UPDATE: Federally-funded group at NKU sponsors mattress-carrying demonstration

UPDATE: NKU Director of Public Relations Amanda Nageleisen provided the following statement to Campus Reform correcting an inaccuracy in the Northern Kentucky Tribune article cited in this story:

"The protest in question was NOT organized by the Norse Violence Prevention Center; it was organized by a group of students. A NVP staff member did attend to provide support to any student who may have been triggered by the protest.

"The local media report you referenced was inaccurate, and I have reached out to the media outlet to issue a correction."

Several students at Northern Kentucky University participated Thursday in a “mattress girl”-themed demonstration organized by a group funded by federal grants.

A week after one female NKU student spent a day carrying a mattress on her back to protest the school’s handling of her sexual assault complaint, a la Emma Sulkowicz, several other students gathered outside the student union bedecked in bedsheets to demonstrate in support of the survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, The Northern Kentucky Tribune reported Thursday.

Flyers distributed beforehand to encourage participation in the event encouraged students to bring a mattress or pillow as a symbol, or else to tape a red X on their clothing to show their support.

“Domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape have all been an alarmingly large part of American society, particularly on college campuses,” the flyer told students. “Society blames the victims, so the victims can often be driven to self-harm and suicide ... This peaceful protest is a way to give a HUGE middle finger to the perpetrators of these crimes, many of which [sic] may in fact share classes with us.”

A photograph accompanying the article shows a group of about 10 students standing near a mattress bearing the slogan “Carry that Weight,” several of whom are wearing bedsheets adorned with red handprints and holding signs protesting a system they assert is insufficiently sympathetic to victims. Carry that Weight is a coalition that encourages college students to carry a mattress or pillow as a way of “showing visible support for survivors … and helping to challenge a culture that silences survivors and hides the issue of sexual and domestic violence.”

The event was organized by the Norse Violence Prevention Center, an on-campus office funded through a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, which was awarded in 2013 through the “Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking on Campus Program,” otherwise known as the Campus Program.

According to the DOJ, “the Campus Program encourages a coordinated community approach that enhances victim safety and assistance, and supports efforts to hold offenders accountable.” To that end, grant funds are earmarked for activities like improving security on campuses, financing victims’ services, and implementing policies “that more effectively identify and respond to the crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.”

In addition, Campus Program grants can be used “to implement and operate education programs for the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking,” which appears to be the provision justifying the NVP Center’s sponsorship of the demonstration.

As NKU Chief of Police Les Kachurek pointed out in response to last week’s one-woman protest, though, the accuser is not always the only victim in cases involving accusations of sexual assault. In an email sent to the university community on the day of that protest and reproduced by The Tribune, Kachurek takes pains to guarantee that campus police would not interfere with the student’s First Amendment rights, but notes that her past behavior has at times been fairly provocative.

“Ostensibly, this is her way of expressing her displeasure over the outcome of an administrative hearing, where she accused a male student of sexually assaulting her more than a year ago,” Kachurek wrote. “Moreover, she has been publicly slandering the male student.”

Kachurek made clear that “any slandering is not our concern, unless it segues into a clear criminal or Student-Code-of-Conduct offense,” but also added that officers had been instructed not to “negatively react or take enforcement action based on any offensive language she may use, including anti-police rhetoric.”

The NVP Center did not respond to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

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