Solution, Not Silence
Shame. Sorrow. Silenced. Unfortunately, these are the terms associated with the effects on women who experience the horror of sexual assault. According to Rape Response Services, “One in five women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.” (Rainn, 2016) “Nearly 1 in 2 women have experienced sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime.” (Rainn, 2016)
If this statistic scares you, good. I know it scares me being a new college student, and a female now on my own on a college campus with thousands of people. One in two women is an unacceptable statistic. And yet unfortunately, this number has the potential to be much greater for one reason in particular; communication. In fact, approximately “15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the police.” (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics 2010) Far too often, women feel ashamed and embarrassed to share their story in society, in fear of being judged or not believed. As a society we need to stop making women feel small. We need to let them know that their voices should and can be heard, in order to begin their healing process, and put an end to vicious crimes worldwide.
Unfortunately, majority of Americans are unaware of the commonality of sexual assault cases every day. However, sometimes the media covers a story that gets the whole nation talking. This year alone, there has been one story in particular regarding sexual assault that has captured the attention of millions. Highly regarded student Brock Turner of Stanford University, found himself at the center of an ugly story, when it was found out that he had sexually assaulted a fellow female student while she was unconscious, in the back of a fraternity house. This is Brock Turner. A student going to one of the best universities in the country, and a profound athlete in the water. But he is also the face of a rapist, a sex offender, a criminal.
After what seemed like a long and highly public scandal, Brock Turner was sentenced to a mere six months in prison for his heartless crime; the minimum sentence for any sexual assault crime. His potential sentence? Fourteen years behind bars. The reason for such a light sentence you may ask, was due to Judge Persky who “feared anything longer would have a severe impact on Turner.” “A severe impact on Turner. Just let that sit for a moment in your head. Anything longer than a six-month sentence would have been too much for a convicted rapist. And then, following three short months, Turner was back on the streets after being released on account of “good behavior”. This is a prime example of why a woman may feel the need to silence herself, or be closed off to sharing her story. Brock Turner, a teenage sex offender, was once again integrated into the daily grind of society, and the media was making a bigger deal about the lack of sentence than the ongoing emotional distress of the female victim.
It is here that I found it most compelling to connect to the words of Spelman, and her topic of Repair.
“There is first of all the repair of the human body. The body has an awesome capacity to repair itself in ways that are to the ordinary observer visible (e.g, the healing of a cut) and invisible (e.g., the continual self-repair of DNA, or the recently discovered capacity of the human heart to repair itself). But it can’t do that, and will cease doing it, without being fed and watered.” (Spelman)
In this instance I felt the connection to Spelman that I made was the one of physical versus emotional repair within the human body. The female victim of Brock Turner had to repair both. She had the physical scars from the inhumane acts that took place behind the fraternity house. However, the emotional scars that remain are the ones that cut deep. The judgement, the criticism, the labels. Those are the aspects of sexual assault that linger long after the scars have faded. Within Elizabeth Spelman’s book she discusses the concept of restorative justice, and how different factors influence the reasons as to why we may consider something worthy of punishment, or justice and repair. “…the law focuses on those harms only to the extent necessary to establish the guilt of the offender and the appropriate level of punishment to be meted out” (Spelman 55). Brock Turner, as many would say, got off easy. He is a college student (a well-regarded student and college athlete at that) who raped a woman behind a dumpster, and sat in a prison cell for three months. However, the victims emotional “sentence” will last a lifetime. She will forever be victim to Brock Turner. So was three months behind bars really Turner’s repair?
As a society it is important for us to look at the reasons behind a social group’s behavior, and how we can change it for the better. The Brock Turner case is one real life example of why women may feel silenced amongst society when it comes to sexual assault experiences. Not only is the Brock Turner case a sad reality within our nation, but it is a display of how these horrific acts take place nationwide on college campuses. Being a new college student myself and a female, it is frightening to know how common sexual assault crimes are on college grounds. “Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of male’s experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.” (Rainn 2016) “Among undergraduate students, 11.2% of all student’s experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation (among all graduate and undergraduate students).” (Rainn 2016) Not only is sexual assault a brutal and heinous act, but it targets a person’s mere vulnerability. So to hear that sexual assault is the most common form of crime on college campuses is deeply concerning. As college students we are at the most socially vulnerable times in our lives; living on our own, often without the security of surroundings that we know like the back of our hand. These are things that sexual predators know and are aware of, and hence seek out “easy targets”. And yet we still have the tendency to victim blame. With sayings like ‘She should not have been dressed like that, she might as well have been asking for it,’ or ‘She should not have been walking home alone at late at night’ or ‘She was drunk’. NONE of those things justify the actions of the sex offender. At the end of the day there is one simple and scary fact which is that, women are taught how to defend themselves but men are not taught how not to rape.
