I haven’t posted on this blog in a long time, but today I break my silence. There won't be any images or gifs or funny hashtags in this post. I just have something I need to say.
I try not to get sucked into the vortex that news and social media often presents. I tried, that is, until a few days ago when something inside me shattered.
If you haven’t seen the news about the Stanford Rapist (Brock Turner), the synopsis goes something like this: Stanford student rapes an unconscious woman by a dumpster. Rapist is convicted but given a light sentence of 6 months because Judge rules that anything else would have too severe of an impact on Rapist’s life. Rapist’s Father reads a deplorable statement that tries to paint the Rapist as the victim, that states that the Rapist should not have to serve prison time for “20 minutes of action.”
The Stanford Rapist’s victim read her attacker an incredible statement at the trial, the original transcript of which may be found HERE. My heart goes out to this woman who was brave enough to stand up to her attacker at trial to say these things. She had to endure endless questioning after she was violated to even get to that point. She has to deal with the fact that she was violated. Not for 20 minutes. For her entire life.
My heart breaks for this woman because she did not receive justice. My heart is angry because incredibly, some people (like the Rapist’s father and the Judge) are under the misapprehension that the Stanford Rapist was the victim here. That the true victim was at fault in some way for what happened to her, as if she gave her consent even though she was lying unconscious when the Rapist violated her in unspeakable ways.
This sort of victim blaming is why almost twenty years ago, I wasn’t as brave as this woman. This sort of victim shaming is why I was silent, because I didn't think anyone would believe me.
I wasn’t silent when he came into my room drunk after a bachelor’s party. I told him “No” clearly and repeatedly. I told him that I didn’t want to have sex with him when he was drunk. He didn’t listen.
I was silent afterward because he was my boyfriend. I was silent because he told me right after he raped me that I didn’t fight back so he knew I liked it. I was silent because everyone thought he was a good guy. I was silent because I knew I just wanted to move on with my life. I was silent because when I tried to confront him about what happened, he tried to justify his actions. I was silent because I didn’t think I would get justice and because I was afraid.
Counseling didn’t help. The first counselor I ever tried to speak to about it huffed when I told him my boyfriend raped me and said, “Maybe that’s what you think happened. But let’s talk about what is really at the root of your issues.” I stopped going to see him.
My rapist showed up in my graduate school lab a year later and told me that he was graduating with his degree. As if I’d be happy for him. As if he didn’t remember what he had done to me, or if he did, as though he didn’t recognize the gravity of what he’d done. Just like the Stanford Rapist.
As if I'd forgotten what he did or would ever forget.
I remember being paralyzed with fear when he walked in. I remember begging with my eyes for one of my fellow grad students to stay in the lab with me and not leave me alone with him. But my fellow grad student couldn’t read my mind, and he walked out anyway, leaving me alone and terrified. I remember being literally sick to my stomach when my graduate advisor later on that day told me what a good guy he always thought my ex-boyfriend was. But he didn't know anything that had happened between us. Because I had been silent.
I remember being angry with myself later for not speaking out and telling my rapist how he had damaged me. I remember having a similar speech to the victim of the Stanford Rapist all set in my head, only I hadn’t said any of it.
I went to the Take Back the Night Rally and lit a candle for survivors like me. My picture was featured in the Buffalo News after that event, but that's as public as I ever went with it. I didn’t talk about it to anyone else in years. I saw another counselor (two separate times) about it over a decade later. She helped me more than anyone else did, but it still wasn’t enough.
And then, I finally wrote about it.
Not as me, but as one of my characters. In general, I write kind of dark because having that bit of darkness in my stories gives me the power to turn things around, to write for my characters those happy endings, even when the ones from real life were not. My main character in the first novel I ever wrote is a rape survivor. Her name is Hope, and helping Hope work through her experience with rape was the only thing that helped me put my own demons to rest. Having my demon boy Micah attack this rapist was justice for me. It was the only thing that allowed me to solidify my peace with what happened to me when I was a student. Hope and Micah saved me.
My character wasn’t completely silent about her rape like I was. Her counselor helped her in ways that my initial one did not. She stood up to her rapist in a way that I never did. She told him what he really was and Karma paid her rapist back with a miserable and lonely life.
But still, my character didn’t report her rape.
Now, four years after I wrote that book, I have to think about why I wrote it that way, why I chose to have her not go to the police. I’ve decided that it was because this was a way for me to validate my own choices, but I also think that it’s because we live in a broken society that attaches blame to victims.
If we lived in a just society where rapists were actually punished for their crimes, I think Hope would have come forward. And maybe I would have too.
Stop the victim shaming. That is all.
Update: Here is a change.org petition to Recall Judge Aaron Persky from the Bench for his Ruling in the Brock Turner Rape Case. While the sentence cannot be changed, this is a measure of justice that will prevent similar unjust rulings from this judge in the future.
Wherein Helen posts about news, book releases, cover reveals, and other writerly happenings from the bookish world.
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