Dear Brock Turner,
You may never see this letter, a small byte on the internet that will never reach you nor impact you, but still I write it. You see, this Friday you will most likely be released from jail where you have spent the last 3 months hopefully lamenting and learning from the “20 minutes of action” you forced upon a young woman. Many people are angry that your sentence is so brief, and that you, like so many privileged men, are getting away easy. You may not think you are getting away easy, you’ve spent 3 months in jail where a number of things could have happened to you, you are now on the sex offenders registry, and your name is that of a household villain. Your life, to you, may seem over, and you may feel you have fulfilled your penance.
Your life is not over. After 3 weeks your news story was one in the past, overtaken by Hillary and Trump, the Olympics, natural disasters, hell, even a virtual reality Pokémon Game. Sure, when you are first released you will see your photo splashed across the internet. It’ll be everywhere. It’ll hurt. It’ll be uncomfortable and hard, there’s no escaping that. But one month later? It’ll be overshadowed by something else. Maybe 6 months after your release you’ll see a surge of negative press, or maybe even a year after that, but as most things, it will fade.
You want to know what will never fade? The feelings of shame, violation, guilt, sadness, anxiety, vulnerability, humiliation, and disgrace that the survivor will feel for the rest of her life. These feelings that your actions, fueled by drunkenness or not, have caused. You see, I too, am a survivor, a term I hate to associate with. I hate to think that what has transpired in my past is an identifier for who I am. I used to cling to the term, because I refused to be a victim, I wanted to rise above what others had put me through and be my own complete person without their influence. But that is impossible. After everything that has happened to me, all I can do is survive. My life will never be the same. I don’t know, identify with, or recognize the girl I was all those years ago. There are parts of me I will never get back, and parts of me I hope no one will ever see. Even now as I write this I struggle to stay calm and moderately objective.
You see, the young woman you took advantage of, not only does she have to live with the vulnerability and violation you caused, she has to hold her own against society’s vitriol as well as her own self-loathing. Innocent until proven guilty may protect some, but it damns others. Society treats survivors very poorly in that they hold the burden of proof not only in the courtroom, but outside of it. She must defend herself against judgement and skepticism, all while trying to feel human and wrap her mind, body, and soul around the atrocities that she has experienced. She must endure not only outside doubt, but her own self-doubt. She has to come to terms with the understanding that what happened was not her fault, when everything she has been taught through her life tells her it is her fault.
Mr. Turner, you may never know what it feels like to be completely at the mercy of someone else. You are a strapping, tall, strong male who can hold your own in this world. Walking alone at night, the most you worried about was getting lost or a possible mugging. Sitting in a darkened bar, what you worried about was if enough women were around to dilute the sausage fest. When a police officer pulled you over, you worried about the points on your license and if Mommy and Daddy would take your car away. I’m not saying bad things could not or have not happened to you, but inherently, from birth, you have never had to worry about, nor had that fear instilled in you.
Men, whether they be “good” or “bad”, will never understand what it is to be a woman. From a young age my mother warned me about being alone, about all the ways someone could hurt me, physically, mentally, and in the eyes of society. How I needed to never put myself in a situation that could go south, because it was up to me to protect myself. I could depend only on myself. Growing up, I, and all other women, have dealt with leering, disconcerting looks, unwarranted and unsolicited touching, disgusting and demeaning comments, and an altogether atmosphere of disregard unperceived and yet created by men. We’ve dealt with public consequences for speaking out about these experiences, judgment from others about our choices, complete strangers scrutinizing our every action to prove it was us that caused this. This is something many women have resigned themselves to, this resignation strengthened by actions such as yours.
What is it that men are born with that they think their actions towards women are warranted or acceptable? Where does this entitlement stem? From catcalling to touching to worse, why is it acceptable for you to treat us like objects? Just the other day someone forcibly groped me, pinning me against my car door, all because my outfit was too “inviting”. No sir, my outfit was not too inviting. It did not shake your hand and say, please, come on in, touch her, we’re fine with this. He, just like you, saw something he wanted and showed absolute disregard for what I wanted, then had the audacity to blame it on my outfit, my choices. You blamed your actions on alcohol, you blamed the situation on a drunk girl, and you refused to take responsibility.
