By now you have probably heard about the rape on Stanford’s campus that resulted in a very public court case: a freshman, Brock Turner, was caught by two witnesses raping an unconscious woman. He tried to run. She did not regain consciousness for two more hours. A jury found him guilty of three felonies.
The sentencing was ridiculous: the judge cited Brock’s membership on the Stanford swim team as a special circumstance that warranted a lenient punishment.
In response, the rape victim read a 13-page victim statement in the courtroom and it is an incredible statement. I will not summarize the statement here. Suffice it to say that in the first days after it was published online, each person who read it shared it with 12 more people, one of the most viral things that has been published online. Nothing so dense and difficult has gone viral like her victim statement has.
I say this only to encourage you to read it.
But also, to encourage your children to read it.
Everything about it is difficult. It describes rape. But one of the most difficult parts of rape is that the victim is not sure what counts as rape. And part of the reason for this is we never talk about what really is rape. It’s too terrible to talk about in detail, so we often don’t. But she does.
We won’t stop rape on college campuses, which is rampant, until we start talking, in detail, about what rape really is. And we can’t talk about how to help rape victims until there is an understanding of how weak our laws are. Which her statement makes clear.
I had my thirteen-year-old son read the letter. We talked about what a complicated concept rape can be. And what would have happened if there were no witnesses. Just as I want my son to know about sex and drugs and alcohol, I want him to know about rape. It’s part of raising a good citizen.
My son was interested. To be clear, he was not begging to read 13 pages of anything like this. But he read them willingly when I said he could skip Spanish if he did it.
Then I showed him Brock Turner’s father’s statement to the court, so his son would get a light sentence. My son read it. Then my son read Ali Ozeri’s edited version of the letter. And then my son realized how powerful language can be, how you can use language to hide the truth, and to unveil the truth. Careful writing matters.
When I said goodnight to him, much later, I noticed he was re-reading the edited version. He could not get enough of the commentary. You can tell kids over and over to write carefully constructed, thought-out, clear sentences. But nothing drives that home like seeing the power of writing in a high-profile rape case that, in the end, seems to revolve around the popular response to very persuasive, brilliant writing.
I can’t stop reading everything on the Internet about the Brock Turner, the rapist, and about the victim.
I’m going to be honest with you, okay? I almost have trouble writing Brock Turner, the rapist. Like, I don’t want to be mean to him. Yes. Okay? I feel that way. This is not part of the lesson I gave to my son.
Also, my son will have to be old enough to scrounge around my blog to find out that the night I was raped, I also felt sorry for my rapist. I would tell you it was date rape, but my son showed me, on Urban Dictionary, that we don’t use that term anymore. I get it. I know why. Because the fact that he was my date doesn’t mitigate the rape. Okay. So I felt sorry for him and I didn’t put up a very big fight because I was absolutely shocked by what he expected from me.
I am not as brave as the Brock Turner’s victim. Because all I’m going to tell you is that he said, “Suck it” as he pushed my head down. Many years later, I can still feel his penis in my mouth. I can still remember how my brain struggled to pretend it was not me at all.
Melissa also is obsessed with Brock Turner and his victim. And between the two of us, we have found everything. There is a meme, and an interview with the two guys who interrupted Brock while he was raping and then chased him down. (Please, god, let me raise boys who would do that.)
Melissa found Louisa Curry who says, “I see a pattern emerging from rape culture where women have a past while men have potential. When women are violated we’re asked ‘What did you do to deserve this?’ and often our past is looked at for clues. When men violate women they’re asked ‘What do you have to lose?’ and their future is looked at for clues.”
There are many contributing factors to rape culture. One is that it’s unlikely that women will report rape. A college rapist attacks six women before one reports the crime. Another problem is the lack of justice in our legal system.
We do a good job trying to define rape, in its many versions. In fact, I did not even know I was raped when I was raped. Now, because of education, I know it was rape. Language is important to give power to those who don’t have it. Teaching ourselves to look forward, at our possibilities, rather than backwards is also a way to empower ourselves through language.
It’s hard to find our own power. It’s inspiring to watch someone else do it. We love the victim for finding power and expressing it so eloquently. It’s why each person who read the victim letter forwarded it to twelve people. And it’s why I’m pushing my son and myself and hopefully some of you to see the power of language and use it to be strong and honest.