Just after midnight on 18th January 2015, Brock Turner- a student and former star swimmer at Stanford University in the US- was seen sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster on the campus of the university. The woman, 23, was unconscious. Last Thursday, Turner was sentenced to just six months in prison.
The details of the case are pretty straightforward. The victim- who remains anonymous- had been to a party and, in her own words, “drank liquor too fast not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.” Turner was found by two Swedish PhD students, Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, who were cycling home when they found 20 year old Turner on top of the victim behind the dumpster. In a statement to the police, Arndt said that Turner was “aggressively thrusting his hips into her,” continuing: “We called him out on it and the guy ran away. My friend, Peter, chased after him.”
The two men managed to catch Turner, restraining him until the police arrived. On sentencing Turner to just six months in prison, judge Aaron Persky said that the positive character references he had received from Turner’s friends and family, coupled with his lack of a criminal record, had persuaded him to be more lenient, saying that prison would have “a severe impact on him.”
The victim’s 7,500 word impact statement, which she addressed directly to Turner, has since been released by Buzzfeed. You can read it here. It is an extremely powerful account of the attack, in which the victim explains: “I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my half naked, unconscious body.”
She continues: “I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.”
Obviously, her statement is not an easy read. But it’s an important one. Because in this honest, brutual and harrowing account of the suffering of a sexual assault victim, the dangerous culture tof victim-blaming has never been so obvious, or as damaging.
As the world reacted to Turner’s extremely lenient sentence (of which he is expected to serve only four months), Lena Dunham and her Girls co-stars released a video calling for more support for the victims of sexual assault. As she shared the video on her Twitter account, Lena said: “I dedicate this to the brave survivor in the Stanford case who has given so much to change the conversation”
In the video, the girls ask: “Why is our default reaction as a society to disbelieve? Or to silence? Or to shame?”
The short clip calls for support for victims “not because she’s someone’s daughter, sister or girlfriend,” but because “she’s someone.”
The victim herself concludes her statement by saying: “I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere… To girls everywhere, I am with you.”
To this brave woman, we would like to say: we are also with you.