Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on Stanford’s campus in 2015. (Photo courtesy Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office/TNS)
In January of 2015, Stanford freshman Brock Turner was caught by two of his peers sexually assaulting a half-naked woman behind a dumpster around 1am. The victim and her sister both attended a fraternity party at Kappa Alpha that Turner also attended with members of his swim team. According to Turner’s statement, he met and danced with the victim and was taking her back to his dorm. After getting separated from her sister, the victim was raped while intoxicated and unconscious and suffered abrasions on her body and vaginal area. After a year, Turner was finally convicted guilty of three counts of sexual assault, but was only sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. The victim of this injustice, Emily Doe*, wrote a blunt and powerful letter to her attacker, which has now been shared globally and has inspired people to act for the sake of rape victims everywhere.
Turner formally swam for Stanford and was vying for the Olympics, something that was brought up multiple times in the trial, according to Doe. The probation officer considered this and cushioned the sentence in Brock’s favor, saying a harsher sentence would’ve had a “severe impact on him,” much to the victim and the world’s outrage.
The average rape sentence is 8 years, obviously much higher than what was allotted to Turner. In the trial, Turner never flatly admitted to raping the victim, crediting his exposure to alcohol. In his statement, he expresses his regret of consuming a large amount of both beer and whiskey, saying that he was influenced by his fellow swimmers to drink and party. In his statement, he said, “I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted]. My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back.” He stated that he was not aware that the victim might have been too drunk to realize what was happening, and if he had known, he would not have taken the actions he did. His side of the story also seems to indicate that the victim was fully conscious, while witnesses stated otherwise. His sentence hearing occurred after a recess, taking into account his intoxication and letters commending his good character.
In Doe’s letter, she states, “The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women… How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”
Turner’s sentence effectively backfired, and he is now banned from USA Swimming. “Brock Turner is not a member of USA Swimming and, should he apply, he would not be eligible for membership,” said a statement issued by the organization.
Doe’s case is one out of many. According to the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica, 1 in 6 women experience an attempted or completed rape. In the Rape In America study, 60% of the women who reported being raped were under 18 years old, and 80% are assaulted by someone they know. According to RAINN, only 6 out of every 1,000 assaulters are ever served justice for their crimes. Sexual assault is often called “the most underreported violent crime in America.” Turner’s soft punishment did not fully make an example of how rape cases should be handled.
Many cases like Doe’s have unfortunately gone under punished or not at all. Just a simple search of recent rape cases will reveal dozens of cases where the offender was proclaimed not guilty, and invariably the victim is seen sobbing in agony and being escorted away by those who wished to see justice served for them. After reading many of these cases, most of them are extremely sympathetic towards the offender, calling the victim a liar and someone who was trying to ruin their lives. Some of the investigations were not completely thorough, or did not take the victim’s statement into much account.
Reading Doe’s letter at first pained me, but then I was immensely encouraged by her bluntness and refusal to accept less than she deserved. She absolutely deserved full justice for what had been wrought on herself and her family, and when she didn’t get that, she proceeded to spark global outrage while simultaneously inspiring change. As a teenage girl, I was emboldened by her story, because I know if I were in her shoes I would require the same justice that she never received. Reading her letter allowed me to empathize with the anger and betrayal she must have felt after the sentencing, and the desire to let her attacker know, in detail, the suffering he inflicted on her.
As a society, we must clearly communicate the seriousness of sexual assault regardless of where they stand socially or academically, and seek to educate younger generations. Her case is inspiring local and national governments to create stronger laws against sexual assault.
Many victims of rape were inspired by Doe to write their own letters and share their stories online and otherwise. This will hopefully push the conversation of rape beyond what it is today. In her letter, Doe expressed her wish to encourage other victims of their worth beside the atrocities that has happened to them. Though her case specifically was an injustice, she created a ripple effect that will benefit and inspire rape victims around the world.
“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.”
*A pseudonym was used by the victim’s preference to protect her safety