If you’ve been following the news, you know this story. Brock Turner met a woman at a frat party at Stanford. They were both drunk, she to the point of unconsciousness. Two Swedish graduate students who were biking on campus that evening saw a man on top of a woman behind a dumpster. The man (Turner) was thrusting; the woman wasn’t moving. The Swedes thought that was weird and investigated. Turner tried to run away, and the Swedes chased him and held him down until the police arrived. The one keeping him from escaping wept as he told police what he saw.
At trial, a jury found Brock Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault. The maximum penalty possible was fourteen years, and the DA requested six years in state prison. The judge in the case, Aaron Persky, handed down six MONTHS in county jail out of concern for the “severe impact” on Turner, who was a swimmer for Stanford’s collegiate team and had Olympic aspirations. Both Turner and his father, whose statement has also been made public, have not acknowledged that Turner did anything wrong but get drunk in a promiscuous atmosphere.
Campus rape happens often enough that this shouldn’t have been anything but a blip on the media’s radar. Except this time, something remarkable happened. The woman Brock Turner assaulted (whom the media are calling Emily Doe) made her sentencing statement public, and it went viral.
Some wonderful things have been happening as a result. We’re talking during daylight, not in hushed voices, about rape and what causes it and what it is. We’re talking about consent and privilege and racism and sexism and justice. We’re looking closely at the media and highlighting the role it plays in feeding the worst of our culture. We’re talking about the system and learning how to fix it and putting in the hard work to engage with their communities. This makes me cry.
Some horrible things have happened as well. I saw a comment on Facebook that expressed the smug hope that Brock Turner becomes a victim of sexual assault while in prison. This makes me cry too.
I was talking with a cherished friend about all of this, sobbint and snotting on the phone with her about the world burning down and my inability to feel any empathy for Brock Turner and his father. After telling me that pity for the Turners was the most I owed myself, my wise friend pointed out two remarkable things to me. First, we know Brock Turner’s name. We know his face. We know that Brock Turner has refused to take responsibility for the crime he committed that night. And the reason that we know all this is because Emily Doe poured her heart out and shared her suffering and bared her deepest darkest secrets, things that she could be (but shouldn’t be) ashamed of. She told every detail of her story and touched the hearts of millions of people.
My friend revealed something: regardless of the sentence Brock Turner serves, EMILY DOE WON.
What organization is going to invite Brock Turner to speak about the toxic culture of binge drinking and promiscuity when he still doesn’t acknowledge he assaulted someone? What healthy woman won’t think twice about putting herself at risk by being anywhere near him? Brock Turner’s dreams were to be an Olympian (USA Swimming says no way) and to be a surgeon. Even if Aaron Persky chaired the admissions committee a med school and then ended up as the program director for residency — what female patient is going to consent to being unconscious in his vicinity?
Brock Turner’s father cited the fact that Brock will be on the sexual offender registry for the rest of his life. Brock Turner’s legal team is appealing the sexual assault convictions. And none of it matters now, because we know his face. We know Brock Turner’s name. We know him. We see him.
Second, my friend pointed out that two strange men, two foreigners on bicycles, who could so easily have shrugged their shoulders at that weird thing they saw behind the dumpster that night and kept on going, didn’t. How many times have any of us felt uncertain and turned the other way from the odd things we see? We have proof that there are at least two men in the world who are the opposite of Brock Turner, who avoided pouring gasoline on Brock Turner’s fire when they chose not to be bystanders.
All of this has happened because of Emily Doe’s remarkable strength and courage in sharing her vulnerability. She could have chosen not to publish her statements, she could have hidden for the rest of her life, she could have taken a hit out on Brock Turner and his father. She chose truth and exposure and light, and in doing so, I hope she has set herself free.
We’ve been marinating in a caustic mix of outrage in this year’s presidential election. The injustice of what we consider to be the insufficiency of the Brock Turner sentence pushed a lot of us into the red zone with our emotions. And the red zone is a very dangerous place.
When we are in the red zone, we are vulnerable to our baser impulses to say things and write things and do things that damage our souls and our communities. The red zone makes us reach for gasoline to make sure we get to contribute to the fire. Some of our friends and family members have been living in the red zone, and if we don’t come up with some fire extinguishers soon, all we’ll have left is smoking ashes and premature death.
Emotions are good. We have to feel our feelings, or they’ll kill us. I’m not saying we should try to avoid the red zone. What I want is for us, when emotions are running high, to feel the heat and smell the gasoline in the red zone, take a breath, and then channel that ALL CAPS OUTRAGE into something that extinguishes fires rather than spreading them. A Stanford professor is leading the charge to remove the judge in the Brock Turner sexual assault case from the bench next year, all within the system. My friend who has two sons, who has always been a wonderful mother, has doubled down on making certain her sons understand consent and respect.
One last thing, about fire extinguishers and the Swedes. It’s tempting to paint all men with the Brock Turner aggressor brush. Or white men, or rich men, or male athletes. To paraphrase Alison Armstrong, not everything with teeth is a wolf. Most of the time, the thing with teeth is a sheepdog. We can’t fix even the tiniest corner of the world if we don’t include everyone, so maybe the place to start with our fire extinguishers is being aware of the buckets we create and the assumptions that go with them.
Empathy and love are the answer, and it’s not even empathy and love for others. Empathy and love for ourselves, because when we set fires, when we feed fires, we are the ones who suffer.
This is excellent. Very well written. Write more, please.
Sent from my iPad