Here is today’s edition of The V Word

You can listen to the broadcast here

Today I am going to talk about a student’s response to her rape on campus. Have you heard of Emma Sulkowicz  and her mattress?

A Student at Columbia University named Emma has started carrying her dorm mattress for her visual arts senior thesis  to create awareness about her sexual assault that happened on campus. Emma stated that she will carry her mattress everywhere until the school takes accountability for what happened to her. She was sexually assaulted in 2012 and her perpetrator remains at the school. After she reported her assault to Columbia, she appeared before a disciplinary panel, where she was forced to explain to a university official how the painful manner in which she had been raped was physically possible. Then the panel found her accused assailant not responsible. The school has failed Emma as a survivor in making sure that she and other survivors are safe. This creates a message that sexual violence is tolerated and accepted at the university.

Emma has created rules for this project where she is not allowed to ask for help in carrying her mattress but she IS allowed to accept others help if offered. Her hope is that others become aware of what she is doing and offer their help. Shortly, after her project became known to the campus students stepped up to help her carry her mattress to and from classes. This act of carrying the mattress together is an act of solidarity to let Emma know that she is not alone and should not have to carry all the crime committed against her. We can all learn from Emma and the students of Columbia in creating a community together that is survivor centered. Sexual violence is a community health issue that impacts us all.

Emma is an example of women using art as activism to bring awareness about the realities of sexual violence to a global level. Emma is not alone and is certainly not the first activist to use her own story to start a conversation about sexual violence. However, her story is an example of  how art can be used as activism to talk about these issues in a different way. The symbol of using her bed is very poignant. How would you describe your bed? A place of comfort? A place for love? A place of safety? Yet for those who are raped in their beds, it can take on such a different feeling, the bed becomes a symbol of torture, of pain, of helplessness. This is how trauma changes the meanings of everyday objects.

Emma’s story has gotten much publicity and it makes me wonder, does it take someone carrying the very same mattress they were raped on to get people to listen about this issue? Does it take something this visually powerful for people to grasp the epidemic that is violence against women in our world? If someone  was sexually assaulted but chose not to use art to make their story heard, or did not have the same resources as Emma, or was fearful to come forward, is their story then lost in the masses or any  less meaningful? What will it take for society to finally understand?

If we all helped carry the weight of injustice  we might finally stop tolerating what we’ve been content to force others to carry alone.


Do you need help or information?  Here are some options…

If you have been assaulted and feel comfortable with calling the police, call 911.

If you are not comfortable with talking to the police, but want to talk to someone, you can call  the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238.

You can now text/chat The Virginia Hotline at

If you have been assaulted in the last 72 hours you can get a  forensic exam to collect evidence and receive medical care. You can do this with and without reporting to the police. The local hospitals in the Richmond area with Forensic Nurse Examiners are at Medical College of Virginia and St. Mary’s Hospital.

The Richmond area has a new regional hotline specific to the needs of sexual and domestic violence survivors: 804-612-6126

For help with counseling and advocacy, find a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Agency near you . To find a center near you  call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238.  

Are  you a family member or a bystander and want know how you can help?

Get involved with your local domestic violence/rape crisis agency.  Donate to services that help survivors recover and heal. The Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline is also available to family/partners/loved ones/ and allied professionals.

Want to share a story or ask a question?  Email me at or tweet me at my twitter account:  @preventviolence.  You can read the transcript for this show and past shows on my blog at

Today’s host was Jenn GallienneThe V Word is recorded in the studios of WRIR-LP 97.3 and streamed at, The V Word is produced by Carol Olson. Music was created by The Etching Tin