Dear Stanford Survivor,
I choose to say survivor, not victim. You don't know me, but I have been where you are. And I write this letter because you gave me the courage to speak.
In the United States, one in six women has been or escaped rape.1 Sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, best friends, coworkers, acquaintances. Someone you know has been sexually assaulted.
Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely to be raped or experience attempted sexual assault. Those between the ages of 12 and 34 are in the highest age bracket for rape. Wounded antelopes in the herd, as you described your own experience.
Like you, I have been stripped in a strange place, scared, and left to watch blood run down the drain with water. A one in six. I have felt my insides burn from abrasions caused by sand, that grit from a foreign beach scraping me in the most delicate and private places. I have felt helpless.
Your letter or, what courts call "victim impact statements" moved me. I wish only that it could have moved the judge presiding over the case to see what rape is and to hand down a sentence that fit the crime. To that judge, I say this:
Rape is worse than murder. At least in death, there is some release and peace. Rape kills its survivor but then forces us to walk on. Rape robs us of privacy, dignity, and, often, a voice We return to life and "normal daily activities" numb in places that should never be numbed. Unlike you, I had no witnesses, no one to verify what happened. I didn't even have the words to describe what happened. Like many rape survivors, I questioned whether it even happened. Was I crazy? Why couldn't I remember the details. I returned to daily activities, but nothing was normal as I'd known it.
I was raped at 14 by a stranger in a strange place. I never told a soul what happened - literally silenced - until I was 16, and then, when my first boyfriend kept pressuring me for sex, I told him. His response to this most confidential secret knocked the wind out of me.
He said no one can be raped. Women ask for it: by what they wear, by partying, by going out after dark or to unsafe places alone.
As Buchwald, Fletcher and Roth say in their book, Transforming A Rape Culture, sexual violence is institutional violence. Rape and violence against women and the institutions that support such violence have to change. The institutions that normalize and minimize sexual aggression in men as "boys will be boys," and shames and holds responsible the victims of these reprehensible crimes has got to change. And that change starts with accountability.
Accountability does not lie with those who survive their attackers. Accountability lies on those who perpetrate these crimes and on those institutions that turn a blind eye to these crimes or otherwise condone them with a slap on the wrist.
I carried so much guilt and shame over what happened to me, when I was 17, I literally tried to cut that guilt out of myself by attempting to take my own life. It took me several years before I was able to see that the grit that scraped me in those most sensitive, secret places also scraped in me a thirst for life. That grit walked me through hell and showed me I had the courage to still stand. That grit formed who I am.
Now, many years later, I have two daughters, ages 12 and 17. I talk to them about that grit. I talk to them about rape. I tell them that we are strong. We come from a long line of strong women: sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts. I tell them we don't deserve this. And I tell them: the institution that gives a slap on the wrist to anyone who would do this has to change. And that change starts with them. It starts with voices. It starts with stories and speaking out. It starts with putting a face to the one in six.
So to you, Stanford Survivor (I wish so much that I knew your name), thank you. Thank you for your bravery to speak and tell your story. Your voice sent a ripple into the water of rape culture, and that has reverberated through and outraged people everywhere. Thank you for your tenacity and grit. Thank you for the courage to confront not only your attacker, but the institution that didn't hold that attacker accountable. Thank you for telling your truth.