Today feels so much like any other day, but it's not. I read what's now been dubbed the "Stanford Letter" — the powerful letter the Stanford rape victim read aloud to her attacker at his sentencing when Judge Aaron Persky ruled 20-year-old Brock Turner would serve a six-month punishment in prison for his rape conviction, noting a longer prison sentence would have a “severe impact" on Turner — and try to catch my breath, to focus through the cloud of tears gathered on my eyes, to remind myself that it's been four years since my own attack. I am safe. But I know that's a lie.
I read the statement Brock Turner's father made and later released, describing the rape his son is responsible for as, among other things, a "steep price" to pay for "20 minutes of action." The air catches in my lungs and the tears fall, and all I feel is the cold, uninviting steel of the seat holding me upright as a detective told me there was nothing he could do for me because the evidence in my own rape case was insufficient. It was the words of a "clean-cut, kind" young man over the "drunk girl" who had a "history of promiscuity." I knew, right then, that I would never be safe. I knew already that I had lost.
And today, four years later, I am reminded of that fact again.
I read Turner's father's insensitive, insulting, and twisted words and force myself to breathe, each exhale spinning me backwards in time to the attack I thought I left behind me. The stinging phrase, "20 minutes of action" replays in my mind, and I no longer feel like a survivor. Instead, I am, once again, a terrified victim with a trembling voice and a distant gaze. I don't know what's happened to me, yet I know what's happened to me. I am me, I think, but I know I have changed. I hear the detective ask me to think about how my attacker felt, how he must have been confused, how his life would forever be altered if I pressed charges against him and if he was convicted. I breathe deep and see the woman I was four years ago, the one who, in the midst of her pain and suffering, was asked to take pity on the man who raped her. The one who was tasked with remembering that the monster who'd touched her was human. The one who was asked to preserve his future because hers, as far as everyone else was concerned, had ended the minute he laid his unwanted body on her unwilling one.
It had been years since I starved myself or forced myself to throw up after a reluctantly consumed meal, but after someone took control and essentially stole my body, I felt like the only way I could regain complete body autonomy was by limiting the amount of calories I consumed. If I could control this one thing, maybe I'd be me again. Maybe I'd feel alive.
Sadly, the Stanford victim's story, my story, and countless stories of victims who cannot or choose not to speak out about their sexual assaults are not new. If anything, the verdict in this particular case and the reactions to Brock Turner's six-month sentence have only reinforced how dominant rape culture is in our society. It has only reminded victims that we come second, that the consequences of rape are only seriously contemplated if they're felt by the rapist. How will his life be negatively altered? How will he fare in prison? How will a rapist be re-introduced to society? How will his future look if he can't get a job or rid himself of the negative connotations of his actions? Will he be able to eat red meat again? But we don't ask the victim, one who sleeps with the lights on and keeps drawings of bicycles over her bed to remind her that heroes do, in fact, exist, how her life will be negatively altered, how she'll fare in the real world, how or when or if she'll ever be able to return to work, if she'll be able to find any semblance of a life that was ruined.
Brock Turner's father may wonder why his son is forced to endure a life of punishment after "20 minutes of action." He doesn't understand why those 20 minutes should change the course of his son's life forever. Allow me to explain, as a survivor of rape, what his, and so many other attackers' "20 minutes of action" have left their survivors with.
Honestly, I don't know what will happen to Brock Turner and I don't care. Maybe his life is forever altered and maybe he will come out of a six-month prison sentence damaged and maybe he will no longer be able to enjoy his life. I will say it again: I don't care. I don't care what will happen to the rapist our judicial system seems hell-bent on protecting because I already know what will happen to his victim. I know what Turner's "20 minutes of action" left her with. I know, because I live in the aftermath of my own 20 minutes every single day.
I cannot reach out and change the now-inescapable reality this brave victim is forced to adapt to because no one was able to change it for me when I endured "20 minutes of action" at the hands of a man who, like Turner, was raised to feel entitled to women's bodies, no matter where he found them: at a party, at a bar, or behind a dumpster, pine needles covering her hair. I know what Turner's "20 minutes" have done because of what someone else's "20 minutes" did to me.
His 20 minutes left me afraid to leave my apartment. I couldn't walk in public by myself, and I couldn't make small talk with strangers. I lost the ability to trust people my friends promised were "kind" and "decent" and "caring."
My attacker's "20 minutes of action" left me in a cold room of a foreign hospital staring at the ceiling as doctors conducted an invasive rape kit on a body that no longer felt like it could be my own. His 20 minutes might have been of action, but I spent mine looking the other way cringing and hoping for it to end while a forensic photographer took pictures of my breasts, my wrists, my thighs, and my arms. My body had been violated, but for the sake of evidence, I had to allow violation again: more poking, more prodding, more needles, and now, photographs. I had to make sure my facts were rock solid. I had to recount what had happened to me again and again, answering question after invasive and condescending question. His 20 minutes might have been a thrill ride, but mine left me to answer questions that inferred I was a slut, like how many sexual partners have you had? and, did you do anything to give him the wrong idea?
Brock Turner's father may wonder why his son is forced to endure a life of punishment after "20 minutes of action." He doesn't understand why those 20 minutes should change the course of his son's life forever.
Allow me to explain, as a survivor of rape, what his, and so many other attackers' "20 minutes of action" have left their survivors with. My attacker's "20 minutes" left me with PTSD, a severe anxiety disorder, and a re-awakened eating disorder. It had been years since I starved myself or forced myself to throw up after a reluctantly consumed meal, but after someone took control and essentially stole my body, I felt like the only way I could regain complete body autonomy was by limiting the amount of calories I consumed. If I could control this one thing, maybe I'd be me again. Maybe I'd feel alive. Those "20 minutes of actions" left me with a drinking problem and a dependency to narcotics, the only way I knew how to cope at the time. I didn't have a drug of choice, I instead chose any drug offered to me, anything to help me forget. I didn't drink to socialize or lubricate my confidence, I drank to forget.
Brock's father worries his son will never recover from the shame of this "accident," but I don't need him to tell me whose burden is greater to bear.
His 20 minutes left me afraid to leave my apartment. I couldn't walk in public by myself, and I couldn't make small talk with strangers. I lost the ability to trust people my friends promised were "kind" and "decent" and "caring." My attacker's "20 minutes" left me cringing when a stranger moved too closely in my direction. I remember bringing my son closer to my body, tightening the muscles underneath every inch of my skin, unable to look a stranger in the face. Maybe he thought me cold, but what he didn't know was that he was one of five men standing near me and that ratio brought me back to a bedroom and a closed door and a fate I couldn't escape.
But perhaps the worst thing my attacker's 20 minutes left me with was the acute knowledge that I'm not alone. While it's a selfishly calming feeling to know I'm not abandoned in my pain or my fear, it's also heartbreaking. I know my attacker's "20 minutes" looks like the "20 minutes" of attackers everywhere, and the devastation left in their wake is one sexual assault survivors feel day after day after unrelenting day. As survivors, we're three times more likely to experience a severe depressive episode than those who are not attacked. We make up the 31 percent of rape victims who develop PTSD sometime during their lifetime. We're 13.4 times more likely to have major alcohol problems, and 26 times more likely to have two or more major drug abuse problems.
According to Brock Turner's father, the punishment for his son's "20 minutes of action" seems to far exceed his "mistake." But four years after my own assault, I am still figuring out how to breathe, how to sleep, how to move forward, how to crawl out of the hole my own attacker's 20 minutes of action threw me in. Brock's father worries his son will never recover from the shame of this "accident," but I don't need him to tell me whose burden is greater to bear. I am a sexual assault survivor. I already know.