This weekend I read this article about a college campus rapist, caught in the brutal act and chased down by eye witnesses. What he did appalls me. What the woman endured breaks me. What the judge ruled offends me. Unfortunately, none of this is new. Victims are assaulted and then retramatized during a medical exam or the pointed questions they must answer for police and lawyers.
The judge gave a ridiculously lenient sentence
because he thought anything longer than six months and probation would have a "severe impact" on the young, champion swimmer's future.
This is why victims decide to hold it in, never reporting or recanting quickly. This is why victims fatigue during lengthy trials, forced to react, explain, and defend until they convince themselves that they are all alone or completely mad. This is why victims don't tell their stories; because no one wants to hear how rape feels in long form. They just want sentence fragments from the stand and a quivering lip for effect.
So imagine my surprise and awe when I read the victim's own full-length statement, which she read aloud in the courtroom to the judge and her assailant right after his stingy verdict was declared.
Before you read it, allow me to tell you why I want you to read it.
Sure, it is long. It will cause emotional fatigue because you will feel betrayed by our justice system. It will cause you physical fatigue because she does not let you forget, for a moment, that she was completely violated and does not know her body as her own anymore. But these are not good reasons to shy away.
You should read it because it is rare for a victim to speak her or his whole piece without direction, interruption, or distortion. I can't think of a better way to begin challenging our system or inviting courage than by listening to victims and survivors until they are done speaking. You should read it because entering into the fullness of her reality helps restore her power and reclaim her identity as a human being. She has been alone and accused in strange ways that deserve closure; when you decide to listen to her story, you call her back into belonging.
I write this because I know it to be true. I was drugged and brutally raped by acquaintances when I was eighteen years old. My memories from that night were fuzzy and missing most of the puzzle pieces. I couldn't completely articulate what had happened for several months, though sleepless and terrified in the meantime. I was further traumatized by the questions I had to answer in the first hours and days after the assault: Had I been leading them on and flirting with them? Did I have a boyfriend? Had I ever cheated on a boyfriend? Did I drink? Was I certain I had not taken my own clothes off? Had I ever taken drugs? Did I choose to take the roofie, thinking it was something more recreational? Had I been to his house before?
The medical examiner caused great confusion about my virginity when she asked, "Were you a virgin before last night?" implying that it was now gone and I could not give it freely in the future.
My (former) OB/GYN listened intently to my abbreviated version when I mustered the courage at my annual appointment and replied, "I have a lot of young, college aged patients. Any advice you have for them on how to avoid this kind of thing?"
All of these subversive accusations worked together on my body, mind, and spirit to make one thing very clear: Your story is inconsequential. Instead, we care about your regret, your fear, and how you plan to make better choices in the future. I did not report. I buried this fresh, raw wound while packing boxes for college, desperate to be anything other than The Rape Girl at freshman orientation.
I was quiet and anxious and private and a mess for two long years before I finally trusted that this was not my shame. Over the course of the last 14 years I have told my story many times: in private counseling and a support group, then to my peers at a wellness event when I was a student at St. Olaf, to friends and boyfriends, to criminal justice classes at a community college, and to a congregation's call committee. With each telling, those horrible questions that once trapped me fade away. I look into the faces of patient people, a little squirmy but willing to ache and learn with me. I speak until I am done speaking so that everything true and hard becomes a little lighter to carry around. There are usually tears and hugs when they have listened well. Someone in the room has felt this kind of pain or perhaps even caused it. When they engage my story, I am graphed into theirs and everyone finds new power and belonging.
I did not have the endurance for a trial or the courage to face a judge and attacker the moment a trial ended, but the Stanford victim does. She speaks with the strong words many survivors wish we'd had in the face of fresh injustice. I am grateful for and in awe of this fierce and vulnerable 23 year old. So read her unbridled report of abuse and pain. Put away your questions and simply listen to a woman whose truth is worthy of being seen and heard. It will restore all kinds of power and belonging that lead to justice and wholeness.
With great gratitude, Meta