How The Stanford Survivor Helped Me Understand My Own Assault
TW: This article contains discussion and description of sexual assault.
In January of 2015, 20-year-old, former Stanford University student Brock Allen Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside a frat party. In March of 2016, Turner was charged with three felonies of sexual assault. Prosecutors asked for a 6 year sentence, but he received only 6 months of jail time — and will likely serve even less.
But, despite this injustice, something truly beneficial emerged from this case: Buzzfeed reporter Kate Baker published the survivor’s letter to her attacker, which the anonymous woman had read out loud in court. Reading this letter gave me, and likely countless other survivors, a sense of solidarity with this case: like Emily Doe, I, too, once drank too much at a frat party, and also like her, I also had a voice. But unlike her, my voice became silenced.
During the fall semester of my freshman year — also 2015 —I decided to go to a frat party with a few of my friends. Admittedly, I was emotionally unstable as I had just gotten out of a relationship. I wanted to try new things so I thought I’d drink more than I usually do, dance, and probably meet a cute guy. But I was completely oblivious to how my night would actually turn out.
After pre-gaming way too hard, I realized that I was more drunk than I should have been at the party, but was determined to have fun anyways. I saw a cute guy against the wall, and before I knew it we were dancing. Although many details of that night are foggy, I do remember he placed his arms on my shoulders while I grinded on him. I remember thinking this was incredibly weird because that’s typically not where a guy's arms go while dancing this way, but then I realized that he was calling to his friend. I turned around and saw that he was nudging his head towards me as if to say, "Look at this one I got." It was incredibly humiliating but I pushed it out of my mind and kept dancing.
I’m not sure how many more songs played, how much more kissing happened, before he asked me if I wanted to go back to his dorm. I wanted to, so I said yes.
While we were walking out of the frat house, I remember he told me that we couldn't have sex if I couldn’t walk down the stairs. I concentrated more than I ever had in my life on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping my balance.
But then, it felt like my brain was kicked offline, only to come back online in brief flashes. The next day I realized I had been blacking out.
Here are the things I do remember.
I remember being in his room and suddenly not wanting to have sex anymore. All of a sudden everything became too real and I wanted it to stop, but his hands greedily groped me and tried to find a way to take off my shirt.
I remember trying to slow things down by kissing him slower and wanting to sit on the bed, but then he pushed me down — the weight of his body on top of mine.
I remember him telling me to get up on my hands and knees and turn around so he could penetrate me from behind.
I remember not wanting it — no, not wanting it at all. My brain was swimming, trying to make chronological sense of the night. Where were my friends? Where was I? Who was he? What was happening? But all I could remember at that moment was being in his room and not wanting it.
I remember he put his clothes back on after, so I asked where he was going. He said, "I’m going to meet my friends" as he tossed me my shirt. The humiliation I felt while we were dancing was nothing compared to this: There are no words to articulate how I felt. But I took that opportunity to get out and managed to grab all of my things and leave. Somehow, later on, I met my friends. I said nothing.
Here is what I cannot remember.
I can’t remember if I actually voiced the fact that I did not want to have sex anymore or not. I can’t remember if I didn’t say it or if it was just ignored, but this still remains true: I did not want to have sex anymore. He asked me at the party and I said yes, but sometime between the party and getting to his room, I just didn’t want to anymore. But that’s not what happened.
The next day, I woke up with a soreness like no other I had ever previously felt between my legs and with hatred for myself and my body. I found him on Facebook in the early morning and messaged him asking what happened. I never got a response. I still haven't, even up to this day.
When I read Emily Doe’s statement, I finally felt a sense of peace because I knew that I wasn’t alone. I doubted myself too much to ever explicitly tell any of my friends what happened, but this anonymous woman's words made me realize that my experience was real. It was real but I survived, which pulled me out of the dark place in my mind in which I had been obscured for so many months.
So after reflecting reading Emily Doe’s statement and reflecting on my own experience, I mustered up the courage to read Brock Turner’s statement — which I quickly realized was the perfect example of entitlement and privilege at its finest.
First, he positions drinking as his major wrongdoing. He still disregards the survivor’s side of the story and still says that she did consent to kissing and being fingered. Then, instead of apologizing to the survivor and her family for the action he calls a "mistake," he continues to focus on his own life, victimizing himself.
"I can never go back to being the person I was before that day," he stated. "I am no longer a swimmer, a student, a resident of California, or the product of the work that I put in to accomplish the goals that I set out in the first nineteen years of my life."Brock's statement, and this case at large, ultimately exemplify one of the core issues with rape culture — one of the main reasons I remained silent and doubted my own experience. Rather than take responsibility for his actions, rather than acknowledge the assault for what it was, Brock labeled them as "poor decisions" generated by a "culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity."
Yes, drinking affects one's judgment and senses, but it doesn’t force someone to violate someone else — especially when they’re unresponsive and unconscious. Alcohol is not an excuse for assaulting someone. Drinking does not force somebody to rape another.
A woman's decision to drink does not warrant violation. My choice to drink that night does not excuse what happened. I understand that now. When will everyone else?
More articles by Category: Feminism, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Rape, Sexualized violence