As a human being, a female, and a sympathetic soul, it is unnerving to witness the effect sexual assault has on women and their ability to have their story heard. There are several reasons as to why women are unable to come forward about their experience. Whether it is out of shame, and an unwillingness to let society see them be vulnerable, or the fear related to the sexual predator, or even the mere emotional aspect of feeling alone and afraid. This idea is most prominent in a statement by Brock Turner’s father in regards to how the trial had taken a toll on Turner’s life. When making a claim to Judge Persky about why his son should not serve the typical sentence for his crime, Turner’s father said it is “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” (Huffington Post 2016) There was no acknowledgement of his son’s wrong doing. If Brock Turner’s own father cannot reprimand and admit his own son’s inexcusable crime, than how and where does repair begin? With the amount of female victims increasing every day, support outlets are not only a necessity, but a lifesaving force. For this reason alone, women must be able to share their stories.
It is no secret that victims of sexual assault are primarily women. “Due partially to low reporting rates, only 9 percent of all rapists get prosecuted. Only 5 percent of cases lead to a felony conviction. Only 3 percent of rapists will spend a day in prison. The other 97 percent walk free.” (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network 2013) Women across all parts of the globe are suffering the aftermath of sexual assault crimes, and having readily available outlets to share their story and interact with those who have or are currently repairing their self-image can help with the healing process. With the alarming amount of sexual assault cases and victims, there is now a nationally recognized month, used as an outlet for victims nationwide. “In the United States April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it.” (National Sexual Violence Resource Center 2016) Part of spreading the word about sexual violence is providing resources and tools for both communities and individuals who are coping with the effects of sexual assault. The phrase ‘communication is key’ has never been more apparent than when it comes to the repair women must go through as a result of being victim. Female victims of sexual assault, need to know they are not alone. They need other women to tell their stories, in order to allow them to share theirs.
Every so often there is a brave and strong willed victim who makes their voice heard despite the social backlash or societal judgement. A statement. A statement written by the victim of Brock Turner directed to Brock Turner in court, following the case first making headlines and nationwide news. In her statement, the female who remains anonymous discusses, in detail, the events of the horrific night, and the traumatizing aftermath. In a video, on news resource CNN, a reporter reads aloud the letter in front of the camera. At a certain point, the news anchor becomes emotionally overwhelmed by the content of the words she is reciting out loud.
The reason I chose to include the full length of the video although it is lengthy is due to the power of the letter’s words. It is important for all people alike, whether they are bystanders or victims to hear these words and the pain and strength they hold. They are words that would tug at the heart strings of anyone. Details that would make even the strongest cringe in horror. Words that this young woman wrote down and relived with every memory she recounted. She used the power of words and her voice. “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.” (BuzzFeed 2016) This is how she began her address to her rapist. She spoke out and told her story. She faced the darkest hours of her life in an address to not only her rapist but to fellow girls, young women, women in general who have been victim before. “After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.” (BuzzFeed 2016) This admittance of vulnerability, of the unknown, is someone who without a shadow of a doubt is a survivor. In my eyes, the words in this letter embodied strength, and empowerment. She did not hide away in the shadow of controversy.
Sexual assault is happening, Rape is real. And we cannot sit idle by and pretend not to see it. “One in five women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.” (Rainn, 2016) How does that sound hearing it a second time? Just as scary as the first? Good, it should be. So let us do something about it. Reach out to victims in your own life. Show them it is okay to let their voice be heard. Because until it is, women will always feel victim in their own body. We can change the stigma and erase the stereotypes related to sexual assault. There are solutions; silence is not one of them.
First off I would like to thank my peers in our class writing group — Jasmine, Connor, and Olivia — whose opinions and critiques allowed my paper to have stronger voice and grow into the full length piece it is now. I would also like to thank my English professor, Professor Harris for providing us with the tools to construct and build our writing as time went on. And lastly I would like to give special thanks to my Teacher Assistant Megan for working with me along the process and providing me with advice and ways to better my subject and create a stronger essay through ways I had not considered before. This essay is a topic that I have a strong voice for and was more than interested in creating an informative essay that captured my audience’s attention, and I would not have been able to do so without the help of these people.
RAINN. 2016, www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.
Baker, Katie J.M. “Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker.”
BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed, Inc, 3 June 2016, www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/
Kingkade, Tyler. “Brock Turner’s Dad Gave Tone-Deaf Plea For Lenient Sentence In Son’s Sexual
Assault Case.” The Huffington Post, © 2016 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 5 June 2016,
Sexual Assault Awareness Month. © 2016 National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2016, www.nsvrc.org/