I was lying in bed, sick on a Friday night, scrolling through the inanity of Twitter and Facebook when I saw it and read it. The statement from the woman sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. The woman who was forced to sit in a courtroom and have her character interrogated, to look on as the man who assaulted her as she lay half-naked, unconscious by the side of a road, was convicted and handed down a paltry six-month sentence.
She was eloquent and honest and her story seemed so known to me, its depiction of grievous sexual assault at once utterly horrific and terrifyingly familiar.
I was sad. And angry. But not shocked. Not shocked at the leniency of the sentencing. Not shocked at the victim-blaming the rape survivor endured. Not shocked that a young man called Brock Turner had assaulted a woman too drunk to consent, too drunk to know what was happening to her, until she was rescued by passers-by and told about it later. Not shocked, even as I read: “I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my half naked, unconscious body.”
I tweeted the statement. I noticed that some women who follow me on Twitter retweeted it. And I thought, it’s probably familiar to them too. If they are not one of the one in four who have been sexually assaulted or abused on a university campus, then maybe they are a friend or daughter or sister or mother to a woman who has.
Brock Turner still does not understand that rape isn’t just something that happens between two people who’ve had a few drinks. And the judge Aaron Persky who sentenced him to just six months in jail has not helped him or forced him to understand
All weekend, I noticed as more and more women (and occasionally men) shared the statement on the internet. We were allowing ourselves to feel angry and sad.
Which is not something that is easy to do. Because everyone knows that anger has its uses but to carry it around with you day to day is exhausting and upsetting, the anger at something that happened to you, a victim, polluting your life and clouding your sense of who you are. The same is true of sadness: it’s unpleasant to hold it in within yourself, to allow it puncture your pleasant present. Anger and sadness are emotions that if we sit with them long enough turn in on ourselves, they begin to feel ineffective, hurting us, but no one else. So we often let them peter out…
I don’t want for women to have to tell every story. I don’t want for us all to have to dredge our banks of memories, accessing the painful ones and presenting them to the public. Just so that the perpetrators of sexual violence will understand that they should not rape or assault us.
Thank you for joining The Pool
Because even when we do, even when we tell our stories, even when a survivor manages to articulate the pain so perfectly like in the case of the Stanford rape survivor, there is a sense that these stories can be responded to, that someone can say “yes, I hear what you’re saying about not having enjoyed being assaulted or raped or abused, but have you thought about it from my point of view?”
That’s what people who tweet #notallmen are doing. And that’s certainly what Brock Turner and his family are doing.
By Monday, Brock Turner’s father had released a statement, outlining the impact that the assault had had on Brock. His appetite was affected, he could barely finish a steak, we were told. And yes, as we – and the victim – had been repeatedly told, his competitive swimming career had been dented.
This was a tragedy for Brock Turner too, not just his victim, was what his father was saying.
This morning we have an extract of Turner’s statement to the judge, and his sense that this was an unfortunate consequence of two people having too much to drink at a party was laid bare. Yes, Turner admits, he is “completely consumed by my poor judgement and ill thought actions” but reading his statement it’s clear that he blames alcohol and partying for the fact that he assaulted an unconscious woman by the side of the road. He says: “I want to demolish the assumption that drinking and partying are what make up a college lifestyle. I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone.”
He still doesn’t understand. Brock Turner does not understand that rape isn’t just something that happens between two people who’ve had a few drinks. Brock Turner, a man convicted of sexual assault, still does not understand rape and its devastating power to destroy lives. He doesn’t understand that sexual assault is a heinous crime he committed, all on his own.
And the judge Aaron Persky who sentenced him to just six months in jail has not helped him or forced him to understand.
It’s not up to survivors to get angry and sad on Twitter. It’s not up to survivors to explain to Brock Turner what rape is, and why it’s bad. It’s up to our culture and our lawmakers and our authorities to do that. Yes, we can get sad and angry, but we shouldn’t have to to get sad and angry for it to stop.