When we paint a picture of sexual violence in America, we often use statistics. Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Nearly 1 in 5 American women is raped at some point in their lives.
Not only do these numbers fail to capture the true scope of the problem (rape remains one of the most under-reported crimes), but they can also detach us from the individual horrors survivors experience.
One year ago, in the Stanford sexual assault case, “Emily Doe” put words to that experience. The victim impact statement she read in court — more than 7,000 words of visceral eloquence — was published in full by Buzzfeed on June 3; within four days it had been viewed 11 million times.
Brock Turner was convicted of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person. Turner faced up to 14 years in prison but was sentenced to six months in county jail. He served just three for “good behavior.”
At his sentencing hearing, Emily Doe recounted the harrowing details of her assault, how she learned in the newspaper that she was found half-naked and unconscious behind a dumpster on Stanford’s campus, and what she endured in the weeks and months that followed.
She spoke directly to Turner, beginning:
You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me …
But she also spoke to fellow survivors, ending:
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 everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.
Women across the country answered with their own stories of survival. USA TODAY spoke with five women who wrote publicly about their own assaults after Stanford, some for the first time. Here’s what going public has meant for them, how they think Stanford re-framed the national conversation on rape and how far we still have to go:
Liz Taylor, 38
Liz Taylor was 18 when she was raped in a dorm room at the University of Missouri on Labor Day weekend of her freshman year. Taylor, who was a virgin, says she stayed quiet out of shock and shame. It was 1996.
“Rape and sexual assault were barely part of the lexicon,” she wrote on Medium after the Stanford case last year, the first time she talked about her rape publicly. “I had no idea that’s what it was even called.”
Taylor’s post, An Open Letter to Dan Turner, Father of #BrockTurner, tore into the letter Dan Turner wrote to the judge in his son’s case, asking for leniency and laying out the ways Brock’s life had been “deeply altered forever” over “20 minutes of action.”
Why she spoke out
“I think there were a lot of people who read Emily Doe’s statement and sort of felt this sense of awe of what she’d written… I was just blown away. I think she put into words what so many women feel and just totally nailed it. …
I read that post on a Saturday, and then on Sunday I saw that note from Brock Turner’s dad whining about how Brock couldn’t eat Ribeyes anymore, and I just had this mental image in my head of Emily Doe reading that after having poured out her heart and being so brave and speaking for so many of us. I just kind of had this like, ‘Hold my beer’ moment … So I banged out that letter.”
After she spoke out
“I think any sort of relief I experienced was immediately replaced by this — I don’t want to call it a burden because really it was an honor — but this outpouring of stories from friends and family saying ‘me too, me too, me too.’ And all of a sudden you’re just like, ‘What? Wait, all of us?'”
A part of Emily Doe’s letter that resonated with her
“There were certainly enough differences to where it was not an identical situation, and yet everything she said I was like, ‘All of that.’ I found it resonating with me in its entirety even though we had vastly different experiences in many ways. I’ve never seen someone put into words all of the various facets of this experience.”
I have to relearn that I am not fragile, I am capable, I am wholesome, not just livid and weak.
On whether Stanford has changed the conversation on rape
“I actually think the election did more to re-frame the conversation than anything else. Certainly the Access Hollywood tapes and Trump’s accusers, but then also having Bill Clinton’s accusers resurface. I think it brought up a lot of important questions around what we as a society find forgivable, what we’ll tolerate, and how far we still have to go if we’re willing to elect someone as our leader who openly bragged about assaulting women.”
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