Was the 'Mattress Girl' Lying?

On February 3, Cathy Young of the Daily Beast published a long piece delving into the background of Emma Sulkowicz’s (mattress girl’s) rape allegations against fellow Columbia student Jean-Paul Nungesser. Since September of 2014, Sulkowicz has carried her mattress everywhere she goes on campus, stating that she will continue until her alleged rapist is expelled.

Up until now, Sulkowicz has received almost universally positive media attention, even receiving an invitation to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address. But for the first time, a reporter has delved into the actual background of the case, interviewing the accused student and others familiar with the case, creating a very different picture of the case.

When Sulkowicz began lugging her mattress around campus, she made herself the poster-girl for the supposed epidemic of rape on college campuses. In April 2013, Sulkowicz contacted the university authorities, alleging that during a consensual encounter Nungesser had penetrated her anally against her will. According to Sulkowicz, during the encounter, Nungesser suddenly pinned her arms back, hit her, choked her, and penetrated her anally.  

In Sulkowicz’s account, Nungesser had run away without ejaculating, but according to Nungesser, the anal sex was consensual and he had not run away, but completed the act. Ultimately the university found Nungesser’s account more credible. Despite applying the Obama administration-approved “preponderance of the evidence” standard, the university-convened tribunal found Nungesser not responsible. The New York DA’s office also declined to file charges against Nungesser.

Sulkowicz’s protest received positive coverage in New York magazine, Slate, and elsewhere. inspiring other girls to carry mattresses to protests as far away as Wales!

While Cathy Young’s article did not provide anything new in the way of direct evidence, it did provide context. Nungessner and Sulkowicz enjoyed a largely platonic friendship, which included what Cathy Young describes as “sleep overs.” During one of these “sleep overs,” they ended up having sex, but afterwards agreed not to jeopardize their friendship (Nungesser’s version of events). Then four or five weeks later, the same thing happened, and they again agreed to just be friends.

The encounter where Nungesser allegedly raped Sulkowicz occurred that fall, after Nungesser returned from summer break. Nungesser claims they briefly engaged in anal sex, before having conventional intercourse. He fell asleep, then woke up and returned to his dorm room. After the encounter the two remained on cordial terms; Cathy Young demonstrates this by providing the text of digital conversations between the two.

Then in April of the next year, after talking with one of Nungesser’s ex-girlfriends, Sulkowicz decided to go to the university with charges of sexual assault. Nungesser’s ex alleged unspecified verbal and physical abuse, but later dropped these charges.

According to his ex, Nungesser would pin her arms back during intercourse, and would manipulate her fragile emotional state in order to have sex with her. Only after the two broke up did she recognize that their relationship was abusive.

According to Nungesser, the two had been close, but he eventually lost interest in “Natalie” (not her real name). After being dumped, Natalie was initially angry, but the two eventually reconciled and parted friends; at least, this is what Nungesser told Cathy Young.

In response to Nungesser’s side of the story, media feminists have gone ballistic. Fundamentally, their criticism amounts to this: just because the accuser remained friendly with the accused, doesn’t mean she wasn’t raped or mistreated by the accused. Maybe the accuser still had feelings for the accused, and didn’t want to jeopardize a chance at a relationship.

The old cliché “love is blind,” sums up the folk-wisdom that someone in love will put up with a lot of crap, in pursuit of that love. So feminists might have a tiny point here. But they miss the larger picture: by giving accusations an unwavering presumption of truth they roll out the red carpet for false accusers. Encouraging people to make accusations months or years later, provides the vindictive with the perfect cover for false accusations.

Reading between the lines, Nungesser essentially rejected two women after having sex with them. Neither men nor women like being rejected, and it’s understandable that women who are rejected after sex feel used. But, if false charges were filed out of spite, than that is inexcusable.