When someone is arrested for driving under the influence they are not given a pass. Even though they were not in the correct mindset to make the decision to drive, once they sit in the car with keys in hand (the car does not even have to be on) they can be arrested for a DUI. That carries with it heavier repercussions than your sentence. At least 6 months in jail, fines ranging from $2,000 and higher, suspended license, and it must be reported to any and all employers or potential job opportunities. A DUI will ruin someone’s life, regardless of the consequences of their drunken actions. A person who drives intoxicated must take responsibility, regardless of level of intoxication. Why didn’t you?
Your actions against that young woman have left an indelible, invisible scar on her. Her skin is not hers. Her essence is tainted. Her confidence is shattered. Her sense of self changed. Her safety compromised.
How does the phrase go, “Drunk actions are sober thoughts”? Did your entitlement need a little bit of liquid courage? You were both drunk that night, yet she had to defend her intoxication. She, a woman of legal drinking age, had to defend herself against a drunk minor who took advantage of her. Do you know how sickening that is? Why is it when a woman becomes intoxicated she must hold full responsibility for anything that happens to her? Yet a drunk minor, who shouldn’t be drinking in the first place, gets a lesser sentence because of his intoxication, because he didn’t know, because he couldn’t tell the woman beneath him was unconscious. Because he’s a good kid. If you were driving while drunk that defense wouldn’t hold water in court, especially if you hit a pedestrian because you couldn’t tell if they were in the crosswalk or not. Yet you can sexually assault a woman and serve 3 months.
It is incredibly difficult to be a woman in this world. You can’t be a slut, you can’t be a prude, you can’t be a stay-at-home mom, you can’t be a working woman, you can’t drink, you can’t be a teetotaler, and the list goes on and on. Our actions, decisions, our identities and being are under constant scrutiny. We cannot do anything, because to do is to ask for it. Let me tell you Mr. Turner, if a woman is not soberly staring you square in the face and saying the words, “I want to have sex with you,” then do not assume otherwise. We are not asking for it unless we are. Our clothes do not ask for it. Our state of consciousness does not ask for it. Our actions do not ask for it.
You sir, were in the wrong. Your actions have further proved that women in this world are not safe, yet we must persevere regardless, and persevere we shall. The sentence you received is a joke. Your name will fade from memories and the press. You will find a job and an education because you cannot be discriminated against as a sex offender in the professional and academic world. In a year or two this will “blow over”, and you will continue to live your life.
That young woman however, has to live with the knowledge that you are free, roaming the streets. She has to grapple with the fact that your actions, which have changed her life, are going mostly unpunished. You do not have to wear a Star of David or a mark that sets you apart. You do not need to announce yourself as a rapist when you walk into a room. All her courage, all her fighting, all of it has come to nothing. You have learned nothing.
Do you feel guilty for what you put her through, or do you feel embarrassed that you were caught? Will you ever stand up and take responsibility for your actions or will you continue to cite “alcohol” as the determining factor? You were deemed, “A good kid” and given a second chance that many others who have done lesser crimes do not receive. Was she not a “good kid”? Why must she hold the burden?
Some may say that what did you was not that bad. That it was not “rape”, that there was no penetration by your penis. First, no one has the authority to determine how “bad” sexual assault is. Quick definition time, “Sexual Assault” is any sexual action, verbal or physical, unwarranted and unsolicited, that demeans or causes discomfort to another. The level of discomfort is relative and undefinable, and only the recipient will know how they feel. Second, regardless of how “bad” your actions were, you refused to see them as such. You refused to acknowledge your responsibility. Until you understand that what you did is a crime against the very essence of another being, you have not been punished enough.
I feel for the woman you have hurt. I hope she is supported, I hope she is loved. It angers me that this story became about you and not her. That people rush to defend you and leave her out to dry, the minx that took down the star swimmer.
So, welcome back. I sincerely hope you have learned something from your measly 3 months in jail.