At the beginning of the fall, Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz started to carry a mattress around to all of her classes, to protest the continued presence of the student she says raped, beat and strangled her during her sophomore year. Two other students also accused him of rape, but Columbia University cleared him of charges. Now, the accused, Paul Nungesser, has granted an interview to the NY Times, and says, "My mother raised me as a feminist, and I’m someone who would like to think of myself as being supportive of equal rights for women."
Nungesser, a scholarship student from Germany, was publicly identified earlier this year by the school's newspaper, The Columbia Spectator, which explained that Sulkowicz "filed a police report this week... Sulkowicz and other students have said that she and two other women filed separate complaints against Nungesser through the University" and "Finally, Nungesser’s name was one of four listed on flyers and bathroom stalls this week, putting him at the center of the campus controversy surrounding sexual assault."
Ms. Sulkowicz says that in August 2012, during an otherwise consensual encounter, Mr. Nungesser hit her, pinned her down and, despite her protests, raped her. Another woman accused him of following her up the stairs at a party for the literary society they both belonged to and groping her until she pushed him off. A third woman accused him of multiple episodes of “intimate partner violence” — emotional abuse and nonconsensual sex during a monthslong relationship.
Sexual assault cases can sometimes come down to a matter of perspective, but Mr. Nungesser’s accusers say there can be no ambiguity about what he did. “It’s not safe for him to be on this campus,” Ms. Sulkowicz said this month. The women he assaulted “are forever emotionally scarred and fragile because of what he’s done to them. And me.”
Mr. Nungesser is similarly absolute. “People were like, maybe this is a misunderstanding,” he said of Ms. Sulkowicz’s charges. “But the matter of the fact is it’s not a misunderstanding.” He insists they had completely consensual sex. “What was alleged was the most violent rape, and that did not happen.”
As for groping, he says he attended the party but never went upstairs. And intimate partner violence? “Outside of a forced marriage or kidnapping, it just seems very hard to believe that a person would over and over again put themselves in a situation where they could expect this kind of behavior to occur.”
The woman who says he groped her told the Times, "To me he seems like a predator who attacks women, who does not ask for consent and does not know the line."
Nungesser says that he's lost many friends since the accusations. Also: "On the National Day of Action, when students took their mattresses out to the quad, a few people also took them to one of Mr. Nungesser’s classes. Someone there took his picture as he entered, he said; another classmate blogged about it. On another occasion, when he went to a bar with a friend, that fact made its way into a television news report on Ms. Sulkowicz’s project."
A lot of blame has been placed on Columbia's (mis)handling of the female students' claims (sexual assault cake, anyone?), prompting them to file federal complaints. Sulkowicz, who reported the incident to the police a year and a half after it took place, also faulted the NYPD: "[The officer] emphasized certain things, like the fact that I had consented earlier on in the night. And I said, ‘Yeah, but then he started strangling me and I definitely didn’t consent to that.’"
Sulkowicz's mother was even slightly sympathetic to Nungesser, telling the Times, "I think by sweeping it under the rug [Columbia has] subjected him to a very painful, scarring experience. I don’t see it as Emma’s fault because she just had to do what she had to do but I do see it as the school’s fault."