I wrote this blog post as a response to the Victim Impact statement read at the Brock Turner sentencing hearing, that caused national disgust at Turner’s light sentence. CNN’s Banfield reads Brock Turner’s victim’s Impact Statement Click the link to read the original Victim Impact Statement. I wrote this post to explain her impact statement from my point of view, and how society just doesn’t understand what a victim experiences. Since the victim decided to stay anonymous, she has largely been referred to as the victim.
I won’t call her a victim. She is much more than that. Instead, I will call her the Author. The Author of a document so many of us have read. This Author’s impact statement highlights society’s shortcomings when dealing with sexual assault. This Author of a statement that has shed light on such a common but hidden issue in American society.
When she writes she had no power, no voice, was defenseless- it is because in the justice system a victim has little to no rights. It’s the law against the defendant. A victim does not get to hire an attorney of their choosing. The case gets assigned a District Attorney and that’s that. The defendant has all the rights. Rights to see what documents will be entered into the trial, a right to hear all testimony against them, right to an appeal, right to seek a plea. The only right this Author had was whether or not to testify and to write a victim impact statement. She chose to exercise her rights and it was a damn brave decision. A decision that has changed the country’s understanding of what it means to be assaulted. By testifying she told her attacker and his lawyers she would not be silenced. She empowered herself the only way she was allowed. She also stood up for all victims. She showed us that there is a way back to feeling powerful even after all she endured.
She writes that she had to focus on remembering all the details of her assault instead of trying hard to forget them and move forward with her life. The author had hoped her rapist would accept his actions as wrong and face his punishment by making a plea. But he did not. His family hired a lawyer so that he did not have to own up to being wrong. The Author uses this impact statement to remind her rapist that he traumatized her again just by proceeding with a trial. The helplessness she felt at trial was the same helplessness she felt waking up in the hospital. The rapist decided how that night would go, and he got to decide how court would go. I felt just as lost and powerless during the trial process for my rape. The questions from Harvard trained lawyers, the stares from my rapist, the lost sleep, the accusations, the character assassination, the hurt I saw in my sister and mother’s faces. It was like being raped all over again.
When the Author writes of her first shower after her assault, it reminded me of the first time I looked in a mirror after my rape. The face I saw in the mirror looked like a stranger. I did not know what was missing at first but I soon realized it was my identity. She writes that she wanted to take her body off like a jacket. My body seemed foreign and tainted too. I felt like my body was a crime scene. I felt as though my soul left my body because it could not bare the emotional trauma of the rape. It took me months to reconnect to my own self, my own body. The Author writes she was terrified of her own body and I feel her pain. She was terrified of the loss of control over her own body.
I also was the not so proud owner of gray sweat pants and sweat shirt. It haunted me from my closet where I buried it so I did not have to face the physical reality of my attack.
Reminding everyone that she was wearing a sweater shows she still had to defend herself, her character, her integrity. Every victim I have ever met has been asked “What were you wearing?” A victim’s choice of clothes has long been a narrative and it needs to end now.
The Author wrote directly to her attacker because in stranger rapes, a victim rarely gets a chance to speak directly to their attacker. They are forever entangled but are complete strangers. I’ve often wondered if I should count my rapist as a sexual partner. You know when a doctor or your girlfriends ask you how many, what’s your number? Do I count the stranger that entered me without consent? Someone I didn’t know at all. After years of court dates and trails, I felt intertwined with my attacker but never got to say what I really wanted to say. The Author took her only chance to say what she felt was her absolute truth. The truth she did not get to say during the trial. This approach was all too real to me. I was so desperate to thrust my truth upon my attacker, I almost drove to the jail he was being held in. I imagined him sitting in a cell and getting called to the visitor windows. I pictured him walking down to the window where I sat and upon seeing me, terror set into his face. I wanted to say all the things I never got to in court. All the truths that only him and I knew- despite what he testified to in court. And afterward I would somehow feel better, lighter. I never went. A friend talked me out of it. I now know I am not alone in wanting to speak to my attacker. The Author did and its one of the raw reasons we all listened. We have all been a part of her reclaiming her truth. 25 pages of truth from a point of view none of us ever want to understand, a point of view that too too many will come to understand, a point of view that America desperately needs to understand.