Nungesser’s accuser, Emma Sulkowicz—famous for carrying her mattress on campus as a symbol of her burden as a victim and a protest against Columbia’s failure to expel the man she calls her rapist—has become the face of the college rape survivors’ movement.
Sulkowicz’s protest has garnered her awards from the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation; last month, she attended the State of the Union address as a guest of Sen. The story Sulkowicz has told, in numerous media appearances and interviews, is nothing short of harrowing. 27, 2012, she has said, a sexual encounter that began as consensual suddenly turned terrifyingly violent: Her partner, a man whom she considered a close friend and with whom she had sex on two prior occasions, began choking and hitting her and then penetrated her anally while she struggled and screamed in pain.
What’s more, charges brought against the man by two other women also ended up being dismissed.At the time, he says, he was not particularly alarmed: “I thought initially that maybe they called me in as a witness.” Columbia student Paul Nungesser, accused of rape by Emma Sulkowicz, who began carrying a 50-pound mattress around campus after Columbia cleared Nungesser to symbolize the burden, on the school’s campus in New York, Dec. Nungesser says he is innocent, that the mattress project is an act of bullying, and that the university has now abdicated its own responsibility, letting mob justice overrule its official procedures.Instead, Paul Nungesser, a full-scholarship student from Germany, found himself at the center of a sexual-assault case that would eventually receive national media coverage and attract the attention of politicians and feminist leaders.They got to know each other in their freshman year, he says, mainly as fellow leaders in the Columbia Outdoor Orientation Program (COÖP), a freshman pre-orientation experience with a focus on outdoor activities.On one point, however, Nungesser and his supporters agree with the pro-Sulkowicz camp: A grave injustice has been done.