Civil Liberties

Student Accused of Rape By 'Mattress Girl' Sues Columbia U., Publishes Dozens of Damning Texts

Sulkowicz made life a living hell for Nungesser


Ema Sulkowicz
Columbia Spectator / Youtube

Paul Nungesser, the Columbia University student accused of raping fellow student Emma Sulkowicz, is now suing the university for doing nothing to stop Sulkowicz's harassment campaign against him, which he claims "effectively destroyed" his college experience, reputation, and future career prospects.

His lawsuit contains a wealth of new information about the contested sexual assault, including dozens of messages establishing Sulkowicz's sexual "yearning" for Nungesser, which she sent to him both before and after the alleged incident. (Full text of the lawsuit here, courtesy of KC Johnson.)

Sulkowicz and Nungesser initially became friends at Columbia, developing an intimate relationship that involved several sexual encounters and frequent discussions of sex and relationships. Eventually, she accused him of choking, attacking, and anally raping her. Nungesser was cleared by Columbia's sexual assault adjudication process (the police later declined to pursue charges, citing a lack of reasonable suspicion), which prompted Sulkowicz to go public with her claims and start carrying her mattress everywhere she went as a form of protest against what she viewed as a miscarriage of justice. She became something of a spokesperson for rape victims, and was even invited to attend the State of the Union address with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York).

There were reasons to doubt Sulkowicz's claims. Reason contributor Cathy Young outlined some of them in a detailed piece for The Daily Beast. Perhaps most damning for Sulkowicz's credibility are friendly messages she sent him, and continued to send, even after he allegedly raped her.

Now there are more reasons. Many more. The lawsuit contains additional correspondence unreported thus far—much of it crude, although relevant to the incident. Sulkowicz broached several sexual topics with Nungesser: she talked to him about whether her boyfriend was using protection (with her, and with the other women he was sleeping with at the time), she asked Nungesser whether he was dating or sleeping with anyone, and she implied an interest in anal sex (she texted him "fuck me in the butt"). After Nungesser and Sulkowicz began sleeping together, the lawsuit asserts that Sulkowicz "asked Paul to engage in anal sex with her."

None of that proves one way or another whether Sulkowicz consented to sex on the evening that he allegedly raped her, of course. It's possible that Sulkowicz withdrew her consent and Nungesser continued—in brutal, violent fashion. But taken together, the messages she continued to send him even after he allegedly attacked her—as well as some of her demonstrably false assertions, including that she never brought up anal sex with him—certainly look bad for her.

But Nungesser's lawsuit isn't against Sulkowicz—it's against the university, for first failing to protect him from her smear campaign, and then turning "into an active supporter" of it. (The Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow explains why Nungesser isn't suing Sulkowicz here.) Of particular importance is the fact that Sulkowicz transformed her rape allegation and subsequent activist efforts into an art project for Columbia course credit. Jon Kessler, the university professor who signed off on the "Mattress Project," is one of the defendants, along with Columbia President Lee Bollinger, the trustees, and the university itself.

According to the lawsuit:

As a result of Defendants' actions, Paul's entire social and academic experience at Columbia has suffered tremendously. In adherence to Columbia's Confidentiality Policy, he did not discuss any of the investigations with any of his classmates. Yet Emma did the exact opposite, gaining support from classmates, professors, the administration, and President Bollinger. Emma has not faced any consequences for breaching the confidentiality policy.

Silenced, and also enduring suspensions and increasing ostracism from his two main social activities (ADP and the Columbia Outdoor Orientation Program ("COOP")), Paul's social life crumbled to the point of isolation. Even after being cleared of the outrageous allegation, no serious attempt was ever made by the university to rehabilitate him within those groups. Day-to-day life is unbearably stressful, as Emma and her mattress parade around campus each and every day.

Due to this ostracism, and threats to Paul's physical safety, University resources such as dorms, libraries, dining halls, and the gym are not reasonably available for Paul's access. Even attending classes has become problematic, as he has endured harassment and has had his photo taken against his will while in class.

The ordeal has certainly made life a living hell for Nungesser; whether that entitles him to any relief from Columbia, I can't say.

I can say that those in the media who uncritically re-reported Sulkowicz's claims and gave credence to her antics should be feeling rather ashamed of themselves. With each new development, this story begins to look more and more like a Rolling Stone job.