This week headlines have been dominated by the story of a Californian rape case. For me, it started on Sunday morning when something caught my eye on Facebook and I ended up reading the 23-year-old victim's full statement to the court. It's a long read, at 7000 words, but was well worth the time. I highly recommend you all hunt it out and read it.
The basic facts of the case are that a Stanford University student and swimmer, Brock Turner, was convicted of three counts of sexual assault. Prosecutors said that in January 2015, witnesses saw Turner sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus. The case came to a close last Thursday when the judge sentenced Turner to six months in county jail and then probation, and ordered him to register as a sex offender.
Since the case closed the victim's statement has gone viral online, as has a letter Turner's father wrote, defending his son's actions as simply "20 minutes of action" brought about by "alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity". His father says Turner "has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night".
Yes, the victim was drunk. So drunk that she wasn't moving at all when she was found, being assaulted by Turner behind a dumpster. I realise that this is a father trying to protect his son, but the way I see it fingering a woman who is so drunk she can't move, let alone give consent, is violent. It is rape. Regardless of how much either party had drunk, no one should be subjected to that.
This is an all-too-salient reminder of how pervading our culture of victim-blaming is. "He's a good student and an athlete, he's not a rapist." Wrong. He may be a good student and a great swimmer, but he is also a sex offender. My only hope is that he will eventually face up to the consequences of his actions (particularly for his victim) and go on to learn from it.
"She was drinking, what did she expect?" She probably expected to pull some embarrassing dance moves, maybe spend some time with her head in a toilet bowl later and no doubt she definitely expected a hangover. She would not and should not expect to be left injured and half-naked in public.
And while this all makes for harrowing reading, it is an important conversation to have. We, as a society, need to acknowledge that we have a problem and do everything we can to fix it. If nothing else, this case has started conversations about consent and what counts as yes.
We need to take action to ensure our children and the next generation know what it is to respect people and understand that you don't always get what you want. We need to teach our kids about respecting others, even when they say no, and be careful not to teach them that they can have and take whatever they want. We need to say no to our children from a young age, so they learn to deal with disappointment and rejection. Those emotions are part of life and a valuable lesson for all.
Conversations about consent need to be a part of sex education at schools. We're teaching them safe sex, but it's not safe if it's not consensual, regardless of whether you're wearing a condom or not.
It is awful that this has happened, but the brave actions of the victim, in making her experience public, has enabled us to take action and hopefully move forward in creating a society where everyone can feel safe and respected. There is hope, in all of this. We can change and the victim believed that. Her last paragraph reads: "And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.
"Although I can't save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can't be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you."
We are all with you.