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February 4 2015

Columbia, the New UVA

Charlotte Allen

Uh-oh: Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia senior who’s been lugging a mattress around campus for months to protest her supposed rape by a classmate during their freshman year, is fast turning into another “Jackie,” the University of Virginia student whose claimed gang rape in a fraternity-house basement turned out to be a tall tale concocted by Jackie to get the romantic attention of a young man she had a crush on.

Paul Nungesser, now a Columbia senior like Sulkowicz, she says conducted a brutal anal assault on her in her dorm room following a session of consensual sex—and whom she made a public campus pariah despite the fact that he had been cleared by a Columbia tribunal—finally told his side of the story, to libertarian journalist Cathy Young, writing for the Daily Beast.

In Nungesser’s telling, not only was the entire sexual episode between him and Sulkowicz on Aug. 27, 2012 entirely consensual—the two had an off-and-on “friends with benefits” relationship that grew out of their joint participation in a freshmen-orientation program at Columbia—but Nungesser had the Facebook messages between the two to prove it. For two full months after the supposed assault, Sulkowicz was sending Nungesser friendly texts and Facebook postings expressing hope that the two of them could get together again. Nungesser provided screenshots of the since-deleted messages to Young and the Daily Beast.

Furthermore—and most significantly of all, Sulkowicz admitted to Young that she had sent the upbeat messages, promising Young that she would later provide a context for the chats but later reneging. Here’s part of the exchange, as Young reports it:

On Aug. 29, two days after the alleged rape, Nungesser messaged Sulkowicz on Facebook to say, “Small shindig in our room tonight—bring cool freshmen.” Her response:

lol yusss

Also I feel like we need to have some real time where we can talk about life and thingz

because we still haven’t really had a paul-emma chill sesh since summmmerrrr

On Sept. 9, on a morning before an ADP meeting, it was Sulkowicz who initiated the Facebook contact, asking Nungesser if he wanted to “hang out a little bit” before or after the meeting and concluding with:

whatever I want to see yoyououoyou

respond—I’ll get the message on ma phone

On Oct. 3, Sulkowicz’s birthday, Nungesser sent her an effusive greeting; she responded the next morning with, “I love you Paul. Where are you?!?!?!?!” Nungesser claims that these exchanges represent only a small portion of their friendly communications, which also included numerous text messages. But he also says that during those weeks, they were starting to drift apart; they saw each other at meetings and parties, but plans for one-on-one get-togethers always seemed to end in “missed connections.”

***

After the winter break, in early 2013, Nungesser sent Sulkowicz two brief Facebook messages (one of them saying, ‘tu me manques’—French for ‘I miss you’) to which she did not respond. Then, he says, she texted him in March and suggested getting together, and they made tentative plans on which she did not follow up. Nungesser says he was not unduly alarmed, since such things had happened before.

Sulkowicz, who up until Young’s Daily Beast story appeared on Feb. 3, had received nothing but poster-child adulation for her public shaming of Nugesser—including a visit to President Obama’s State of the Union address as guest of New York Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand—seems to be shocked, shocked that a journalist would actually come up with evidence that her story might not be true.

Although refusing to talk to Young, Sulkowicz was eager to complain to Julie Zeilinger of the online magazine Mic, “"It's an awful feeling where this reporter is digging through my personal life.” And Zeilinger was duly all sympathy.

Sulkowicz is not the first survivor to contend with the perfect victim narrative, but the media's embrace of her story has thrust her into the spotlight and therefore further under this narrative's scrutiny than most. Her experience illustrates why survivors commonly choose not to speak out nor report their experiences.

Right, because Sulkowicz was a completely private figure who craved anonymity as she had her picture taken with that mattress,  gave numerous interviews to the press, and called publicly for Columbia to expel a student whom its own tribunal had exonerated.

Now, I actually feel sorry for UVA’s Jackie. She was a delusional young girl who got herself in over her head and was exploited by an ideologically driven writer who had her own agenda. I don’t feel sorry at all for Emma Sulkowicz. She got her reward hobnobbing with Gillibrand and Obama. I hope she’ll have a good time with that memory.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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