Tears are streaming down my face reading the letter of the victim of Brock Turner’s sexual assault. As a rape victim, this sentencing and complete lack of justice hits hard. It’s a reminder of why I, and why countless women I know who have been raped don’t tell anyone. More than anything I’ve been through in my entire life, the most dehumanizing, excruciating and world destroying thing I’ve experienced is rape. The first time I was raped was before I knew what the word even meant. It was violent and I walked away feeling shamed and terrified. I couldn’t find words to describe what had happened to me, so I found things that would help me stop feeling the bleakness of what my existence had become. Unfortunately, those things were intoxicating, and set into motion a cycle that I was incorrectly told set me up to be raped. I think this is one of the main issues I hear with the rhetoric about rape culture. I drank. Sometimes I blacked out. Sometimes I browned out, coming in and out of a blackout. More times than I can remember, I would wake up with someone inside of me that I was absolutely certain I hadn’t given consent to. If I fought or talked about it, I was told that alcohol was the problem and that by getting drunk I was asking for it. Even recently, I’ve spoken with good people who, I believe, understand what rape is and who consider themselves feminist, but think that alcohol intoxication is somehow an acceptable scapegoat for sexual assault.
It is not.
As the victim of the Stanford tragedy eloquently spoke about in her letter to her assaulter, alcohol and sexual assault are completely separate issues. One is not an excuse, justification, or reason for the other. In fact, they shouldn’t even enter the same sentence. If someone is drunk or highly intoxicated, they are unable to give consent. And if you aren’t given consent, and still insert yourself into another person, that my friend, is rape. End of story.
When I’ve told people my experiences with rape and sexual assault, they often ask if I would react differently if I knew then what I knew today. In other words, would I call the cops and file charges. This woman’s story is the reason I feel ambivalent to say yes. I call it a tragedy that in the United States of America, there is a documented sexual assault on an adult every 107 seconds. 90% of these adults are women. Knowing that one out of every six women in the US has been a rape victim or attempted rape victim in her lifetime makes my skin crawl, and yet that’s the picture of the American life. On top of that, out of every 1,000 rapes that are reported, 994 perpetrators will walk away without charges. (https://rainn.org) And these numbers just take into account the women who report their rapists.
When I hear stories like this one, about an innocent victim who was brutally assaulted behind a dumpster, where there is no confusion about what happened, where there are other witnesses of the rape to explain the situation, where there is absolutely no doubt that a crime was committed, and yet the little piece of shit perpetrator gets off, my answer is no. I wouldn’t have done it differently. I don’t believe there is any justice to be had in a justice system that lets rapists free. What I hear from that judge is that women’s bodies don’t matter. That violent men are free to do whatever they want without recourse, and that ultimately, women are to blame for violence committed against them.
This situation is dire and yet it’s just the tip of the iceberg. FIFTY women accused Bill Cosby of rape and he’s not in prison. The fact that our court system assumes women are lying when they share what is likely the most painful and difficult experience of their life is an example of a systemic issue. When there is ample evidence of rape and a lawyer can change the story to make it sound like it’s the victim’s fault, this is an example of a systemic issue. When on a daily basis, women’s lives are being completely torn apart in the United States of America, and NOTHING is being done about it, this is an example of a systemic issue.
I wish I had an overnight solution, but sadly I don’t. I do however, have fire. I have anger, and anguish, and my heart breaks for the women that have to experience daily the confusion, loss, and gut wrenching pain of being a victim of sexual assault. I know that even if there isn’t hope in the justice system, there is hope in our words. I’ve been able to reach hundreds of women with similar experiences to mine because I’ve been willing to tell my story.
If nothing else, I invite you to talk about rape. Talk about it with your kids, with your friends, with your family. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but as long as it stays taboo and hidden, we can’t see it face on. And if we can’t see it face on, nothing will change. The rape culture paradigm needs to shift, and we need to be the ones to step up and shift it because clearly the justice system isn’t going to.
Petition to remove judge in this case: https://www.change.org/p/california-state-house-recall-judge-aaron-persky/h/alternate?recruiter=17086852&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_term=des-lg-no_src-reason_msg&recruit_variation=alternate&fb_ref=Default
Violence against women- it’s a men’s issue: https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue?language=en
Rainn stats: https://rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system