By now, you’ve probably heard of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University senior who was raped by a fellow student on the first day of her sophomore year. She is now carrying around a dorm mattress on campus until her rapist is expelled or leaves school. This act is also a way to protest the manner in which the university handled her rape complaint, or rather, mishandled her rape complaint.
“Rape can happen anywhere,” she explains in a video published by the Columbia Spectator. “For me, I was raped in my own dorm bed. Since then, it has basically become fraught for me, and I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”
Seven months after the incident, her case finally made it to a university hearing. Sources claim that the three administrators on the panel were confused about anal rape and skeptical about “how it was possible for someone to penetrate her there without lubricant.” Allegedly, Sulkowicz had no other option but to draw a diagram to make them understand. Sulkowicz was left feeling empty and sick after the hearing and worst of all, the man Sulkowicz had accused was found not responsible.
“Every day, I am afraid to leave my room,” Sulkowicz told Time.“Even seeing people who look remotely like my rapist scares me. Last semester I was working in the dark room in the photography department. Though my rapist wasn’t in my class, he asked permission from his teacher to come and work in the dark room during my class time. I started crying and hyperventilating. As long as he’s on campus with me, he can continue to harass me.”
She allowed her experience to shape her senior thesis called “Carry That Weight.” Carrying her mattress around is her way to protest the fact that her rapist continues to study on campus and acts as a visual representation of the weight she carries with her since the incident.
Yes, this matters to the Asian American Community.
For those of you who have glanced at this story and find that it doesn’t apply to you, you may want to think again. Aside from the fact that rape is a very serious issue for everyone, the Asian American community in particular has reason to care about this protest.
Larry Lee, NYAWC’s executive director points out, “Sexual assault in the Asian American community is far more pervasive than might be assumed. A recent report indicates that 19% of Asian women compared to 11% non-Asian women are sexually abused in America’s colleges.”
Worst of all, many of the rape incidents which involve Asian American women go unreported. Sulkowicz did not immediately file the rape complaint out of fear. As a result, when she turned to the NYPD nine months after the incident, there was no evidence left for the NYPD to make an arrest.
As it turns out, the Asian American community also has an issue with reporting rape incidents. Fear definitely plays a factor, but also, studies show that Asian American women are more likely than Caucasians to believe that preventing rape is a woman’s responsibility. Such myths drastically lower the motivation to report the incident. Additionally, Asian American women are more likely to believe that rape is committed by strangers, which is not always the case.
Asian American Psychology: Current Perspectives points out that “first generation South Asian American women may be more likely to blame the victim, which would decrease the likelihood of South Asian American’s seeking help.”
Clearly, this is an ongoing issue within our community and one that we don’t speak of half as much as we should. Sulkowicz’s protest shines a very public light on rape and we can only hope that such candidness will allow victims in our own community to recognize that it’s not their fault that they couldn’t prevent the rape from happening. Sulkowicz makes it clear that it’s alright and important to speak out about something as taboo as rape.
Although carrying around a mattress may not be the solution for everyone, we hope that members of our own community (once they’re comfortable enough) will follow her footsteps in creating dialogue about this very serious issue.