I Watched the Emma Sulkowicz Sex video, and this is what I saw

Normally I would not watch such a video, much less admit to it on the internet. However, The Daily Beast has been repeatedly posting about the video on my timeline. I have been supportive of her mattress project, and decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. She made the video as an artistic statement about sexual assault, and so I decided to set aside my own prudishness and see the statement she was trying to make.

For those of you who don’t know who Emma is, she is the Columbia student who has been carrying the mattress she reports she was raped on around her campus as an art statement and protest about how her case was mishandled.

As the story has gone, she reported her assault to her campus, her campus investigated, and dismissed her case. She felt the case was mishandled, and started her mattress project as a way to protest this mishandling. Her accused rapist has maintained his innocence, but he has had other accusers as well

This month, she has put up a video entitled “Ceci n’est pas un viol” in which she vividly reenacts a violent sexual encounter. She invites people to watch provided they do so with respectful intent.

I did, and this is what I saw.

The film starts out consensually. I won’t go into explicit detail, but the initial acts are clearly consensual and include her putting protection on him as she initiates some of the acts. About halfway through he strikes her, and she can be heard saying “hit me again.” He then starts to choke her, and she says “stop.” He continues, pauses, removes the protection, and then enters her anally while she screams in pain and again yells to stop. He finishes, leaves, she gets up, showers, and cleans up her room.

But that is not all I saw.

I saw a scene where consent was given, one person took the act further than the other was willing to go, consent was withdrawn, and the other person continued without the consent.

I also saw how a scenario similar to this could lead to the report of rape being wrongfully dismissed. Even though she explicitly states that this was not a reenactment, the events do mirror her early description of what happened to her. Given that our society sees consent as something that needs to be gotten around, not something to be acquired and maintained, I can see how the university could use her initial consent to shift the blame onto her, ignoring the fact the consent was withdrawn. For a university who would want to make the rape go away, motivated by not wanting the notoriety rape would bring to the school, this initial consent would be all that was needed, and the removal of consent would be inconsequential to them.

Finally, I saw how far people are willing to go to silence this conversation on consent. I made the mistake of reading the comment sections. Rather than engage the material, and discuss the statement being made, people have just repeated the old accusations that she is a liar, seeking attention, and every comment that is levied at every rape accuser in the media. If you were to, as she asks, not see this as a reenactment, but rather look at the statement being made, there is a very important conversation being had in the video. However, the response people are having is one where people do not want to have this conversation. Emma’s character has nothing to do with this larger conversation, but they are attacking her to distract from and end that conversation.

So that is what I saw in the video. Ultimately, I believe it is meant to spark a very important conversation on the concept of consent, and sadly this is a conversation people seem to be terrified of.

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