After being beaten, strangled, and raped as a sophomore, Columbia College junior Emma Sulkowicz reported her rapist to the school, which eventually found him "not responsible." The allegations of two other women against the same rapist were adjudicated similarly. Just after finishing her junior year last week, Sulkowicz reported the incident to the NYPD, and says she was treated with skepticism and disdain.
“It makes perfect sense why a survivor wouldn’t go to police the moment after she’s been physically violated,” Sulkowicz told The Columbia Spectator. “If all the police are doing is stressing she’s going to suffer more, it’s unimaginable.”
It's worth quoting Sulkowicz's account at length. In addition to misspelling her name on her official report,
Sulkowicz said she felt badly mistreated by the officers who came to her residence to take her statement. Because she and [the alleged rapist] 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 started strangling me and I definitely didn’t consent to that.’”
Sulkowicz said the officer asked repeatedly about what clothes [Sulkowicz's alleged rapist] 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 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 [her alleged rapist] 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.
According to a study cited by the National Organization for Women, less than 5% of college women who are raped report the rape to the police.
A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010 [PDF] included interviews with dozens of detectives whose job it is to investigate rapes; the results regarding the officers' beliefs with regard to rape myths were "powerful and disappointing."
We learned earlier that police were quick to say all of the right things, including and especially the fact that all cases were investigated dispassionately by the detectives, written up objectively, and passed on without prejudice.
Yet, when the microphone was off again and again (or even while the microphone was on) these detectives admitted that there were a large number of cases where they “unfounded” the case rather than continue with it. Evidently if they just plain didn’t believe the victim, then this did not count as a case of “real rape” that would be turned over to the prosecutors. If the victim was treated poorly, and she chose not to continue with her complaint, this was another sign that the case could be ignored. Perhaps the only sign that things were changing was that many officers were willing to admit that there could be, or even had been, cases of prostitutes, promiscuous women, etc. who were telling the truth. Whether this made a difference in their actions was impossible to tell.
In response to lists of alleged rapists being posted in public spaces on campus (the list purportedly includes Sulkowicz's assailant, and a former Bwog employee has also been named as a perpetrator) and the outrage over how Columbia handles sexual assault, Columbia's President announced that the school's office that receives complaints of sexual assault will be subject to greater scrutiny and accountability.
“I understand if it’s too late, but I really hope he does [get charged],” Sulkowicz told the Spectator. Nationally, only 3% of rapists serve any jail time.
We've asked the NYPD if the department is looking into Sulkowicz's allegations of police mistreatment and will update if we receive a response.