This Friday, Brock Turner will be released from prison after serving half of his six month sentence. I’m preparing myself for another round of articles, thought pieces, op-eds, and general Facebook statuses about him, the Stanford rape case, rape culture, and sexual assault survivors. I feel that the initial waves of the case have barely had a chance to calm.
People will, and should, have things to say. Sexual violence is not something to sweep under the rug in the hopes that it will disappear if it just remains out of sight. However, these conversations are not abstract nor are they happening within a vacuum—they have very real and lasting impacts on survivors. We need to be conscientious of how our words, tones, reactions, etc may be received and perceived by the survivors in our lives. Before you think that you don’t know anyone who has experienced rape or sexual assault, let me stop you. You do. Without a doubt. If you don’t know who they are, then that can be indicative of the environment and space you create.
When having these conversations, whether online or off, please keep the following things in mind. Let’s create spaces where survivors feel heard, supported, and safe.
- Don’t say anything that diminishes the weight this carries or impact it has on survivors.
Examples could include:
- “Who is that again?” Google is your friend…do a quick search on your phone and then rejoin the conversation.
- “Does that decision really impact you?” Yes it does. This decision is a reminder to each and every survivor that their lives, trauma, and pain are less important than that of a rich white boy. His inability to enjoy cooking is more important than our PTSD, nightmares, fear, anxiety, or depression.
- “Yah, but this is just one case. It turns out better for other people.” Wrong and wrong. This case is demonstrative of what happens time and time again. Maybe you don’t remember how each of them turned out but I do and other survivors do too. It’s because we are watching to see what will happen if we decide to report or if a friend is thinking of reporting. Every time we learn that it just isn’t worth it and that the system isn’t here for us; and it especially isn’t here for people of color and LGBQ/T people.
Survivors have every right to respond to this case and its decisions in any way they want. Their story does not have to mirror the one in the spotlight for them to feel connected and impacted by the news. Perhaps we are heartbroken because yet another person has been assaulted, revictimized by the system, or denied the services they deserve. Perhaps we identify with the survivor. Perhaps it’s happening around the anniversary of our assault and compounding how we are already feeling. Perhaps it’s the breaking point of what we are able to handle this day, week, month. There’s a million reasons why we could feel connected to any case and we shouldn’t need to justify or explain that connection in order to receive the support, validation, and love that we deserve.
2. Don’t make jokes about rape.
Unequivocally, Brock Turner does not deserve to be raped in prison. Do not say or insinuate this. Maybe you think that it’ll make survivors feel better because then “he’ll know how it feels” or something. As a rape survivor, and someone who still deals with the aftermath on a semi-regular basis, I wish this on no one regardless of their crimes or life decisions. Rape and sexual assault is not nor should it be a consequence or punishment for someone. Ever. Ever. Ever.
When we start justifying violence against one type of person, it only makes it easier to cast the net a bit wider with every toss. We are never going to create communities that are safe, respectful, and equitable while we continue to justify violence and hate.
The rates of rape in prison are horrifying and are absolutely aided and abetted by the power structures and dynamics within it. People who are raped while incarcerated routinely do not get the care or support they need. They do not have the power or ability to go somewhere else to get care. Instead they endure the everyday violence and torture of being in prison on top of this sexual trauma. Additionally, many people experience sexual trauma before becoming incarcerated.
3. Don’t make victim-blaming comments.
When you decide to focus on a quality or behavior of any survivor, you are judging every other survivor. We are met with messages every day that tell us we should have done something different, said something different, worn something different, been somewhere different, etc. We’ve already replayed the scenario in our head countless times. We’ve already come up with more reasons than you ever could of why we are at fault for what happened. We’ve also come up with ‘solutions’ of how to prevent it from happening in the future. It can take months, years, decades to undo all of the blame, guilt, and shame that we wrap ourselves in. Our reactions are the result of the way that society judges survivors every single day. Many of us learned how harshly sexual assault survivors are treated before we experienced it ourselves. We had already internalized that it would be our fault if it happened to us or, at the very least, that we were partially responsible. Growing up, especially as a woman, means constantly adding to the list of things we cannot do lest we draw the eyes of men and taunt them into harassing or assaulting us.
We don’t need your judgment or opinions on what a specific survivor could have done differently in order to have prevented the assault. No. What would have prevented the assault is for the perpetrator to have decided NOT to assault someone that night. Keep the focus on their behaviors and decisions.