Columbia University rape accused files updated lawsuit claiming 'rapist' is gendered slur

Emma Sulkowicz carries her mattress.

Emma Sulkowicz carries her mattress.

The alleged rapist whose case sparked Columbia's "mattress protest" has updated his lawsuit against the university with an interesting addition. 

Paul Nungesser is suing the university for enabling a "harassment campaign" by his alleged victim, Emma Sulkowicz, who - in protest against the university's decision to clear him of wrongdoing and allow him to continue attendance - hauled a mattress to class every day in 2014 as a symbol of the weight she was carrying. 

That performance, which Sulkowicz titled Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) became her senior thesis and made headlines around the world. 

In response to the performance and Sulkowicz's university credit for it, Nungesser filed a discrimination lawsuit against the university, its president and a professor last year. 

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That lawsuit was dismissed in March by Judge Gregory Woods, who said Nungesser's argument rested on a logical fallacy. 

"He assumes that because the allegations against him concerned a sexual act that everything that follows from it is 'sex-based' within the meaning of Title IX," Woods said.

"Taken to its logical extreme, Nungesser's position would lead to the conclusion that those who commit, or are accused of committing, sexual assault are a protected class under Title IX."

However, the ruling allowed Nungesser to file an updated complaint - and it appears he hasn't taken on board the judge's comments about logical fallacies.

The new document makes the same complaint as the previous one, but with additional arguments including that "false rape claims" constitute gender-based harassment, and that the word "rapist" is a slur against men in the same way that "whore" is a slur against women.

Although the dismissal of the previous lawsuit would suggest this updated version should get the same reception, it's still a worrying development indicative of a broader trend surrounding campus rape cases, whereby an unproven case can lead the accused to counter-sue for "discrimination", using the argument that rape accusations - being most often levelled at men - rely on gendered "stereotypes" such as "most rapists are men". 

At the heart, the issue raises real questions about the space between being found not guilty due to lack of evidence, and being "exonerated" - and if accused rapists deserve protection from 'harassment', what happens to alleged victims who are harassed or raped... but can't prove it?

Nungesser's parents told Newsweek in an email: "We hope that Judge Woods will send a clear signal by admitting this complaint—that the very university that has exonerated a student also has a duty to protect that student from defamation and harassment."