Men, We Need Your Voices

*trigger warning for sexual assault*

The other day I read the story about the Stanford assault case, you know the one where Brock Turner, a college freshman, assaulted a drunken, unconscious woman behind a dumpster, was convicted of three counts of sexual assault, then sentenced to only 6 months in jail because the judge worried about how a longer sentence would wound Turner’s future, and that besides he apparently was not deemed a “danger to others” (despite having just been convicted of assault).

Just reading about the case was infuriating enough, but then I read the letter the survivor wrote. That letter was brutal. Gut-wrenching. I read the blurred words on my phone screen while wiping away tears and fighting the urge to throw my phone at the wall.

“He admitted to wanting to hook up with someone. I was the wounded antelope of the herd, completely alone and vulnerable, physically unable to fend for myself, and he chose me. Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else. You were about to enter four years of access to drunk girls and parties, and if this is the foot you started off on, then it is right you did not continue.”
“I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.”

I consider myself lucky in that I have largely avoided being sexually assaulted (I’m not counting the standard, unavoidable gropings we all experience at some time or another). How fucking sad is it that that makes me feel “lucky?” How sad is it that off the top of my head I can list at least 5–10 women whom I know have been raped or sexually assaulted, and those are just the ones who have trusted me enough to share that information? How sad is it that women can’t just have a reasonable expectation of not being molested, beaten, assaulted (so often at the hands of someone they trusted)?

The Stanford assault survivor’s powerful letter is making the rounds online, but I’m noticing something… Everyone I’ve seen share it has been a woman. Women are sharing this letter, saying, “This is important. This matters. Please read this.” But it seems like we’re only sharing it with each other, the only ones paying it any attention. And I realize the irony in me asking the following question, in a world where too often men are the ones heard the loudest, the ones who silence us, but I have to ask…where are the men’s voices on this issue?

We women can’t be the only ones talking about this. Guys, we need YOU, too.

We need men speaking out against assault. We need you amplifying the voices of women speaking out against assault. We need you believing and backing up the victims, instead of making excuses for their attackers. We need you calling your buddies out for sexist comments, for rape jokes, for the kind of thinking that excuses assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster as just part of the “sexual promiscuity” that goes along with “campus drinking culture.” We need you talking to your boys and teens about consent and respect, about viewing women (ALL women, ANY woman, no matter how she is dressed or how she acts or how drunk she may be) as more than just an object for your sexual gratification. About how only YES means yes.

A sad reality of our culture is that women’s voices are still often not taken seriously the way men’s are. We are still often brushed off as being “too sensitive” especially when talking about things like sexism, harassment, and assault. We women have been shouting about this for a while, but we need your voices, too. We can’t do this alone.

EDIT: Amazingly, yet predictably, people are coming out in defense of Turner. If you have ever doubted the existence of “rape culture” just take a look at how these people are defending him, excusing his actions, refusing to believe that he was responsible for his crimes. It is terrifying that his defenders describe public assault of an unconscious woman as “minor stuff” that “happens all the time at parties.” This is what we’re fighting against.