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The Stanford Survivor Has a Name. It's "My Hero."
I first learned about Brock Allen Turner’s sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on the Stanford University campus at the time everyone else did: last weekend. As the coverage was unfolding, I was with Mariska, members of our Joyful Heart Foundation staff and volunteers filming a local series of our NO MORE PSAs for Hawai‘i Says NO MORE.
From morning into the night, we gathered at the Hawaii News Now studios in Honolulu and what we saw during the filming was brave, strong, and compassionate person after person, standing up for each other, for the people they love, for their partners, wives, husbands, children, neighbors, friends, mothers, and fathers, for people they’ve never met, for themselves. They were standing up to say NO MORE to the beliefs and attitudes that misplace blame on survivors, excuse those who cause harm, and allow institutions to look the other way.
And outside of that room, the same thing was happening. People have been standing up and proclaiming the sentiment Joyful Heart’s PSAs have been calling upon all of us to say: NO MORE silence. NO MORE excuses. NO MORE ignorance. NO MORE bystanding. NO MORE violence. NO MORE.
"Prosecutors asked for six years. The defense asked for four months. Yet Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to six months."
During the last week since Brock Turner’s sentencing, we have read and heard many hurtful, ignorant, and disrespectful statements, and yet we have also witnessed a chorus of voices growing louder and louder; people all over the country making it clear they will not sit quietly by and insisting on deeper examination, accountability, justice, and change.
Turner’s crimes—three counts of felony sexual assault—carry a maximum sentence of up to fourteen years in a state prison. Prosecutors asked for six years. The defense asked for four months. Yet Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to six months in county jail and three years of probation, citing that he was drunk and as a result had "less moral culpability," the absence of "significant" prior legal issues, his age, and that he feared that a longer sentence in state prison would have a “severe impact” on Turner.
And we are now learning more about the statements from Turner’s family and friends that were sent to the judge and shared in court:
“Brock is a mild-mannered kid with a good heart in a terrible, terrible situation.”
“His sport, his education, his goals have already been taken from him.”
“Brock is the only person being held accountable for the actions of other irresponsible adults.”
“I have witnessed him carry the stigma of being accused of rape and sexual assault and the social, professional, and cultural effects that he has experienced.”
"A series of alcohol-fueled decisions that he made within an hour time-span will define him for the rest of his life. Goodbye to NCAA championships. Goodbye to the Olympics. Goodbye to becoming an orthopedic surgeon. Goodbye to life as he knew it."
Even more hurtful for me to read were comments from Turner's father, Dan Turner, who refers to the brutal assault as “the events” and “20 minutes of action,” saying that having to register as a sex offender and the loss of his appetite for food he once enjoyed—was punishment enough.
And most disturbing to me, it has been suggested by his family and friends that “rather than strip him of any chance to rectify this situation, I hope his punishment enables him to educate young people on the importance of safe alcohol consumption, and effective communication between two consenting individuals.” His father suggests that this is a wonderful opportunity for his son to educate college students about the “dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.”
I honestly couldn’t even download this. Reading it almost felt like grief. As DA Rosen said, “[This] predatory offender has failed to take responsibility, failed to show remorse and failed to tell the truth.” How irresponsible to suggest that he is, in any way, fit to counsel and educate other young men.
This is not accountability. This is not justice. This is rape culture firing on all cylinders.
"This is not accountability. This is not justice. This is rape culture firing on all cylinders."
This case and all that it represents hits home for me and in many ways, exemplifies my great hope and longing for justice. It touches me as someone who has been immersed in these issues all of my life, working to heal every day from the trauma of sexual violence, and as an advocate for my entire career.
It is a lot to take in when we are up against so much. And even more when you have experienced so much.
I was sexually abused during most of my childhood, for the first time when I was five, by a teacher at the private school I attended. My childhood was weighed down by an overwhelming sense of shame and insignificance. I testified, at eight years old, in front a grand jury and my abuser was indicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He served eleven days. He was also ordered to pay restitution to his victims, which he never did. He had reminded me over and over that if I told anyone, I would be forced to leave the school. I made an important, strong, defining decision, again at eight years old, to stay. I moved through my time there teased by many of the boys and blamed by much of the school community. And there was the look: in the face of a new teacher, or a family new to the school, when they realized who I was: That Girl.
