One evening in January 2015, two graduate students at Stanford University were riding their bicycles around campus when they noticed a man on top of an unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster.
The man was 18-year-old swimmer Brock Allen Turner.
Turner ran when the bikers— Swedes Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson—approached him and asked him what he was doing to the unconscious woman. They caught up with him, tackled him and held him down until police arrived. He was subsequently kicked out of Stanford, where he enjoyed a sports scholarship.
A trial ensued, and Turner was found, by a 12-member jury, guilty of three offenses: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. The potential sentence: 14 years in state prison.
The actual sentence, handed out on Thursday: six months in county jail and three years probation.
According to Judge Aaron Persky, a longer punishment would have a “severe impact” on Turner. The university swimmer had once hoped to compete in the Olympics.
Many were livid at the sentence on Turner, who expects to be released in September. An online petition to remove Judge Persky from the bench is circulating.
But no voice is as powerful and as moving as that of the victim, who was violated yet again by a justice system that favored a “promising” young man and a culture that blames the victim for what had befallen her. She was drinking too much, and she had it coming to her—so went, so goes the thinking.
It was true that she had been too drunk to remember anything that had transpired that evening. She was also too drunk to decide whether she consented to being intimate with Turner. Her attacker, however, built on her failure to remember so that he—through his supposedly expensive legal team—could dictate the narrative, insist he was led to believe the sex was consensual, attack her character and her credibility, and turn the story around such that he now “speaks out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.”
“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,” the woman said.
She said she just accompanied her younger sister to a party that Saturday night. The next thing she remembered was that she was on a gurney at the hospital, subjected to invasive examination by doctors and nurses and told she had been assaulted. She said: “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”
More than a week passed before she learned what had really happened to her—through an online newspaper article she read while at work. Imagine reading about yourself and what had happened to you while scrolling on your phone. She read how she was found unconscious and disheveled. She also read how her attacker had said he thought she liked it.
And then, several paragraphs down, the article listed Turner’s accomplishments—his swimming times.
To say that the trial was an ordeal would be an understatement. The rape had been clear—but all of a sudden she found herself answering the following battery of questions:
“How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What do you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.”
There was severe impact, all right, but the judge had it wrong. As the woman said, Turner’s damage was concrete: he was stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
Unbelievably, the statement ended in a positive note. The victim thanked many people, especially the two Swedes even though she had not met them yet. Taped above her bed is a drawing of two bicycles “to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget.”
The statement is published in full in https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.eqRJdDz24#.saVELBv2o. Read it and remember that for this one courageous and powerful account, there are numerous other rape stories all over the world that do not get told. Be indignant, refuse to remain victims, and know that rape is never a joking matter. Ever.