots of Facebook conversations between himself and Sulkowicz after the alleged assault occurred.
As Mic fellow Julie Zeilinger wrote, the choice to include the screenshots “exemplifies the way in which journalists and media outlets perpetuate the perfect victim narrative through speculation on the complicated, personal dynamics of the rapist-survivor dynamic and innuendo. Doing so not only fails to capture the nuances of surviving assault but also works to shame and silence victims, perpetuating a cycle that allows campus sexual assault to persist at shocking rates.”
Zeilinger and activist Wagatwe Wanjuki decided to tackle this “perfect victim narrative” head-on by creating the #TheresNoPerfectVictim hashtag.
Some quickly jumped in to explain the dilemma sexual assault victims often find themselves in:
While others used the hashtag to offer support or to share personal stories to dispel the idea that Sulkowicz’s actions invalidated her allegations of sexual assault:
In her article, Zeilinger gave Sulkowicz the opportunity to explain why she reached out to Nungesser following the alleged assault:
"I was upset and confused. ... I wanted to have a talk with him to try to understand why he would hit me, strangle me and anally penetrate me without my consent.”
As research shows, everyone reacts to trauma in different ways. And, as Zeilinger was quick to point out, “the idea that emotional intimacy prevents violation is patently false.”
As for Sulkowicz, she has her own message for victims of sexual assault who fall short of this “perfect victim” standard:
"I want other survivors to know that if you reached out to your attacker after you were assaulted, it shouldn't discredit your story."