Brock Turner, the former Stanford University student who was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, wants people to hear his side of the story. Turner's father wanted the same thing, which is why he wrote a letter to the judge in his son's case describing the sexual assault as "20 minutes of action" that could affect the rest of his son's life. There was no mention of the woman Turner raped, and there has been no sense of remorse or apology from Turner or his family for the rape itself. It's clear that the only thing Turner thinks he did wrong was consumed too much alcohol. He's conveniently ignoring the fact that he irreparably harmed someone's life, and that's exactly why you shouldn't read Brock Turner's statement about the rape he committed.
The Guardian published Turner's statement late Tuesday night, and not once in the entire letter does he use the words "sexual assault" or "rape." Nope. Instead, Turner calls what he did the result of a "culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity," and he never mentions consent — or the fact that he never obtained it from Emily Doe, the name given to the woman he raped:
I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted name].
At one point, he even goes so far as to say that he wishes he wasn't good at swimming or hadn't been admitted to Stanford so "maybe the newspapers wouldn’t want to write stories about me," and this is where I lost it. This is where I stopped reading Turner's statement, because it's all about him — what he lost, who is writing about him, what jobs he won't get, how he will never party or drink again. Just like his father's letter to the judge, Turner erased Doe and the reason newspapers are writing about him: rape.
But survivors and those who support them can't let that happen. I stopped counting how many friends I have who have been sexually assaulted back in college. I rarely talk about my own sexual assault for fear that I'll be defined as only a victim and not a writer, or a decent cook, or a Beyoncé fan. I — and plenty of other women I know — erase the crimes against themselves because of the stigma of the crime itself.
But I think some survivors like myself become accidentally complicit with the erasure for two reasons: first, we want to forget the crime and the pain. And, second, cases like Turner's remind us of what happens when brave women like Doe fight back: the case is defined in terms of the assailant's life. What about his job prospects? How will he cope with jail? Will he ever be able to go to a party again?
But he's a convicted criminal, and I don't care about whether he'll be able to enjoy a good steak again. I care about whether the woman he raped will be able to breathe at night. Her impact statement that she read in court made her pain clear, and, as a fellow survivor and just a f*cking human, I care about the fact that she woke up in a hospital room without underwear on. I care that she wanted to take her body off "like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else." Her pain matters, and she shouldn't have to feel it.
In wanting to read Turner's statement, people are committing their own small crime. I wanted to read Turner's letter because I wanted to see if he would admit to what he had done. But that need — the need for the crime to be validated by the rapist rather than the person he raped — is exactly why survivors, myself included, don't talk about their assaults. Rather than reading his letter, survivors and those who support them need only continue to share Doe's words:
Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.