While I know I post once a week, this week I thought I’d make an exception. This case has been difficult to process. I know many advocates that feel the same way. I decided to write an open letter to Judge Aaron Persky, the judge who presided over Brock Turner’s case and decided to only give him 6 months in jail.
Recently, you ruled in the case of Brock Turner, a college athlete who raped a woman. You gave him a 6 month jail sentence, but they predict he’ll be out in 3 months with good behavior. You said prison would have a lasting impact on him and that he wouldn’t be a danger to others.
The problem with your reasoning is that he already has been a danger to others. Brock Turner is a rapist. He violated a woman’s body for his own use and then tried to run away when he was caught.
You say that prison will have a lasting impact on Turner but what about the lasting impact he made on the victim? I know what it’s like to be abused, to be hurt, to be violated. I know what it’s like to be confused, hurt and angry. That was almost four years of my life, by two ex partners, and I can tell you that my life was severely impacted. The other survivors I work with, their lives are severely impacted. They are impacted by those who choose to perpetrate a crime against us, against our bodies. Just because we have left the moments of danger in our lives doesn’t mean our fight is over.
There are so many days in the last year and a half after escaping my abuse that I have wished for a normal life. I wish for a life without anxiety and triggers and flashbacks. I’ve wished for days that weren’t filled with unexplained sadness and anger. I just want to stop hurting. Do you even understand what we go through? Every survivor is different and everyone handles their trauma in their own ways. Let me tell you what I go through.
I have triggers. They can be something like the smell of cologne my abuser used to wear, a location or a song. The night before last, I opened one of those pre-made biscuits, you know, the kind that you pop open. This can popped open unexpectedly, sending a tremor through my arm into my chest. It reminded me of being attacked, the tremors that moved through my body as I was thrown and hit. I panicked, I cried, my chest hurt with anxiety. Sometimes those triggers turn into flashbacks where I lose all sense of place and time. I see whoever I’m with as the abuser, I call them his name, I beg not to be hit or touched. I try to get away and break down. Sometimes it takes a while to snap back to reality and that’s terrifying, reliving my abuse all over again. Smelling his body, seeing his face, feeling that pain again.
Other times, the emotions I feel are too much for me to even handle and I just go completely numb. I feel no sadness or happiness. I never know how long that will last but I hate it and I know how it ends. It always ends in the outpouring of my pain and hurt. That happened last night. I remembered what it was like the first time he violated me, what he took from me. That is something I will never get back. Yes, your body hurts during abuse, your body hurts during assault but do you know what it truly does to someone? Do you know what it feels like to be hit square in the chest? That pain and pressure on your bones? That’s what it feels like. It feels like I’m being hit right in the chest while someone has an iron grip on my heart and it is literally going to break. It hurts to breathe and all the tears in the world could never mend what I feel. I feel broken. I feel dirty. I feel disgusted with my own body. I hate the skin I’m in.
It didn’t just hurt me physically and mentally, it hurts how I interact with other people. My grades lowered, I became depressed and less productive at work, my family life was changed completely. I was so angry and isolated; I’d stay in my room for hours because I didn’t even want to face anyone. Even now, my current partner and I have to work through all of my triggers, all of my flashbacks. We have to alter certain activities, he has to calm me down, see me cry, deal with my depression and anxiety and he stand by my side every single second, without fault. My family and friends do the same thing. I know it hurts them, I know it hurts them to see me like this and sometimes it still strains our relationships, but we work through it Their never ending support is the reason I am here today, fighting for the rights of other victims, educating my own community about what we go through. I’m recovering, I’m getting better, but I still fight through it all.
I photograph survivors. I create a space to share our stories, to share our struggles, our pain and our healing. I hear all of the struggles they face after their abuse. Whether it was four years of abuse or a single moment, it doesn’t matter. We all feel the emptiness that type of violation brings.
Every single time a survivor is let down, every time we are blamed, every time the perpetrator garners more sympathy, we are silenced a little more. We are told we don’t matter, our abuser was justified in what they did, their well-being matters more than ours. That is exactly what you showed us all. You showed us that you care more about the well being of a man who chose to perpetrate a crime against another person and that he deserves a menial punishment because it could hurt him. The damage he did, the damage you did, is not something that goes away in a day or week or month.
While each survivor experiences their own emotions, in a way, we can all relate to each other. We feel each other’s pain because we know what it’s like to be silenced, blamed and mistreated. We know the hurt it causes. We strive to surround each other in love and support because we fear going anywhere else. Since you belong to a Network that supports battered women, maybe you wonder why more don’t take legal action. We are afraid our perpetrators will receive sympathy from the judge. That’s one of the many reasons I chose not to report. Until we can make changes in our legal system, our law enforcement and our society, moments like these make us lose faith in these institutions that were originally designed to protect us.
What you did was shameful and while you have no idea about the lasting affects we feel, we will stay strong, we will not be silenced and we will continue to support each other. We will continue to fight for change, to educate our society so this won’t happen anymore. We will raise our next generation to understand that this is rape, not “20 minutes of action” and to understand what survivors truly go through.
The lasting impact of prison on rapists is nothing compared to the lasting impact a rapists left on their victim. Consider this the next time you put the well being of a rapist before the well being of the victim.