You may remember Emma Sulkowicz as the Columbia University student and rape survivor who protested her university’s handling of her sexual assault case by carrying her mattress with her around campus. While many of Sulkowicz’s classmates have been supportive of her, she’s also faced a deluge of criticism and hate. She has been denounced as a liar by men’s rights activists and other far-right anti-feminists. Her alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, is currently suing Columbia University for failing to sufficiently protect him from Sulkowicz’s performance art — which he considers “harassment.” In an incredibly petty move, Columbia President Lee Bollinger reportedly refused to shake Sulkowicz’s hand at graduation.
To dampen the mood even further, New York City residents were greeted with an unpleasant discovery this morning: Multiple posters were found plastered on walls, windows, and mailboxes — even hanging from telephone wires — which featured her picture and denounced her as a “pretty little liar.” Others featured actress and author Lena Dunham with the caption “BIG FAT LIAR.” Both versions included the hashtag #RapeHoax.
So far, the person or persons responsible for this smear campaign have not revealed their identities, but a Twitter account by the name of “Fake Rape” recently sprang up and, using Sulkowicz’s photo as its avatar, published photos of the posters and peoples’ reactions to them. Some photos depicted the posters being torn down by passersby and even some Columbia graduates still dressed in their caps and gowns. Referring to them as Brownshirts, “Fake Rape” wrote, “So much for freedom of speech!” Evidently “Fake Rape” is too dim to understand what constitutes an abridgment of the First Amendment.
Some speculated that slimy conservative provocateur and yellow-journalist Charles C. Johnson was responsible, though he denied any involvement on Twitter. For good measure Johnson added that he “would have called her a dumb slut.”
One possible culprit is an LA-based right-wing street artist who goes by the name “Sabo.” The “PRETTY LITTLE LIAR” and “BIG FAT LIAR” posters are thematically and stylistically similar to Sabo’s other street art pieces, which often carry sexist or racist messages. For example, Sabo was responsible for the atrocious “Abortion Barbie” posters attacking Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, as well as a slew of posters which similarly attacked Lena Dunham as a liar who harbored “rape fantasies.” (He also ludicrously refers to himself as the “Greatest Political Artist Since [Francisco] Goya.”) In addition, Sabo has Tweeted about the Sulkowicz and Dunham posters, cryptically writing that “someone’s been busy.”
So far Sabo has not issued a definitive statement on the posters, though he recently Tweeted the message, “I get blamed for everything man!!!” Yet while it’s unknown if he had any involvement in the posters’ creation or if he merely inspired other like-minded misogynists and rape-deniers, what is clear, however, is that Sabo and the owners of the “Fake Rape” Twitter account are not alone in their distrust of women who claim to have been raped.
The notorious men’s rights website A Voice for Men put out a statement in support for the anonymous artists:
We do not know who these people are though we have our suspicions and all we can say is we seriously wish them well. Except they may be too kind to Emma Sulcowicz [sic], and they don’t seem to have saved energy for the scumbags who made her famous.
AVfM columnist Suzanne McCarley, who retweeted several Tweets from the “Fake Rape” account, chimed in by accusing Sulkowicz of “toting a mattress around as a false accusation.”
At The Daily Caller — a conservative “news” site founded by rape apologist Tucker Carlson — Jim Treacher wrote, “These days you can’t turn around without running into somebody who’s making a false claim of rape to get attention. … If you’re as sick of these liars as I am, [these posters] will be a welcome sight.” The comments section was equally terrible. “Ugly little liar is more accurate,” wrote commenter “johnholliday.” Another who went by the name “skhpcola” wrote, “#EmmaSulkowicz is definitely a liar. She may be little. But this hag is ugly all the way to her black, evil heart.”
This is all standard fare for how we treat rape survivors in America. Although false rape claims are a vast minority — somewhere between 2 and 8 percent — women are almost always treated as crazy or vengeful liars seeking to smear innocent men. In reality rapists rarely get the punishment they deserve due to a myriad of factors, both legal and cultural. Perhaps this was best outlined in Jon Krakauer’s masterful new book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, which ought to be mandatory reading for anyone interested in how societal ignorance and rape myths fuel our constant mishandling of rape cases.