Stanford sexual assault survivor writes second powerful letter about her experience
Earlier this year, the case of Brock Turner transformed the dialogue around sexual assault and rape culture, as he was dealt a mere six months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster. Turner’s initial sentence was substantially slashed due to his “good behavior” behind bars, inspiring further outrage for the message this sent to victims everywhere that their experiences would be trivialized and dismissed by law enforcement, which too often prioritizes rapists over victims. On Tuesday, Glamour named Turner’s victim, identified as “Emily Doe,” a Woman of the Year, and published a second letter by the Stanford rape victim.
In her first letter, which Doe read to her attacker in court months ago, she asserted herself as more than “just a drunk victim at a frat party.”
“I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt.… You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she wrote in a sharp response to Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky’s claim that sentencing Turner to more than six months in jail could have “a severe impact on him,” as if being violated and dehumanized doesn’t have “a severe impact” on victims of assault.
And her second letter was just as hard hitting.
“From the beginning, I was told I was a best case scenario. I had forensic evidence, sober unbiased witnesses, a slurred voice mail, police at the scene. I had everything, and I was still told it was not a slam dunk. I thought, if this is what having it good looks like, what other hells are survivors living?” Doe wrote, right off the bat acknowledging the crazy demands made of survivors by law enforcement and society in order to be believed.
Despite how one in four women is expected to experience sexual assault in her lifetime, nearly 63 percent of assaults aren’t reported because, among other reasons, victims fear being disbelieved, blamed, and stigmatized, despite statistically low rates of dishonest reporting.
And as the Stanford rape victim’s own experiences reveal, being able to meet all of those demands made of survivors hardly guarantees you justice. In the letter, she also recounts how she felt after hearing Turner’s sentence: “Immediately I felt embarrassed for trying, for being led to believe I had any influence. The violation of my body and my being added up to a few months out of his summer. The judge would release him back to his life.”
She notes that after she allowed BuzzFeed to publish her court statement, she remembers “thinking, what have I done, making myself exposed and vulnerable again. I texted my sister when it hit 20,000 views, thinking that was it, the comments were actually quite nice, and I closed my computer.” She didn’t predict how her words would revolutionize the dialogue around sexual assault, and mobilize millions to take to social media to support her and her message.
“A woman who plucked a picture of her young daughter from the inside of her cubicle wrote, This is who you’re saving,” Doe recalls. Arguably among the most touching parts of the letter details her reaction to Vice President Joe Biden calling her a “warrior” with a “steel spine.”
According to Doe, she was “sitting in [her] pajamas eating some cantaloupe” when she learned Biden had written her a letter: “You are a warrior. I looked around my room, who is he talking to. You have a steel spine, I touched my spine. I printed his letter out and ran around the house flapping it in the air.”
As you would expect, her letter did garner no shortage of rude responses, some of which included “she’s not pretty enough to have been raped,” even though her identity and appearance remain anonymous. But for the most part, despite the trauma and injustice of her situation, the powerful reaction to her letter appears to have inspired optimism, strength, and fire in Doe.
Doe no longer sees herself as “a sad example to learn from,” nor does she believe that “what was done to [her] marked the completion of [her] story.” She notes that instead, her “story” has inspired a dialogue that isn’t going anywhere: “When my letter was published, no one turned away. No one said I’d rather not look, it’s too much, or too sad. Everyone pushed through the hard parts, saw me fully to the end, and embraced every feeling.”
Writing her off as an “example” for how your daughters shouldn’t behave to avoid being raped, Doe notes, is going to take us “nowhere.” She said:
“If you think the answer is that women need to be more sober, more civil, more upright, that girls must be better at exercising fear, must wear more layers with eyes open wider, we will go nowhere.”
The main takeaway from Doe’s second letter is that because of her powerful words and experiences, the renewed dialogue around sexual assault and rape culture isn’t going anywhere. “Victims are not victims, not some fragile, sorrowful aftermath. Victims are survivors, and survivors are going to be doing a hell of a lot more than surviving,” she concludes.
We owe an insurmountable debt to her inspiring, unwavering strength and eloquence.