[Content Warning: The following open letter discusses sexual assault, rape/rape culture, and the Brock Turner case.]
Dear Stanford Victim,
I may not know you, but I do know what it’s like to be you. And I hope this message finds you, wherever you are.
I’m writing this letter, from survivor to survivor, because I’ve found myself upset and angry over all of the articles, posts, and comments I’ve seen on social media since the verdict in your case was announced. Although I am thankful that a dialogue has begun, and I know that people are outraged and emotional and have good intentions by sharing articles and things written by and about Brock Turner and his allies in order to cut them down, I am disappointed that it’s still Brock’s story that is shaping the narrative and not yours. Even though there are many who support you and have spoken out against not only Brock Turner, but his father, his allies, the judge, and our broken justice system, it’s still all about Brock. It’s Brock’s name in all the headlines, in all the stories, in all the posts and comments.
What people are failing to realize is that they’re lifting the wrong person’s story if their intentions are to spark long-term change. Where is the conversation about victims being vilified when they speak out? Where is the conversation about how support means listening and not talking, passing the mic to the victims and making them feel safe to tell their own stories instead of speaking for them? Why is the default reaction of society still to silence, to disbelieve, to shame? Why are the tough conversations still the ones that are the most avoided? I hope, after the outrage and the anger subsides and the pitchforks are lowered, that the narrative is reframed to discuss those questions, because your story, my story, our stories, are just as important. And your courageous action in court, you standing up to your attacker and sharing your impact statement for all survivors, is hopefully just the beginning of changing that narrative.
My assailant’s name was not Brock Turner. In fact, I had multiple assailants. Ten of them, to be exact, starting when I was four years old and spanning until I was 23. I faced sexual assault everywhere I went as a child. I wasn’t safe at school. I wasn’t safe at home. I wasn’t safe at my best friend’s house. Safety was something normal people had, like two loving parents and a normal house that wasn’t a trailer packed to the brim with people ignoring the assaults happening around them. Even as I got older, I found myself stuck in a pattern of abuse, always the victim. Abusers could sense it, could smell the victim pheromones surrounding me. And they kept finding me. Until I met my husband, I thought sex was being assaulted. I had never experienced it any other way.
I never had to face any of my assailants in court, because I was too afraid to speak out, and they were never caught. Since my assaults began when I was just a toddler, I didn’t have the words to describe what was happening to me, and as I learned the words, everyone I told, including therapists, principals, school counselors, and teachers, dismissed my words and called me a sociopath and a pathological liar. Just like all of my assailants said, no one believed me, and the ones who did said “boys will be boys” and told me to just ignore them. No one encouraged me to speak up. No one gave me the support that I needed. I was disbelieved, shamed, and silenced. So, I shut up, and I shut down. I locked my story away in a dark corner of my soul, pretending like it didn’t happen, because pretending was easier than facing it. Every waking moment was consumed with anxiety, depression, fear, and paranoia. I still can’t walk to my car alone, even in broad daylight, without my heart picking up speed and my stomach coming to rest in my throat. For most of my life, I’ve been robotic, going about my day like I think normal people should, doing the things I think normal people do. But, I’m not normal. I’m working on it, but I’m not sure I will ever be.
I know what it’s like to constantly think about the experience, to blame yourself for not being more responsible, to feel the ghost limb on a daily basis between your legs. I know what it’s like to feel used and worthless and invisible, unheard by the person you so desperately want to hear you. I know what it’s like to pretend – to pretend to be okay when you really aren’t, to pretend that it was all just a bad dream, because if it’s reality, you’re not sure you’d survive. I know what it’s like to suppress so hard that the emotions become a mountain on top of you, so heavy that you can’t breathe, can’t talk, can’t lift it. I know what it’s like to feel powerless and revictimized, to have your independence, your joy, your essence, your soul, stolen from you. I know what it’s like to feel isolated and alone even when you’re surrounded by people. I know what it’s like to find the best places to cry where no one will see you. I know what it’s like to be afraid, to always be on guard, to be paranoid it will happen again. I know what it’s like to feel fragile and timid and that at any moment, you will shatter. I know what it’s like to have your assailant pretend nothing happened, that he did nothing wrong, and to ignore you completely, like you never existed to him. I know what it’s like to watch your assailant move on with his life while you feel stuck in that moment, his face forever ingrained in your mind. I know what it’s like to feel that you’ve been fractured into a million pieces, and you will never be whole again. I know what it’s like to have “victim” as part of your identity forever and to feel it embossed on your soul in large letters, never to be erased.
Although the people who are outraged and supportive will call them monsters, Brock Turner, and people like him, are not monsters. If we see them as monsters, they never go away. They remain lurking in the dark corners of our minds, as much as we try to expel them. They continue to scare us, those monsters of the past. They continue to have power. They aren’t monsters. They’re just people. Messed up, horrible people. If they’re just people, they’re easier to beat. If they’re just people, we can wrap our minds around it just a little better. If they’re not monsters, they can’t kill us from the inside out.
I’m sorry that Brock Turner is getting so much attention. I’m sorry that you had to relive your assault over and over and were forced to listen to your feelings and experience being minimized and made invisible and painted as not as important as his. I’m sorry that the people in Brock Turner’s life do not understand, will never understand, and did not teach him to understand. I’m sorry that so many people think that Brock Turner is the one paying the price for this horrendous crime, but you’re the one who will be paying for the rest of your life.
I want you to know that you were NOT being “sexually promiscuous,” and that you drinking alcohol at a college party is NOT what led to your assault. I want you to know that although it never gets easy, as long as you have the right people in your support system, you will be okay. I want you to know that you did the one thing I wasn’t brave enough to do. I want you to know that you are my hero, and I’m sure a hero to many other survivors. You are the spark who is starting the fire that will hopefully burn rape culture to the ground. I want you to know that even though I don’t know you, I stand with you, fanning the flames. Thank you for sharing your story. Your story is important, and your story will encourage others to share theirs.
I hope you never do like I did and shut up and shut down. I hope you use your support system. I hope that you know that you are important, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are brave. I hope that you take it one day at a time and that you can heal a little each day. I hope that you know that you aren’t alone, are never alone, in what you’re going through. I hope that someday, you can forgive yourself, because that’s the hardest thing to do. I hope that you sharing your story is the first step to greater cultural change. I hope that you realize that this isn’t Brock Turner’s story – this is your story. I hope that you are inevitably and sincerely loved and appreciated and happy. Because that is what you truly deserve.
A Fellow Survivor