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The Stanford rape case and my own lesson in survival

The former Stanford student, Brock A. Turner, who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman was sentenced to only six months in jail to avoid “a severe impact,” according to Judge Aaron Persky. This lax sentence has resulted in anger, disappointment, and hurt; not just for me personally – but for women internationally. Why? Twenty-one years after I was sexually assaulted on a college campus, the system and society still hasn’t changed. The victim wrote a letter to her assailant: “Even if the sentence is light, hopefully, this will wake people up … I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire … this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”

A tiny flame inside me has been fanned into an inferno. The following is not to elicit sympathy but an example of re-learning to thrive after a similar traumatic experience. If another woman is sitting in a dark place has conflicting, negative, or even suicidal thoughts because of a similar incident – please, know you are not alone. You are not defined by what happened. You are a survivor. Come out of the dark and into the light. You can live a full and happy life, despite the past. More importantly, the word “victim” will no longer fit, you will become resilient. You will be a survivor.

I was 19, naïve, in college, and left a bar with another student after a few drinks. My internal voice convinced me, “we’ll just make out a little and then I’ll go home.” The next 12 hours resulted in a nightmare. The foreshadowing began when my ‘date’ yanked me out of the cab, dragged me into his apartment, and then tore my clothes off with one hand and choked me with the other, then violated me … even as I demanded, then begged, “no. No. NO!” repeatedly. The torture continued after he fell asleep. My naked body was pinned against a brick wall and he held me so tightly I could barely breathe. He would wake up and growl, “Go to sleep,” at the slightest movement. During the night his roommate entered their shared room to sleep. I was humiliated while my naked body was exposed. I trembled all night, awake, and shallowly breathing.

I became an inconvenience to him the next morning. He sighed with exaggeration when I complained my torn clothes were now indecent. He threw a shirt and pair of shorts at me and impatiently scolded me, “Come on! Gotta drop you off before practice.” In his car, I noticed bruises on my legs and wrists. It took some inner strength not to cry in front of this monster. At my dormitory, he looked at me with a smirk, “Don’t worry; it’s okay … you’re a slut.” I was in shock and I could not mentally digest what had just happened. What had I done to make him think his attack was encouraged? A month later, the nightmare repeated when two more male students attacked me. The next weeks were in a dream-state of shock, nightmares, disbelief, self-accusation, and self-blaming.

The next few months, while walking to classes, I was spit on and shamed by peers who called me degrading names. My rapists had bragged about their actions. I kept this horrible secret for months. Regardless, I was determined to stay and finish school – no one was going to rob me of my education. I witnessed female classmates report incidents of rape to school administration, only to have their cases ‘disappear.’ A year later, in chatting with female classmates, the conversation turned to my first attacker. Astonishingly, six of eight women in the room had also been raped by this monster. I had a sudden epiphany … this was not my fault! The Stanford rape victim’s letter to the judge and her attacker noted: “By definition, rape is the absence of promiscuity; rape is the absence of consent.”

Schools cover up criminal atrocities because of negative influence on enrollments – an ethical atrocity. Crimes committed by high-visibility sports stars with scholarships – even more reason to hush the victim. Violent crimes should be handled by trained police with an empathetic treatment of violent crime victims – not by untrained staff. School officials who hide or discourage violent crime reporting should be charged as an accessory.

The National Criminal Justice Reference Service reported one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college (2010). FBI crime statistics noted 1,165,383 violent crimes (murder, rapes, assaults) reported to law enforcement in the USA, of which rape was 7.2% – equating to 83,908+ rapes (2014). That is approximately 1,614+ rapes weekly, 230+ rapes daily, and 10+ rapes hourly. The 2002 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs report believed half a million (63%) sexual assaults are unreported annually.

The general mentality in today’s culture is, ‘Boys will be boys,’ (interpretation = let them follow their hormones). This attitude should change in a wave of stronger social and judicial amendments. Schools need stronger, sexual harassment and counseling annual training for staff. Middle schools, high schools, and colleges should aggressively educate male and female students about non-sexual consent and the consequences of rape. Judges need to weigh heavily in the consideration of victims for punitive sentencing and award heavy financial restitutions.

Is there a positive note to the Stanford rape victim’s unfortunate incident? The victim and the public’s outrage at the lenient sentence may finally bring this critical, social issue to more public scrutiny, and more fitting punitive sentences, as well as increased ethical and empathetic responses from schools, the public, the judicial system, and stronger support for these victims.

It’s been repeated throughout history … women should not feel guilty nor publically shamed for forced, non-consensual sex. Women do not ask to be raped. Let’s encourage and change our cultural way of thinking to where women need not fear violent attacks.

In the words of Malala Yousafzai, “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” To the women of all ages, who have had similar experiences, know this: I am here for you because I am you. You are loved.

This was originally published on Philadelphia Business Journal.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, here are some resources to help you through:

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