“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise
God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong
God chose the lowly things of the world, and the despised things
And the things that are not
To nullify the things that are”
1 Corinthians 1: 27 - 28
I just finished reading Chanel Miller’s book Know My Name. In her memoir, Chanel reveals that she is “Emily Doe,” the heretofore anonymous victim of Brock Turner, who assaulted her while she was unconscious behind a dumpster on the campus of Stanford University. The case was closely followed by the media and general public, which was divided between the camp that considered Brock’s decision an unfortunate “freshman mistake” that he should not lose his promising athletic and academic future over and the other perspective that this was a classic example of white wealth and privilege protecting and sheltering an entitled perpetrator from the just consequences of his horrific act. Chanel describes her confusion that people seemed more concerned with the impact a conviction might have on Brock’s “promising” future than with the impact the assault had on her life and on the lives of those who love her. Indeed, despite Turner being convicted on all three felony counts he was charged with, the judge sentenced him to merely six months in jail (minus 3 months for good behavior), citing the “severe impact” a prison sentence would have on him and his family. (Following this sentencing, the judge was recalled from the bench by a groundswell of public backlash over this miscarriage of justice).
It is difficult to fully and accurately delineate the factors contributing to the power differential Chanel faced in her arduous journey through our broken justice system. She is Chinese-American while her attacker is Caucasian. Chanel lost her job and her family went into debt supporting her while Turner’s family could afford high powered attorneys and the scheduling impact of multiple trial delays as they appealed and objected their way through the process. Race, gender, socio-economic status, cultural stereotypes and many other forces combined to subvert a system designed to arrive at truth but which only buried this truth under layers of sophisticated word play and tactics that ended up protecting the perpetrator instead of the victim.
Women learn early in life that it is their responsibility to keep themselves safe rather than expecting men to control themselves and their impulses when it comes to their sexuality. I had a disgusting and disheartening exchange with a man who informed me that my daughter had basically signed up to get raped when she joined the Army, because “soldiers get frustrated and bored and need an outlet.” He was not even talking about enemy combatants harming my daughter, but about her fellow soldiers in uniform, those she is serving with. Military sexual trauma (MST) is a huge problem in the Armed Forces and after hearing this veteran display his callous attitude towards the rape culture that currently exists, I now understand why. I found myself shouting at him, “Instead of telling women ‘don’t get raped,’ how about we tell men ‘DON’T RAPE’?!?!?!” He just looked baffled and reiterated, “Women don’t belong in the Army.”
I used to coach a marathon training group and often discussed safety with my runners. I would caution them about not running alone, especially in dark or secluded areas. When I found out that one of the male college students was running early in the morning on a deserted trail, I expressed my concern. He looked uncomfortable as he said, “I don’t think I have to worry about my safety the same way you do.” I wondered what it would feel like not to have that fear, which is a constant backdrop in my thoughts, a thread that is woven inextricably in the fabric of my thinking and decision making every day.
The conversation is changing. Victims are coming forward and refusing to be silenced. Christine Ford, who bravely confronted then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the gymnasts abused by Larry Nassar, and Bill Cosby’s victims are all adding their voice to the public discourse around women’s rights to determine who touches our bodies and when. Taylor Swift, when asked by the defense attorney if she had any “feelings” about her assailant, David Mueller, losing his job after sexually assaulting her, replied, “I’m not going to let you or your client make me feel in any way that this is my fault. Here we are years later, and I’m being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are the product of his decisions – not mine.” What we are wearing, how much we are drinking, where we are and who we are with should not become excuses and justifications for what happens to us. Physical strength, musculature, height and weight pales next to solidarity and sisterhood.
One of the antidotes to the still prevailing belief that rape victims are somehow causally responsible is developing empathy and compassion in the culture as a whole. When we personalize the assault (this happened to your daughter, your sister, your mother) it suddenly becomes the heinous attack that it was all along. When we can “other” the victim, we can distance ourselves and pass judgment. When the trauma comes home, we start to identify the myths that perpetuate a culture where the victim rather than the perpetrator must prove their innocence.
Although I value honesty and strive to be a truthful person, I found myself worried that no one would believe that I had been attacked in my neighborhood while out for a run. When video footage of my assailant running away surfaced on a neighbor’s security camera and my attacker’s DNA was found on my clothing, I felt strangely validated and reassured. “It truly happened – there is proof,” I told myself. Why did I need proof of something that I knew I had experienced? Rapes are under-reported rather than over-reported. Women have so many reasons not to come forward. I look forward to the day when it is not only safe for victims to come forward, but there are fewer victims.
In her Victim’s Impact Statement, Chanel Miller writes, “On nights when you feel alone, I am with you . . . “
I hope you know, I am with you too.