In March 2016, a former college student, Brock Turner, was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault that occurred against a woman in January 2015, yet sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. He got six months jail time for a crime that stripped a woman of her dignity, her value, and her safety. Brock was a champion swimmer though, a privileged student at a top university. He had a bright future ahead of him! So six months should do, right?
No. It will not do, it never could, and it never will. Six months is nothing, six months goes past in the blink of an eye. Not being able to sleep, not being able to go to work, fearing social gatherings, trying to remember who you are under the identity that the media has given you, and having to question your worth under a judicial system that prioritises a man who clearly wronged you, lasts longer than six months. Those difficulties take much more than six months to overcome. They take counselling sessions, doctors appointments, nights of no sleep, and worse: an immense amount of time and pain. Those difficulties may never even be overcome. Turner faced fourteen years for his crimes, and he walked away with six months. I fail to see how any decent, sane human being, let alone a trained judge, could think this ruling was remotely just.
Turner’s attack against the woman went much further than behind a dumpster at a party, but extended into the court room itself. With enough money and fabrication his attorney was able to work tirelessly to build a case against the young woman. In her open letter to Brock she states how she was ‘pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected’ her ‘personal life, love life, past life, family life.’ She goes on to describe how they accumulated ‘trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name.’ In her desperately sad but powerful letter she continues, listing the questions she had thrown at her, how they had asked ‘‘Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? … Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him?”, in a perverse attempt to pick out enough information to get Brock Turner a reduced sentence. It worked.
The saddest thing is that this sort of outcome from a sexual abuse case, and handling of it, is not new. In 2012, a 16 year old girl from Ohio was publicly and repeatedly sexually assaulted by multiple peers, with her ordeal being documented on social media. One would think that the case would have been straight forward and that public opinion would be disgust and repulsion against the girl’s attackers, yet this was not so. Multiple CNN reporters were later criticised for instead showing sympathy for the rapists, given their ‘promising futures’ as football stars, and school officials themselves were charged in attempting to cover up the attack. The victim was linked to promiscuity, blamed for being too intoxicated and putting herself in a vulnerable position. Both of the two convicted walked free in early 2015, with Ma’lik Richmond serving just under a year in prison, and Trent Mays, two.
I feel it is therefore unsurprising that according to RAINN, for every 1,000 sexual assault cases, only 344 are reported to police, and for every 344 cases, 6 rapists are imprisoned. As a woman, I do not feel like my sexual and physical safety is at the top of the agenda. I do not feel that should I, my friends or loved ones, be put in such a harrowing position, the judicial system or public opinion, would be 100% on our side. That is terrifying, and it is a wider reflection of rape culture in general; of victim blaming and scapegoating.
It upsets me that I fear for the safety of my children, when my children are not even on this earth yet. I should not have to think that as a 20 year old woman. I should not have to worry this far ahead for the safety of my daughter at parties, or as she walks down dark roads at night.
From the moment I had the slightest degree of independence, I was taught to be wary of men. I was told not to talk to strange men in the street, not to take anything from a stranger, not to get in a man’s car. When I was old enough to go to parties I was told to watch what I drunk, to be careful of how much I drunk, asked who would be at the party, told to get a lift home with my girl friends, to not be in a taxi with a man alone.
Below I will insert some more of what Turner’s victim wrote and read aloud to him in the court, an incredibly moving depiction of an awful ordeal, because I respect and applaud her grace.
‘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. I showed up an hour late to work every morning, excused myself to cry in the stairwells, I can tell you all the best places in that building to cry where no one can hear you.’
‘I have become a little barnacle always needing to be at someone’s side, to have my boyfriend standing next to me, sleeping beside me, protecting me. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life.’
‘You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself.’
Rape and sexual assault will continue to happen and to pretend that it will not is like saying that in the future bad people will not exist and bad things will not happen, but we can significantly bring down the numbers of sexual assault through education. What we can and must do is work tirelessly to alter men’s perception of women and (some) men’s idea of entitlement to a woman’s body. Collectively, we must raise our children to have respect and compassion, to know a woman or a man’s boundaries, to understand the meaning of consent. Consent must become one of the most important words of our time. I hope that by the time that my children enter this world that at least the culture around rape has changed. I am sad that as a young woman I am constantly on guard, that I see a young girl out at a bar or a club, not entirely with it after countless shots, and want to protect her instantly from any wandering hands. That is life, however, and that is the society that we must now collectively work to change, for the benefit of everyone.
Like Turner’s victim puts it, ever so well, ‘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.’
Love always, Kirstie x