Sulkowicz has already received media attention as one of the twenty-three “complainants” filing April’s Title IX case against the university’s alleged mishandling of sexual assault cases, but the personal attention has escalated since her art piece has gone viral on the Internet. On Mondays, Emma attends class carrying the fifty-pound mattress across campus from north to south and east to west. “It’s a lot of physical pain,” she says. Unless there are reporters surrounding her, her fellow students, both friends and strangers are eager to help her before and after class. These acquaintances are not helping her get from point A to point B but also sharing in her everyday burden: carrying the weight of her past – and present – upon her shoulders.
College students, because of their age, are at high risk for sexual assault, and some researchers believe that college women are more vulnerable than their nonstudent peers. Campus sexual assault is vastly underreported to authorities with fewer than 5-percent of college women who are victims of rape or attempted rape reporting it to the police. Part of the problem is that many survivors do not call their experience rape although it meets the legal criteria, but colleges also often encourage victim blaming through prevention programs that focus exclusively on risk-reduction behavior by potential victims. Drug and alcohol abuse policies that do not include immunity for victims of sexual assault can also hinder reporting. Not having access to confidential or anonymous reporting reduces the number of victims who will come forward and a belief that the assailant will not be punished.
President Obama and Vice President Biden joined leaders from universities, media companies, the sports world, and grassroots organizations to launch the “It’s On Us” campaign against sexual assault on college campuses. “It’s On Us” is a rally cry inviting everyone to step up and realize that the solution begins with us. It seeks to reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault in a way that inspires everyone to see it as his or her responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it. In launching “It’s On Us,” President Obama said, “To the survivors who are leading the fight against sexual assault, your efforts have helped start a movement. I can only imagine how long and lonely your fight must feel. And that’s why we’re all here today – to say that it’s not on you; it’s not your fight to wage alone; it’s on us – all of us – to fight campus sexual assault. You are not alone. We’ve got your back.” With the rise of interest and momentum that we’ve seen in just the initial first days of launching the campaign, it’s clear that Americans across the country really do have victim’s backs. The National Campus Leadership Council had worked to sign up two hundred and three campuses to run student-led “It’s On Us” campaigns. In only a few days, that number has jumped to two hundred and thirty-three campuses nationwide.
President George Bush signed “The Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights” into law in July of 1992. The law requires that colleges and universities, both public and private, participating in federal student aid programs