There is a reason why rape survivors and survivors of sexual assault are so afraid to step forward and fight for the justice they so deserve. And these past few days, we were reminded of that reason.
When the sentence for the Stanford rape case involving Brock Allen Turner came out, ordering him to six months in county jail and probation—a California jury found him guilty of three counts of sexual assault, but the court sentenced so because "the judge said he feared a longer sentence would have a 'severe impact' on Turner, a champion swimmer who once aspired to compete in the Olympics—a point repeatedly brought up during the trial"—we were surprised and disappointed. (via BuzzFeed.com)
On Thursday, the survivor of Brock's assault spoke to him directly and read her powerful statement (which she provided BuzzFeed) before the court while addressing him directly—her words served as a reminder for all of us to keep fighting this fight of putting an end to rape culture, where people have been trained to blame the victim or anything other than the rapist themselves. Read a few parts of her letter below, but here's a warning: the language can be graphic and sensitive because of the topic discussed.
Rape, sexual assault isn't just "20 minutes of action," as the rapist's dad puts it in this extremely offensive letter. When you sexually assault a person, you're taking something irreplaceable and something they'll be taking with them for the rest of their lives.
"you said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life. A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken. Nobody wins. We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.
"My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self deprecating, tired, irritable, empty. The isolation at times was unbearable. You cannot give me back the life I had before that night either. While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see."
Alcohol, anything really, isn't an excuse for sexual assault. We've read this on the internet a hundred times already, but we just need to say it again: if you're making anything (the way they dress or their reputation or their unconsciousness even) your excuse to sexually assault someone, then what does that make you? It's like saying that you have the natural instinct to rape and harm someone, and that you have absolutely no control over your choices.
"You said, Being drunk I just couldn't make the best decisions and neither could she. Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. Everyone in this room has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much, or knows someone close to them who has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much. Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That's the difference.
"Again, you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me. You were wrong for doing what nobody else was doing, which was pushing your erect d*ck in your pants against my naked, defenseless body concealed in a dark area, where partygoers could no longer see or protect me, and my own sister could not find me. Sipping fireball is not your crime. Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong. Why am I still explaining this."
Forgiveness is a necessary step for all parties to move on, but that doesn't give them an excuse to not take responsibility for their actions.
"I told the probation officer I do not want Brock to rot away in prison. I did not say he does not deserve to be behind bars. The probation officer's recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women. It gives the message that a stranger can be inside you without proper consent and he will receive less than what has been defined as the minimum sentence. Probation should be denied. I also told the probation officer that what I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing.
"Unfortunately, after reading the defendant's report, I am severely disappointed and feel that he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct. I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of 'promiscuity'. By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can't even see that distinction.
"The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative."
Sexual assault is never the victim's or the survivor's fault. Never. You tell them to move on as if moving on was something you can do overnight, in a few weeks, and even in a few years. Isn't it traumatizing when someone snatches or steals something you own? Now imagine if they snatched your consent and ownership over your own body. Your body holds much more value than your wallet or mobile phone or any material thing.
"To girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, 'Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save? they just stand there shining.' Although I can't save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can't be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you."
Let us strive to protect each other from harm, Candy Girls. Let us continue fighting this fight against rape culture.