** A personal note to my dad – just in case you didn’t get my message, please DO NOT read what follows. **
Content warning: Rape / Sexual Assault
Four years ago, I wrote a post about an event that had changed my life. I wrote it because I felt compelled to do so. Because, given what was happening at the time, I felt that my continued silence would make me actively complicit in perpetuating the culture that had allowed it to happen in the first place … and that had secured my secrecy for as long as it had.
It was a hard post to write, but it was no harder than living with the reverberations of what had happened 23 years earlier. Writing it, saying it out loud after all of that time, wasn’t, truth be told, cleansing nor healing as one might imagine, but it was necessary.
Four years later, it’s necessary again.
Last Thursday, a young man who was facing ten years in jail following his conviction on three counts of sexual assault after being caught in the act of penetrating an unconscious woman was sentenced to six months in jail. I know that was an awkward sentence to read. I didn’t want to make it any easier. Because it was torturous to write.
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
The crime happened around 1 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2015, when two graduate students riding bikes on Lomita Court came across Turner lying on top of a partially clothed unconscious woman in a field near the campus fraternity houses.
The older students tackled Turner, then a 19-year-old freshman, after he attempted to run, then called police. The woman, who was not a student, was treated at a hospital.
Turner, who withdrew from school Jan. 27, 2015, told police after he was arrested that he had seven cans of beer that night and thought he was having consensual sex with the woman, who authorities said was “completely unresponsive” as she lay near a tree and a trash bin.
Four years ago, I wrote the following:
There is no word in the English language less in need of a modifier, nor less capable of being modified, than rape. There is no mitigating the violation of the human body and all that comes with it.
It’s odd what I remember all these years later. It’s not the physical pain. It’s not the begging for him to stop. It’s not the tears nor the shock that followed.
It’s the ground. The dark, damp asphalt. And the bricks in the wall. And the smell of the dumpster just feet away.
But more than anything else, what has haunted me this week has been an image of something that I couldn’t actually see at the time. A picture that I’ve created in my mind over time. From a different perspective. One outside myself. Watching it happen.
It’s his hand. Splayed across my back. Holding me in place. Taking away my choice. My control. My dignity.
While the dumpster may seem an eerily common thread in our stories, it is the wrenching away of choice that truly unites us. It is the aftermath of violence that we share – and that we will share for the rest of our lives. It is the sense-memories that come flooding back at all the wrong times. It is the terror that strikes unbidden, unwanted, indiscriminately. It is the shame that no matter how hard we fight to resist, others continue to assign to us: unwarranted, unearned, but nonetheless internalized.
In justifying the six-month sentence he handed down last week, Judge Aaron Persky said positive character references written on Turner’s behalf, such as that given by his father, were a factor.
The character reference he cited? It went like this:
“[Brock’s] life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”
I never thought about how much time it took for my rapist to do what he did. Alas, there was no clock, no stopwatch, no timer that might have told me how long it took for him to hold me down, to ignore my pleas to stop, to take by force my autonomy, my safety, my choice.
It never struck me that there might be some sort of mathematical formula by which one could determine the depth and breadth of not just the physical, but the emotional scars he left vis-a-vis the length of time that it took to happen. (There wasn’t. There isn’t. There never could be.)
A steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action, he said.
There is indeed a steep price to pay. It’s the one that his victim will be paying for the rest of her life for a crime she did not commit, over which she had no control, nor, even, at the time, knowledge.
She was unconscious.
In a letter that I implore you to read in its entirety, this brave young woman addressed the court, responded directly to her attacker, and in so doing, spoke to all of us.
You are the cause,” she wrote, “I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete; 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.
Until we collectively stand up – each and every one of us – and say en masse, “Enough,” until, as parents and teachers and coaches and mentors and friends, we teach ALL of our children what it means to consent and to have consent, until we demand accountability and responsibility from them and from each other, the only thing that will change are the names in the next story.
Please, talk to your children. No matter their challenges, presume them competent and capable of receiving the message. Find a way to make the information accessible to them. Use their favorite characters. Be creative. Ask teachers for help. Do what you must to ensure that they understand. Trust that if they don’t yet, they will. Keep at it.
Explain early and often that their bodies are their own and that no one has the right to take what they do not comfortably and willingly give nor do they have the right to do anything to or with another human being without their clear and express consent.
Shame made me complicit for too long.
It’s time (again, still) to speak up.
Note: If you haven’t watched the video below, I highly recommend it, especially as a primer for kids. It’s a wonderful, not remotely embarrassing illustration of consent.
See the bottom of this post for a transcript of the video above.