Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault
After seeing Brock Turner’s face on my news feed countless times, I started to feel exhausted. Then I realized it was because I didn’t want to hear about him anymore.
I didn’t hear about Brock Turner first, I heard about his victim. Their letter to Brock Turner, read aloud in court, appeared on my news feed. I was shocked at the bareness of it, how vulnerable it was. How brave. It was long and painful and I couldn’t will myself to finish the entire thing. I went to sleep feeling troubled, but also in awe at the victim’s courage and strength.
Shortly after, I started seeing things about Turner’s sentence, his past, and more all over my feed. I looked at his smiling face and then his mugshot too many times. I started to feel fatigued, and I wasn’t exactly sure why. One of my friend’s status put it perfectly.
Of course it was tiring. Of course it was traumatizing. It is one thing to be reminded that rapists exist, that they can come in any form. It is one thing to hear news about how a rapist received a short sentence for such a terrible crime at one of the most prestigious institutions in America. It is one thing to try to honor the story of the Stanford victim by listening, understanding, and making space in myself for that story.
It is another thing to realize all of this while being a rape victim oneself.
I was raped over a year ago by a person that I knew and trusted. This was confusing to me–I knew and trusted them. In fact, they were my friend. It took me a few months to realize what had happened–to admit what had happened. Previously, I had heard similar things that happened to other people, but I never thought it could happen to me. I started reading accounts of other people who had been raped. I read the memoir Lucky by Alice Sebold and felt like I could start to heal like Alice did. Then, everyday, I started to think in my head, I was raped, I’m a victim, I’m a victim. It became to be too much. I felt like I lost who I was. After consulting others and revisiting rape accounts, I came to realize that my life didn’t have to be defined by what happened to me. I started thinking of myself as not just a victim, but a survivor. I started thinking about the rape less.
Reading the Stanford victim’s letter was painful, but it also brought about renewed feeling of validation in regards to my own assault. To be honest, it is still hard for me to grapple with the fact that I was so emotionally distraught after my rape. I saw myself in the Stanford victim’s letter, and it expressed to me that it is okay to feel so much pain because of my assault. It is okay if I will always be in pain. Although I don’t think about my rape as much as I used to, I don’t doubt that a feeling of powerlessness will always be within me.
Yet the Stanford victim’s letter made me feel powerful, like I don’t have to be ashamed of my assault anymore. It is inherent in our society that rape victims are often questioned and silenced, which is a traumatizing thing in itself. How freeing it is to realize that I can fight against that system and demand justice for myself. I know that effect will resonate in many other people as well. It is, essentially, giving voice to the voiceless.
That doesn’t mean the case won’t also be upsetting, draining to talk about or be consumed. In the case of social media, it is easy to include before the link or your status/tweet/image/etc.: “trigger warning: rape,” to give people a chance to decide if they want to view your content, scroll on, or brace themselves. It is important to remember this in the heat of a moment as more news of Brock Turner and his victim is released. Personally, I appreciate the trigger warnings that people provide because it gives me an opportunity to decide if I want to view the content.
If you’re out and about with people and you feel compelled to talk about it, it’s a good idea to check in with everyone first. Are you comfortable with this topic? It’s okay if you aren’t, we can talk about something else.
If you aren’t sure, I would advise not to push on. If you do end up talking with a group about Brock Turner, pay attention to everyone and notice if someone is visibly uncomfortable. Check in every now and then. Don’t be afraid to express that the group should be respectful and look out for one another in the conversation.
I also would not talk about Brock Turner around sexual assault victims you know unless they bring it up. Personally, I don’t wish to invite comments from my friends about the case and how frustrated they are. There are other outlets for them to go to, and I am just not one of them. If you feel the need to force a victim in your life to “open up,” know that you’re not being helpful. You’re being invasive, and it can trigger a feeling of powerlessness.
And if, by this point, you think that there are no victims of sexual assault in your life, you’re probably wrong.You probably know someone in your life who has been sexually assaulted. In fact, it’s more than likely that you do. You might be a victim yourself (which doesn’t excuse you from the content in this essay). Even if those aren’t applicable, the Stanford rape case can weigh heavily on others and it’s important to know where to place that burden.
So, I ask of you, despite the necessity of spreading this story, to please be careful how you do it.