As disturbing as the recent trend of college girls accusing young men of rape without evidence is, I thought there was still a modicum of restraint. Oh, sure, I've been keeping up with the news. I know about how the Duke lacross players were crucified in the court of public opinion and how their innocence, when not doubted, is shrugged off as irrelevant. I've read Zerlina Maxwell's opinon about how a woman who makes an accusation of rape should be automatically believed, an opinion that is especially ironic coming from a black woman considering all the black men who were lynched because the white women who accused them of rape were automatically believed. I've seen the comments about the Rolling Stone story of horrific gang rape at the University of Virginia, a story that has completely unraveled but has defenders who argue that even if it didn't happen, it could have and so ultimately it doesn't matter if it's true or not. But I really truly thought our society had hit rock bottom until I read about Emma Sulkowicz.
She's become famous for lugging a mattress around Columbia, calling it performance art and proclaiming that the mattress will travel around campus with her until her rapist is expelled. I freely admit I don't understand modern art. I remember asking a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art when a painting was going to be unveiled-turns out what I had mistaken for a drop cloth was the painting. When I asked why another painting had been hung when it was streaked with dirt and needed to be cleaned, he politely suggested I try another museum. So I know I don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to modern art-I don't appreciate it and I'm not in a position to criticize it.
What I do know is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It's the foundation for the United States of America, it's what makes this country special, and it's pretty clear about what rights a person accused of a crime is entitled to. It's also pretty clear these days that a male college student accused of rape is denied all the rights of due process and that he can be expelled and branded for life as a sex offender without so much as the opportunity to confront his accuser.
Enter Emma Sulkowicz, a woman who was in the middle of consensual sex with an inebriated man she had previously had a sexual relationship with. She claims she was raped because the man penetrated her anally against her consent. Since Sulkowicz never went to the police, never filed charges, and never had a rape kit, it's impossible to know if she's telling the whole truth, part of the truth, or making the story up. Nevertheless, Columbia took her accusation seriously enough to investigate. Campus courts have a very low standard-they only need to find that it's fifty-one percent likely that a rape occured to punish the accused. In Sulkowicz' case, even this low standard was not met, and when she appealed the decision, the dean, in a rare show of courage, refused to expel the man.
In response to the university's decision, Sulkowicz started lugging a mattress around. Apparently by taking a facsimlie of the "crime scene" everywhere she goes on campus, she hopes to force the university to change its mind, or apply enough duress to the man she accused that he will leave voluntarily. Feminists and art lovers are enchanted-the feminists because they see Sulkowicz as taking a stand against the man who attacked her, the art lovers because they see the mattress going everywhere as a great work of performance art. She considers her mattress such a serious work of art that she worried about taking it off campus for a photo shoot lest it violate the rules for the performance. I find myself perplexed by it all. Like I said, I don't understand modern art. Maybe this is a great work of performance art. Or maybe this is the act of a vindictive young woman who didn't get her way and is now out for revenge against an innocent man. Impossible to say one way or the other, because she didn't go to the police.
Sulkowicz does say that there should be a disinterested party trained to deal with rape survivors adjudicating her case. Sounds an awful lot like what she wants handling her case are the police-they're very well trained to deal with rape and they're disinterested, without the kind of personal stake in a campus rape case that the college has. Of course, the police will question a woman making an accusation of rape. They will take her statement, run a rape kit, talk to the man she's accusing, talk to anyone and everyone who may know something about the case, and then come back to talk to the woman again if the physical evidence or the recollections of other people don't match her account. Sulkowicz didn't go that route. She preferred to make an accusation after the fact, present no evidence, consider Columbia University idiotic when they didn't expel the man she accused, and now she is dragging around a mattress to call attention to her desire to have this man removed. I suppose in her mind, there should be no trial, on campus or elsewhere, just a presumption of guilt and a straight line to punishment.
And what of the man she accused? He's still at Columbia, laying low, not even listing his email at the campus' FaceBook page. It's impossible to know if he is an innocent victim of Sulkowicz or if he actually is a rapist. Our society theoretically has a presumption of innocent until proven guilty, but nowadays pointing that out will get one branded a rape apologist. The irony is that the so-called rape apologists are generally open minded people who admit the possibility the accused man could be guilty, but the people making accusations about rape apology are not open to the possibility of innocence. According to writer Vanessa Grigoriadis, a woman who doesn't support other women's rape accusations is an ugly thing. What's uglier is women supporting an unfounded accusation without evidence. And ugliest of all is the spectacle of a woman claiming to be performing art in an attempt to force a young man to derail his future.