Has Columbia University Rape Case Highlighted Flaws in Rape Investigations?

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Published on: February 5, 2015

Ever since the University of Virginia gang rape story broke last fall, many have started to rethink the way they look at rape cases. A young woman at University of Virginia accused some fraternity members of gang raping her at a party. Then, after much investigation, it was determined that those boys were not even present at the party the night in question. As the girl’s story came unraveled, even her friends doubted the attack happened.

Now, the nation has been swept up in the story of a Columbia University student, who claims that a consensual sexual encounter turned into a sexual assault. Senior Emma Sulkowicz accused fellow student Paul Nungesser of raping her in August 2012. The University followed its procedures for handling such accusation and found that her accusations were not provable. However, Emma has taken to protesting this by carrying a mattress around campus as a symbol of her burden.

The Washington Post reports:

Sulkowicz has become something of a symbol for anti-rape activists since she went public with her story last spring. Images of Sulkowicz toting her mattress around Columbia’s campus — a performance art project aimed at protesting the way Columbia adjudicated her case — went viral last fall, and last month she attended the State of the Union as a guest of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). She’s been profiled by the New York Times and New York Magazine, written an opinion piece for her campus newspaper and won an award from the National Organization for Women.

In response, her alleged attacker has responded in kind. Paul Nungesser did an interview with the Daily Beast. In this lengthy article, Nungesser makes clear that there was a casual sexual relationship between him and Sulkowicz. However, after the after the fact, Nungesser said, “The next morning, we had a talk about it and we both felt that it was not really a good idea.”

Nungesser further told the Beast:

“It was very amiable; nothing was changed or different or weird or anything in her behavior.”

And the article goes on to add:

Nungesser provided The Daily Beast with Facebook messages with Sulkowicz from August, September, and October 2012. (In an email to The Daily Beast, Sulkowicz confirmed that these records were authentic and not redacted in any way; while she initially offered to provide “annotations” explaining the context on the messages, she then emailed again to say that she would not be sending them.) 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

Along with many other correspondences between the two, it seemed to Paul that nothing had changed.

This seems weird to most of us. Why would this woman, having been beaten and sodomized, now reach out to her attacker? Why would she set up meetings and go to parties with him?

We have to understand that this is not easy for us to judge. Having never gone through the horror of rape before it would be hard for me to say what is the proper way to act. Is there a proper way to act or feel? We can look at the actions and stated feelings of others and say that this or that is the norm, but should we say that Emma has acted completely out of the norm and therefore was not raped?

We must be very careful not to fall into an overcorrecting mentality. There are rapists, and there are those who have been raped. Knowing that it happens and seeking to stop it from happening is a start. As a father of a college-age girl, I would want my daughter to be believed.

Yet, I would question why she continued to be friends, for three months with the man who raped her. Why were you seeking his attention and company on social media? And, why did you not speak to anyone about the assault?

These things do not mean there was not an assault, but they bring into question what happened. If we want to protect our girls, we must treat every case on its merits and not seek to convict every male as a sex-crazed victimizer anymore than we would treat every rape victim as someone who had been asking for it. Justice cannot be applied in such broad strokes.

We must remember as well that if we teach our children, male and female, the proper context for healthy sexual relations, this does not become a question.  If we begin to say that the only proper context for a sexual relationship is within the confines of marriage, then men and women are protected from such he said she said situations.  We, as parents, have to stand and say that though it is not the popular understanding, it is the safest.

God’s commands tell us how He has created us to live and, therefore, following them is what is best.

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