Conservative Media Attack Sexual Assault Protester In Wake Of Alarming New Report On Prevalence Of Campus Sexual Assault

Carry That Weight

Conservative media are lashing out at a Columbia University student who protested her school's handling of her sexual assault allegation, distracting from yet another report confirming the widespread prevalence of the crime on college campuses.

In 2014, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz made headlines for her senior art thesis, a performance piece titled “Carry That Weight,” in which she pledged to carry a mattress whenever she was on campus in protest of her college's handling of her own sexual assault complaint against a fellow student. On May 19, Sulkowicz graduated from Columbia, crossing the stage while carrying her mattress with the aide of four friends.

In a May 20 post for National Review Online, Ian Tuttle attacked Sulkowicz, accusing her of having lied about being assaulted. Pointing to a letter in which Sulkowicz expressed disappointment that her personal social media pages had been sorted through in order to find evidence to cast doubts on her claims, Tuttle wrote that all victims of sexual assault should “by definition” have to “submit one's own private life to scrutiny” if they want their accusations taken seriously and reported. Another post that same day by the Daily Caller's Jim Treacher similarly attacked Sulkowciz, promoting a "@FakeRape" Twitter campaign against her to  make the debunked claim that false rape accusation are common. 

Right-wing media's attacks on Sulkowicz come as growing evidence suggests that sexual assault is occurring at epidemic levels on college campuses.

A new study released May 20 in the Journal of Adolescent Health “surveyed 480 female freshmen at a university in upstate New York in 2010” and found that about one in five were the victims of sexual assault or attempted rape while in college, and the majority experienced it during their first three months on campus. As the Huffington Post reported, “The results confirm other research that has found about 20 percent of women are victimized by sexual assault in college. A Centers for Disease Control report last year showed 19.3 percent of women are victims of rape or attempted rape during their lifetimes.” Quoting researcher Kate Carey, a professor of behavioral and social sciences at Brown University's School of Public Health, the article noted that this research is further evidence that “rape is a common experience among college-aged women” and there is an urgent need to address it. Carey explained that “if a similar number of young people were breaking their legs in their first year of school, 'we would expect that the community would do something to enhance the safety of the environment.'”

Conservative media have consistently worked to discredit research showing that one in five women experiences a completed or attempted sexually assault at college, mocking those who do come forward and dismissing efforts to address the crime as proof of a “war” on men. Their efforts to dismiss the epidemic of campus sexual assault further stigmatizes a crime that according to the Rape, Abuse, And Incest National Network already goes unreported up to 68% of the time.