Michaela Wagland explores the unjust treatment of a sexual assault victim in a case that has caused an international uproar.
Content warning: Sexual assault.
At Stanford University in January 2015, two students riding to a party witnessed a man “aggressively thrusting his hips” into an unconscious woman.
The 23-year-old woman (her name is not being released to the public) was planning a night in with her parents. Her younger sister was visiting and as it was her only night with her, decided to attend a party she was going to.
As she described in her compelling victim statement, “I would go, dance like a fool and embarrass my younger sister…I made silly faces, let me guard down, and drank liquor too fast not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.”
“The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway… A deputy explained I had been assaulted.”
This is all she knew. She discovered what really happened to her by reading an article she found whilst scrolling through news on her phone. She was repeatedly referred to as the “unconscious intoxicated woman”.
“This was how I learned what happened to me… He had taken off my underwear, his fingers had been inside of me. I don’t even know this person, I still don’t know this person. When I read about me like this, I said, this can’t be me, this can’t be me.”
In her victim impact statement, which was released to the public last week, she recounts in extensive detail the brutality of her emotional turmoil following the assault. It is an eloquent piece of victim advocacy.
She read her statement aloud in the hearing and addressed her attacker directly.
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me and that’s why we’re here today.”
“Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrolment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
On Thursday June 2 the accused Stanford University student, Brock Turner, was sentenced to six months imprisonment with probation for three counts of sexual assault.
Specifically, he has been charged with assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
He could have been sentenced to a maximum of 14 years in prison.
As it was reported in The Guardian on June 6, the accused is only expected to serve 3 months out of his sentence “after the judge, Aaron Persky, said positive character references and lack of a criminal record had persuaded him to be lenient. Prison would have a ‘severe impact on him’, the judge said.”
The accused father has also spoken out stating it is wrong for his son to spend time in jail for “20 minutes of action.” He wrote of his son, “his every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression…these verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways.”
As it was reported in The Australian, “Her attacker would claim she consented, a defence attorney would interrogate her about her sex life, and a judge would sentence her attacker to six months in a county jail plus three years probation – but she would have the last word.”
Brock Turner ruined a life. But that did not stop him from stating that he wished to “show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.”
Scathing in her response, she responded.
“A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect.”
The victim’s impact statement has ignited international advocacy for sexual assault. More so, the woman herself has become a symbol of empowerment. She is the unknown face of an international call for justice.
“You should have never done this to me,” she stated in her letter.
Why she is keeping her identity hidden is not just because of her privacy either. As The ABC reported, “In a statement released by Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianecri to CNN, the woman said that in addition to wanting to protect her privacy, she could better represent all wom[e]n if her name and image were not known.”
As she said, “I’m coming out to you simply as a woman wanting to be heard. For now I am every woman.”
While many of us can’t comprehend how much inner strength it took for this woman to stand in front of this unjust human and inextricably describe every part of her emotional journey, the entire world has certainly attempt to try.
How this incident has affected the world
The world, the general public and known figures alike, have intensely reacted with many symbolic gestures.
The first of these was the creation of an online petition advocating for the removal of the judge Aaron Persky. As The ABC reported, it has collected more than 400,000 clicks of support” in just the afternoon of June 8.
Although the sexual assault case wasn’t specifically mentioned at Stanford University’s Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, BuzzFeed reported that “its presence was everywhere you turned: in signs held by student protesters, in the careful words of commencement speakers, and even, for a few hours, in the sky over Stanford Stadium.” Ultraviolet, a feminist organisation, attached a banner to the plane they flew over the stadium that read in the University’s bold red, “PROTECT SURVIVORS, NOT RAPISTS #PERSKYMUSTGO”
Paul Harrison, a graduating senior also held a sign that read, “Rape is Rape”.
Vice President Joe Biden is the most recent public figure to respond to the victim’s statement through a powerful letter he sent to BuzzFeed on Thursday. Mr. Biden, who was involved in a campaign established by The White House advocating to stop sexual assault on campus entitled ‘It’s On Us’ and also penned the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, wrote extremely honestly to victim of this sexual assault:
“You were failed by anyone who dared to question this one clear simple truth: Sex without consent is rape. Period. It is a crime…. I do not know your name – but I will never forget you.”
The cast of Girls also created a formidable video that they dedicated to the “brave survivor in the Stanford case who has given so much to change the conversation,” as Lena Dunham explained. She expressed the video is intended to create a more intense emphasis on assisting victims of sexual assault instead of blaming them.
While we can never truly comprehend what this valiant woman is experiencing, we can truly understand her message and hope that this will allow the world to take a significant step forward in advocating justice against acts of sexual assault.
She concludes her statement with an acknowledgment of thanks to those who have supported her and assisted her along this journey. She also leaves a message for the girls.
“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.”
If you need help or advice regarding sexual assault, call the Student Support Team on 4921 5801 or Campus Care on 4921 8600. Or visit UON’s Sexual Health Webpage.