I dry my tears so that I can see what I'm writing. I can't stop the deep rage that has ignited within me after reading the soul-shaking letter of the woman (who chooses to remain unnamed) whom Brock Turner, a freshman Stanford University swimmer, violently assaulted and raped last year.
He took the case to trial and was found guilty, but was only given a sentence of six months in prison. This was a sentence shorter than the standard minimum because prison would have “a severe impact on him." The woman's letter response explains how the rape had a severe impact on her. I try to organize my thoughts in reaction to what I've just read, but I can't. Ever since I was sexually assaulted by a family member a few months ago, I've lost all ability to ground my emotions. It took me seven months to ground myself. I spent weeks feeling nothing, detached from my body, from people, from the pain. I took myself to a counselor in a clinic for “women like me," aka victims of rape and sexual abuse. Is that who I am now? Is that me? I was shaking in fear. I had a rash on my chest, and my stomach was empty as I tried in vain to look for the secret door in the hospital that promised me safety. I found a smile and a nice woman who was proud of me for writing him an email after it happened. She told me to continue my daily yoga practice and to keep writing. I did those things, and they didn't help.
So, I took myself to a private therapist who specialized in cases like mine, but when I went to the wrong address and called her to explain, her stern, frustrated voice explaining her cancellation fees sent me in dizzy spirals of loneliness, helplessness and mistrust.
I sobbed the whole way home before I called to cancel indefinitely. How could I divulge such personal pain to a woman who was counting minutes and percentages? I took myself to another therapist who kept trying to refer me, hesitant to handle such a sensitive case. Thousands of dollars and a few weeks later, I was able to look my assaulter straight in the eyes and take every inch of power he had stolen from my spirit and my body. But, the hole is still there. The hole doesn't go away. I'm doing much better. I had never been more sick in my entire life. Flu after infection after virus, my immune system collapsed from all the hurt my heart carried. My relationships with my family are much stronger.
The strain of tiptoeing around explanations of bad moods, bad dreams and bad memories are now over. I couldn't stay with this family member. I couldn't go to that dinner. I couldn't say anything to anyone because I didn't want to compromise my assaulter knowing the way his wife, his children and my family would look at him. I was making excuses for a man who had drilled a hole in the safety that was the trust I felt in my family.
Just like Turner's victim, I still cry all the time. I cry for no reason.
I no longer take the back alley I was so used to walking every morning to my yoga shala. Instead, I prefer the busier main street these days, just in case. My boyfriend can't touch me when he says something I don't like. No one can. My body now rejects anything that carries the slightest wind of danger. I break down in gasps of air and tears if a woman gets hurt in a movie, if I read about her pain in a book, if I hear of men going to strip clubs for a bachelor party so they can stare at women on a stage. I don't follow the news, but I feel that deep rage again. The rage I feel now is the same rage I felt when a 16-year-old was raped by 33 different men in Brazil, her bloody legs blasted all over social media. It's the same rage I feel when a rapist receives six months in prison because jail would be too scary for a man with a swimming record like his. It's the same rage I feel when I write my story and hear my friends' stories. Just because we have vaginas doesn't mean history can continue to fuck us. Just because we can receive doesn't mean we want all the crap the world wants to dump inside us, leaving it there for us to carry.
Rape is a war tactic for a reason. It breaks you. Your body can be in a million pieces, but that doesn't hurt like the guilt, the shame and the feeling that there is nowhere to go in this world that is safe — not even your own body.
The woman Turner raped was forced to relive, recount and return to her trauma multiple times in public and in front of a jury, as if what happened to her was a bedtime story so easy for her to tell. She was sent back to experience her assault every single time she was forced to defend herself to the judge. The moments after my assaulter stuck his hands between my legs, I started shaking. My teeth started chattering, tears dropped into the tea I had been making for both of us. My mind shut down, telling me I had made everything up. I must have imagined it. I could have only hallucinated something so awful. I was out of the country and staying in the home of his family. Everyone else was gone that day except for me and him. I had no internet, no phone and nowhere to go.
His family came back that night, but I feared going in the shower, changing my clothes and going to sleep. It was days before I could tell someone. And when I did, it was a friend thousands of miles away who knew no one in my family. I sent every detail in a text message, not trusting my memory to remember in the future.
To travel into what I experienced that afternoon still shatters me, so I don't. I focus on the strength I've stolen back from it, the voice I've made stronger. Turner's victim never had that option. The dirt and abrasions in her vagina are nothing compared to how many times she had to reopen her wounds to have a court believe her. At the end of her response, she states she is with girls everywhere, that she is with me. But, I am writing this to tell her we're with her, too. Reading what she addressed to Turner and the court, I cried because I recognized myself in everything she wrote. Her depression, isolation, her anger — I was there too. And slowly — very slowly — I'm getting out of it.
The day I met my boyfriend was the day I decided to tell my father about what had happened. I wanted the chance to heal, to open and to love. I didn't deserve for that to be taken away from me. No one does. They have both patiently watched me heal and grow from this suffering that never should have been mine to handle, and they have helped me feel safe again in my own body and out in the world.
Telling my story has been a channel for my healing because I saw how many of us have lived and felt what Turner's victim have felt. It hurts my stomach still to use that word: "victim."
I don't want to be a victim. That's not who I am. I experienced victimization, but what I am is a strong woman. I have a voice and a body, and I will use both to be heard, to listen to the stories of others and to protect myself.
Turner's victim, to me, isn't a victim anymore. She's using her voice and her body the way I now use mine. A rapist's swimming times should have nothing to do with his sentence. You can use your voice to let the case's judge know how you feel and make sure he doesn't get reelected again. If you've been victimized, don't stay a victim. There is help, and there is so much hope. Life is so beautiful, even with all the pain. If you've experienced anything like what so many women have, don't just know, feel that you are not alone. Find what type of therapy works for you. Most cities will have free clinics a quick Google search can direct you to. Send me an email. Reach out.
You are not alone. We tell our stories so that we can hold you, too.