Denial of service attack staged against DigitalOcean, which hosts video stemming from Columbia University student’s protest about alleged on-campus rape
The service provider hosting the latest visual art project by Columbia University graduate Emma Sulkowicz has confirmed the site was temporarily disabled by a sophisticated cyberattack after the film which she warns “may resemble rape” was published online last week.
Sulkowicz graduated from Columbia in May after completing a year-long performance art project in which she carried a dorm room mattress everywhere she went on campus to protest about the school’s refusal to expel the man she accuses of raping her.
The website hosting Sulkowicz’s video, titled Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol, French for This Is Not a Rape, was hit by a denial of service (DoS) attack, in which hackers attempt to force a targeted website offline, according to Keith Anderson, platform support lead at DigitalOcean, where Sulkowicz site is hosted.
“We can confirm that there was a denial of service attack on Thursday,” Anderson said. “On Friday there was also a spike in outbound bandwidth coming from the website, likely due to a sudden increase in traffic and unrelated to the attack, so we worked with their web team to resolve the issue and their site is back up and running.”
Sulkowicz told the Guardian that she has no doubt the cyberattack was deliberate. But she said she was prepared for it. Her accusation that a classmate raped her was met with a backlash, counter-accusations and trolling.
In the video Sulkowicz and an unidentified man engage in a sexual encounter that appears to begin consensually before turning violent. During the act the man slaps her multiple times, ignores her protests and and continues to have violent sex.
Sulkowicz and her mattress became a powerful symbol of the movement to reform campus responses to sexual violence after vowing to carry it around campus as her visual arts senior thesis. The video is the artist’s first major work since the conclusion in May of her performance art piece Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight.
Sulkowicz accuses Paul Nungesser of raping her in August 2012 at the start of their sophomore year. Columbia investigated the incident and later cleared Nungesser of all responsibility during a campus tribunal. Nungesser has maintained that the encounter was consensual and has since filed a lawsuit against the university, its president and an art professor alleging that the school enabled a harassment campaign.
Sulkowicz called the experience of making the video “terrifying” and “traumatizing” but said she was determined to make it because she believed so strongly in its importance.
“I was in a very scared, emotional state for days,” Sulkowicz told the Guardian.
Sulkowicz said she conceptualized the project in December and pitched it to artist Ted Lawson, whom she met through performance artist Marina Abramović. While collaborating on a separate project with Lawson, Sulkowicz said she suggested the video and asked him to direct it. In an interview with ArtNet News, Lawson said: “It was a super risky piece and I thought very courageous, so of course I agreed.”
They filmed the video in one of the university’s dorm rooms over spring break, Sulkowicz said. The male actor remains anonymous and his face is blurred in the video. The timestamps on the videos are blurred.
Though Sulkowicz said her friends and family have been very supportive in private, she said it can hurt when they don’t support her publicly online.
“The trolls don’t upset me as much as when my friends don’t support it,” she said. “I expect the trolls but to see my friends not support it [vocally] is upsetting.”
Sulkowicz has said the encounter with Nungesser began consensually but then turned violent. The video echeos her account of that night in August 2012. Though Sulkowicz says it is not a re-enactment, she does appear in the video.
Introductory text for the video contains a trigger warning: “The following text contains allusions to rape.”
In complementary text published with the video Sulkowicz writes: “Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol is not about one night in August, 2012. It’s about your decisions, starting now. It’s only a re-enactment if you disregard my words. It’s about you, not him.”
She characterized reaction to her latest piece as “somber”. Asked what that meant, she said: “With this piece there’s really nothing to rally behind. It’s really more of a quiet, reflective type of support.”
Sulkowicz said she was working on a new art piece that she expects to publish soon. She would not give any hints about the theme of the new project. “It’s a different piece,” she said, “but I have only one body and one history to work with.”