Columbia graduate Emma Sulkowicz carried her mattress around her university campus for a year, even graduating with it, for a performance art project in protest at the school's lack of action against a fellow student whom she claims raped her. No charges were ever brought against her alleged rapist Paul Nungesser, who is now suing the university on the grounds that Sulkowicz's project subjected him to "verbal aggression, intimidation and hostility based on his gender".
Nungesser has some allies in the form of a group who seem determined to discredit Sulkowicz with a poster campaign that uses her face alongside messages such as "pretty little liar" and "#fakerape", and a Twitter account that carries similar rhetoric. But Sulkowicz has her own ally: Lena Dunham.
Dunham also found herself a target of the vitrolic art project, with some posters labelling her "a big fat liar". She reached out to Sulkowicz on Twitter to offer her support. "Dear Emma, anyone who wants can call us anything they want, but you helped me to stand in my skin & I am so grateful".
Last year, Dunham detailed her experiences of sexual assault in her memoir Not That Kind Of Girl and wrote an essay in 2014 explaining why she chose to speak out, revealing her frustration that her character and credibility was questioned
We have no idea whether or not Emma Sulkowicz's attacker is guilty or not and neither do the people putting posters across New York. Theirs is a campaign designed to shame, humiliate and scare, one that could intimidate women into not reporting rape. Not only are there dangerous, negative societal consequences to "activism" like this – it's just deeply sad. Imagine saying to someone, "hey, I'm off to NYC for a few days to publicly accuse a woman I don't know of being a liar." Cool story, bro.