Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
Emma Sulkowicz has had enough.
As the movement against sexual assault on campus continues to grow, Sulkowicz, CC ’15, has decided to take matters into her own hands by filing a police report against the Columbia student who allegedly raped her a year and a half ago.
Sulkowicz went to the police after finishing her final exams on May 13 and filed the report early in the morning on May 14.
The man named in the report as Sulkowicz’s alleged attacker is Jean-Paul Nungesser, CC ’15. Nungesser’s name appeared in the list of four “rapists on campus” found on bathroom walls and on printed flyers around campus this past week.
According to the police report, Sulkowicz had had consensual sex with Nungesser twice before the alleged rape. Sulkowicz said that on the night of Aug. 27, 2012, she and Nungesser started to have consensual sex again, when suddenly things changed.
According to the report, Nungesser “hit her [Sulkowicz] across the face, choked her, and pushed her knees onto her chest and leaned on her knees to keep them up.” He then “grabbed [Sulkowicz’s] wrists and penetrated her anally.”
Sulkowicz reported to police that she told Nungesser to stop, but that he did not. She “struggled with [Nungesser] and tried to push his arms away,” according to the police report, but “[Nungesser] kept going and suddenly stopped without ejaculating.”
Sulkowicz said that she didn’t want to report her attack to the police because she was embarrassed and ashamed of what had happened to her.
“When it first happened, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t even tell my parents. ... I didn’t even want to talk to my best friend,” she said.
Sulkowicz decided to file a complaint against Nungesser through the University when she met two other women he allegedly assaulted. “I realized that if I didn’t report him he’d continue to attack women on this campus. I had to do it for those other women,” Sulkowicz said.
After Sulkowicz reported her assault to Columbia in April 2013, the University ultimately found him “not responsible”—the same decision it later gave the two other women who filed complaints against him, Sulkowicz said.
The University declined to comment for this story, and Nungesser did not respond to request for comment.
Because Columbia uses “preponderance of evidence” as the standard of proof when adjudicating cases of sexual assault and gender-based misconduct, a hearing panel must be convinced that a policy violation is “more likely to have occurred than to not have occurred” in order to find a student responsible, according to the University’s policy.
This is the standard of proof that the Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights say colleges should use when adjudicating cases of sexual assault, but Sulkowicz said she still feels her case was decided incorrectly.
If Nungesser is charged by the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the standard of proof—as in any criminal case—will be “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a much higher standard than “preponderance of evidence.”
Spectator has reached out to the NYPD for comment on the status of the investigation into Sulkowicz’s complaint. An NYPD spokesperson said how these sort of complaints are handled varies on a case-by-case basis.
Sulkowicz said she doesn’t know for certain what the police will do next but that police told her they would be putting a district attorney on the case.
“I understand if it’s too late, but I really hope he does [get charged],” she said.
Sulkowicz’s story has been picked up by national media outlets from CNN to ABC, and last month she spoke about her assault at a press conference with New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. After being featured in two recent New York Times articles, Sulkowicz noted that many of the comments on the pieces seemed to wonder that she had not reported her alleged rapist to a higher authority at the time.
“People kept making comments like, ‘Girls are so dumb, they should just go to the police. Obviously the school isn’t going to deal with it.’ I wanted to see for myself if I should have gone to the police,” Sulkowicz said. “I figured maybe they have a point. Maybe his name should be in the public record,” Sulkowicz added, referring to her alleged attacker.
Sulkowicz, whose name appears on the police report as “Emra Suhkowicz” due to a spelling error by the police, says the experience of filing the report is not one she wants to repeat.
“There’s a reason survivors choose not to go to the police, and that’s because they’re treated as the criminals,” she said. “The rapists are innocent until proven guilty but survivors are guilty until proven innocent, at least in the eyes of the police.”
Sulkowicz said she felt badly mistreated by the officers who came to her residence to take her statement. Because she and Nungesser had had consensual sex twice before he allegedly assaulted her, Sulkowicz said the police were dismissive of what she had to say.
“He emphasized certain things, like the fact that I had consented earlier on in the night,” Sulkowicz said of the officer to whom she told her story.
“And I said, ‘Yeah, but then he [Nungesser] started strangling me and I definitely didn’t consent to that.’”
Sulkowicz said the officer asked repeatedly about what clothes Nungesser was wearing at the time and was surprised when Sulkowicz couldn’t remember specific details from the incident, which occurred more than a year and a half ago.
“He [the officer] was like, ‘So you don’t remember what shoes he [Nungesser] was wearing? Oh. Most women do,’” Sulkowicz said.
From her residence hall, Sulkowicz was driven to the local precinct offices, where she was asked to fill out forms describing her assault as domestic violence—despite the fact that she and Nungesser were never in a relationship—and questioned by a detective from the Special Victims Unit.
During that time, she said, the policeman to whom she originally gave her statement was standing outside the room, actively dismissing her story to the friends she had brought to the precinct office with her for support.
“They told me he said stuff like, ‘Of all of these cases, 90 percent are bullshit, so I don’t believe your friend for a second,’” Sulkowicz said.
Sulkowicz said that the officer also repeatedly emphasized to her how “painful” the process of investigating her alleged assault would be and how much it would “hurt” her.
“It makes perfect sense why a survivor wouldn’t go to police the moment after she’s been physically violated,” she said. “If all the police are doing is stressing she’s going to suffer more, it’s unimaginable.”
Sulkowicz said this is why Columbia needs to be improving its own adjudication process for sexual assault. She, like many activists on campus, is happy to see Columbia making policy changes like those outlined in the statement released Thursday by University President Lee Bollinger. Sulkowicz said she was especially glad to see the addition of a second location for the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center in Lerner Hall, which is accessible to all students on campus.
The RC/AVSC’s move, as well as the announcement that it will now provide round-the-clock counseling from a trained professional in addition to the existing peer counseling system, is one of many changes student activists have been pushing for all year.
The most recent round of student activism has taken the form of the lists of alleged rapists posted in bathrooms around campus, which has also gained national media attention.
“That’s still a problem. The fact that the University sends Public Safety to tape down the bathrooms—I think that’s a stifling of sorts,” Sulkowicz said, referring to the University’s response to the lists. Most of the written lists were wiped away soon after they were discovered, and Facilities put tape across several bathrooms in Butler Library while removing the names.
“For other graffiti they wouldn’t tape the bathroom down. If it were a drawing of a smiley face, they wouldn’t do that.”
Columbia does not comment on specifics of sexual misconduct cases, but the University issued a statement earlier this week in response to the lists of alleged rapists. “The University is mindful of the multiple federal laws that govern these matters and provide important protections to survivors of sexual violence and to students engaged in our investigative process. These laws and our constitutional values do not permit us to silence debate on the difficult issues being discussed,” the statement said.
Some students and online commenters have raised concerns that by publicizing the names of these alleged “rapists on campus,” activists are disrespecting the named students’ privacy by spreading unconfirmed information. Sulkowicz says that because she knows women who have allegedly been attacked by the men on the list, she views the situation differently.
For her, and many others, the University’s policy changes are a step in the right direction, but have done little to address individuals’ concerns about running into their alleged attackers on campus.
“At the end of the day, my rapist still goes to this school and they haven’t done anything about that,” Sulkowicz said. “What good is all this if I know my serial rapist is still going to be attacking women on campus?”