After reading and discussing Susan Estrich’s, Rape, reading in class there was a clear indication that the manner in which universities handle rape cases are improper and neither protect the victim nor the accused, but rather the university. Reading through The New York Times article in the case of Anna at Hobart and Will Smith Colleges it became apparent that her case was swept under the rug even after presenting evidence that proved she had been raped. Estrich has two major points in her reading one is considering what is “real rape” and the second is what is “untraditional rape”. I happened to come across a similar case in, Times magazine, where a student by the name of Emma Sulkowicz accused another student attending Columbia University of raping her.

Sulkowicz’ case is not one considered to be “real rape” if we consider Estrich’s interpretation because according to records, confirmation from Emma, and the other student they had been consensually involved intimately on two previous occasions; but, this occasion was different both the victim and the accused have conflicting stories of what occurred that night. Emma kept quiet about the assault in hopes of avoiding emotional distress, but after finding out that two other girls had been victims of her attacker Emma decided she needed to go to the school and report the incident.

Fast-forward through the case, and Emma’s alleged attacker was cleared by a Columbia University panel similar to what occurred in Anna’s case at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. The decision did not put Emma at ease and she decided to pursue bigger actions one is changes regarding how universities (esp. Columbia) handle sexual assault cases and the second is Emma took it upon herself to protest on campus. Emma began lugging around a 50 lb. mattress around campus as a representation and reminder that her attacker was still on campus and she was silently making a bold statement.


Emma’s protests have garnered support as well as critiques because of her protest being a part of her senior thesis. The critiques play along the lines of “untraditional rape” where one people consider that the victim and attacker had been together consensually before as well as Emma’s major action as outspoken victim. Is it possible to say that those who critique her motives and protest are those who probably expect a victim to be scared of drawing attention to themselves and would rather avoid dealing with rape publicly? Although, there may be details in Emma’s case that fall under Estrich’s definition of “untraditional rape” this is very real to Emma and she carries the burden to prove it.

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4 Responses to “Untraditional”

  1. cacunni1 says:

    I agree completely that universities need to do some serious work to actively address sexual assault on campuses. However, most people are incredibly uncomfortable talking about sexual assault. One time I went to a “Take Back the Night” open mic night, and was struck by the deadening silence as people stared at the empty stage and the lone mic.

    As we discussed in class, it is much easier to talk about sexual assault prevention than it is to talk about what to do if someone is raped. I think that Emma’s story demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly. The symbolic carrying of the mattress demonstrates that for sexual assault victims, they can’t ignore their problems. They have to carry the memory of that event for the rest of their lives.

    So what if Emma is using her experience to do her Senior thesis? The fact that is even controversial is rather sickening. My guess is actually that she is using her Senior thesis to talk about rape and sexual assault rather than the other way around. Whatever her reasons, what she is demonstrating to the world is an important reminder that we can’t ignore sexual assault cases just because they make us uncomfortable. Real victims are at stake in the battle to deal with and eradicate sexual assault.

  2. legomez5 says:

    The idea of a traditional rape and an nontraditional rape to me does not make sense. In both cases the act is rape, which if occurred, should be punishable to the fullest extent of the law. I see the distinction between the two terms, however i dont understand the need to for them, When a person is coerced, by intimidation, physical force, or verbal force, to engage in any sexual act against that respected persons wishes – rape has occurred, It does not matter if the person knew their rapist or not, being raped is being raped. It is also ridiculous how these universities handle cases of rape. Rather than seeking out the best option according to justice the university, arguably, acts in the best interest of that university. If has the possibility to conceal something from the public in order to avoid a negative image i believe the university would. Not only did Anna have to endure the perverted acts committed against her that night, but she had to replay that night over and over again via repeated questioning, only to end up having her accused cleared by the university and her reputation as well. Feeding to the myth that not saying anything is the best way to go.

  3. pizza says:

    Wow great post! I really enjoyed how you incorporated the story of these young women who decided to take matters into their own hands when the university failed to do so. I cannot imagine carrying around a 50lb mattress through out my day. That is such a daring action and I applaud her for doing it.
    The simple fact that these universities are willing to protect their name over the name of the young victim who is representing their school is utterly repulsive. No one should of gone through the extent that young woman did of carrying 50lbs. The person who committed the abuse should of been expelled and taken to prison. It makes my blood boil that the university allowed the abuser to escape with no repercussions. That person is among our brothers, sisters, mothers, you name it. I don’t know about you but it makes me weary that a group of “educated” people saw that this abuser was fit for our society. Disgusting.

  4. azucenagonzalez598 says:

    Victim blaming will never cease to amaze me, especially when paired with the definition of nontraditional rape. As you point out, the university is more focused on keeping its reputation immaculate than actually dealing with occurrences such as these. I would agree that the thought of an educational environment that is meant for the cultivating of bright and knowledgeable minds fails to act accordingly appropriate and ethically is dissonant. This is exemplary of how education is not immune to the patriarchal society we live in.

    I applaud these young ladies for speaking about their stories. Even if at one point they did not want to or did not conceive of the idea initially, the fact that they are making it a point to reveal themselves further and keep the conversation going is a reflection of their tenacity and dedication to what has happened to them. However that is not to say that those who decide to stay to themselves are not tenacious or dedicated. It is more so indicative of how victim blaming is a significant variable on whether or not victims speak up, as well as other reasons. In regards to your question about victims speaking up, I would think that some would rather the victim become voiceless, and erase the act from memory in fact, for it is not that the victim should be scared about voicing their unfortunate event, but rather deal with such occurrences as people receive what they “ask” for.

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