Later, while away at college, I was raped. The assault added an all-consuming fear to my being. And everything I had fought so hard to keep from believing descended on me: that I was worthless; that I had no control, and that my purpose was to be used by others. The lights went out. And what followed was the darkest time of my life.
Slowly, I began to heal. Today, what stays with me still more than the abuse itself is the absence of justice and the responses that I was met with:
“You’re making up stories.” - An administrator of the elementary school
“But he is so charming.” - A parent at the school
“Well she comes from a broken home. She really does like attention.” - More parents
“Why do you think this keeps happening to you?”
“Why were you out so late?” - The police—and my boyfriend
“You need to go to confession.” - A spiritual leader
These responses, and the attitudes they represent, have brought deep suffering not only into my life, but the lives of so many survivors. As I’ve followed along with this case, I’ve grappled with all the ways things have changed since I was first abused 39 years ago, and all the ways things haven’t changed at all.
Her words were brutal, vulnerable, strong, and so brave. They resonated so deeply:
“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
“Until today.” To me, these words represent freedom. And a new beginning.
I began to think about the hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails that our Founder & President, Mariska, received over the years from courageous survivors sharing their experiences, their pain, and their truth—many for the first time. I thought about their words touching Mariska’s heart so deeply that she started Joyful Heart. I have reflected on the experiences of survivors that I’ve had the privilege to bear witness to. And I thought about the fierce women who came way before us whose experiences and radical voices—when no one was listening—ignited the movement we are now a part of.
If some of what we are up against is rape culture firing on all cylinders—then what we are also beginning to witness is a new culture firing back. Let’s remember My Hero’s words:
“Even if the sentence is light, hopefully this will wake people up. I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”
It seems like our country is beginning to wake from a very deep sleep. People are talking. The conversation is getting louder, going deeper into greater complexity, and reaching new arenas. This week, we are witnessing outrage.
For too long we have relied on those who have experienced violence to be the brave ones to speak out, stand up, and fire back. For every survivor who comes forward, three will not. Not because it didn’t happen. Not because they are making it up. Not because they aren’t incredibly brave and strong. Believe me, we are.
"We live in a society that prefers to not to acknowledge these experiences or assign culpability to the perpetrators of them—let alone support our pursuit of healing, and justice.... This is why survivors don't come forward."
When I hear the burning, seemingly ever-present question, “why didn’t you tell anyone?”, my truth—and the truth for so many survivors—is this: because we live in a society that prefers not to acknowledge these experiences or assign culpability to the perpetrators of them—let alone support our pursuit of healing and justice.
We are expected to protect ourselves from being harmed—and if we are harmed, we are blamed for somehow causing it or inviting it into our lives, especially if it happens more than once. We are told to get over it in a specific period of time or in a certain way, yet at the same time, treated as forever broken, fragile, and damaged. We are held to impossible standards of being the “perfect victim”— someone who is only worth protecting if we check all the boxes of race, class, geography, occupation, education level, religion, sexual orientation, sexual history, and marital status. We live inside institutions that not only perpetuate the violence with inaction and ignorance—they actively work to cover up our experiences in order to protect themselves and those who violated us. Our experiences are not important enough to adequately fund, study, understand or respond to.
This is why survivors don’t come forward.
"I believe with all my heart in our vision that this violence can and will end. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but I am fiercely determined to do everything I can to contribute to getting us closer to our vision."
So it’s time now for the rest of our society to pick up the torch, and to sustain the fire. Attention and outrage can’t be limited to one case and a collection of headlines. We all need to be outraged today and every day that we live in a culture in which half our citizens are devalued, discriminated against, and dehumanized. We need to be outraged today and every day that one third of women in this country will be physically or sexually violated in her lifetime.
Today, I am filled with determination, pride, and gratitude. I believe with all my heart in our vision that this violence can and will end. Perhaps not in our lifetime, but I am fiercely determined to do everything I can to contribute to getting us closer to our vision.
To My Hero and survivors everywhere whom I do this work in service of: You survived. You are not alone. I am with you. I am so sorry for what happened to you. I hear you. I believe you. It is not your fault. You matter.
Finally, I am filled with gratitude. It is a privilege to do this work. And it is the greatest privilege to do it at Joyful Heart. I’m grateful every day to lead this organization and to do so alongside our board, staff, committees, volunteers, and supporters, and with another hero of mine, Mariska. Together, with your commitment, your outrage, and your support, we will continue firing back on all cylinders as we work to transform society’s response to these issues, support survivors healing, and end this violence forever.