Warning: This article may contain triggers for descriptive recounting of rape and sexual assault.
This past Thursday, a rapist was sentenced to six months in prison and probation. Read that as many times as you need to, it won’t change. Six months. Why? Because he’s an athlete, and the judge felt a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on his future. His future. Never mind the future of the young woman he raped, never mind her recovery that has most likely been set back thanks to a heartless judge. never mind that a slap on the wrist for being a violent sexual predator might encourage this rapist to rape again. Never mind all that; this rapist wants to be an Olympian.
One night in January, two Stanford students were biking across campus when they came upon a a young man “thrusting his body” on top of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. In March, a jury found that young man, that rapist, guilty of three counts of sexual assault. He faced up to fourteen years in state prison. But on Thursday, he received six months.
His victim was in court Thursday, and read a letter to her rapist. I read her letter, twice, because the first time, I had to get up and walk away. Tears streamed down my face as I remembered why I never contacted law enforcement about my own rapes. I felt her pain, I felt her rage, I felt her confusion about a system that punished her more than it punished the man who violently assaulted her in an alley. I encourage you all to read her letter. Below are a few passages from this extraordinary missive.
On January 17th, 2015, it was a quiet Saturday night at home. My dad made some dinner and I sat at the table with my younger sister who was visiting for the weekend. I was working full time and it was approaching my bed time. I planned to stay at home by myself, watch some TV and read, while she went to a party with her friends. Then, I decided it was my only night with her, I had nothing better to do, so why not, there’s a dumb party ten minutes from my house, I would go, dance like a fool, and embarrass my younger sister. On the way there, I joked that undergrad guys would have braces. My sister teased me for wearing a beige cardigan to a frat party like a librarian. I called myself “big mama”, because I knew I’d be the oldest one there. I made silly faces, let my guard down, and drank liquor too fast not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.
The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing. The thin piece of fabric, the only thing between my vagina and anything else, was missing and everything inside me was silenced. I still don’t have words for that feeling. In order to keep breathing, I thought maybe the policemen used scissors to cut them off for evidence.
She drank. If you will recall, John Kasich told a young woman to stay away from alcohol if she didn’t want to be raped.
On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately. But for now, I should go home and get back to my normal life. Imagine stepping back into the world with only that information. They gave me huge hugs and I walked out of the hospital into the parking lot wearing the new sweatshirt and sweatpants they provided me, as they had only allowed me to keep my necklace and shoes.
My sister picked me up, face wet from tears and contorted in anguish. Instinctively and immediately, I wanted to take away her pain. I smiled at her, I told her to look at me, I’m right here, I’m okay, everything’s okay, I’m right here. My hair is washed and clean, they gave me the strangest shampoo, calm down, and look at me. Look at these funny new sweatpants and sweatshirt, I look like a P.E. teacher, let’s go home, let’s eat something. She did not know that beneath my sweatsuit, I had scratches and bandages on my skin, my vagina was sore and had become a strange, dark color from all the prodding, my underwear was missing, and I felt too empty to continue to speak. That I was also afraid, that I was also devastated. That day we drove home and for hours in silence my younger sister held me.
Raw, both physically and emotionally, her clothes now evidence, her body now evidence. Get back to her normal life.
One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me. That’s when the pine needles in my hair made sense, they didn’t fall from a tree. He had taken off my underwear, his fingers had been inside of me. I don’t even know this person. I still don’t know this person. When I read about me like this, I said, this can’t be me, this can’t be me. I could not digest or accept any of this information. I could not imagine my family having to read about this online. I kept reading. In the next paragraph, I read something that I will never forgive; I read that according to him, I liked it. I liked it. Again, I do not have words for these feelings.
I want you to imagine this moment. You’re at work, and you discover the details of your own rape. You discover the monster who did this awful thing to you claims you liked it. You learn about the violence perpetrated upon you at the same time everyone else does.
The man who raped this woman has never admitted it was rape. He still believes an unconscious woman enjoyed being sexually assaulted behind a dumpster. Which makes his sentence so much more disturbing: if he thinks this was not rape, and received such a light sentence, what’s to stop him from doing it again? He is a sexual predator, who was just told his athletic dreams are more important than his victim’s life.
She will never be the same. Trust me, trust my friends, trust the research. We are never the same. And every day, she will know the man who took away part of her very essence only got six months in prison.