by Taylor Wear. Taylor's voice is a fierce, bright light for women, survivors, and those who have been kept silent.
(trigger warning: rape/sexual assault)
In the very early morning hours of January 18, 2015, then-19 year old Brock Turner, a rapist, dragged an intoxicated, fully unconscious female behind a frat house dumpster and sexually assaulted her. Two young male graduate students riding their bikes that night came across Turner, the rapist, and immediately noticed something was wrong. As one of them later recounted, the female was not moving at all and Turner, the rapist on top of her, seemed to be moving a lot. After the two young men caught his attention, Turner – the rapist – ran, and the two young men chased after him, eventually overcoming the rapist and tackling him to the ground. One called the authorities; the other held the rapist there until they arrived. The rapist was tried and convicted in March of this year and was ultimately sentenced a few weeks ago. The rapist was given six months. The rapist is expected to serve three.
For those who know me, the above paragraph is probably written in a way that could easily be assigned to me. For those who know me well enough, they might even read it in my tone of voice. On the surface, it is satirical and dripping with sarcasm, seemingly fueled by a pointed, highly opinionated, inner feminist rage. It is typical Taylor and, truthfully, I was angry when I wrote it. The Turner rape case has sparked a thick-bound DSM-V range of emotions in me, and anger is absolutely one of them. But it goes a little deeper.
I have and will refer to Turner as “the rapist” because that is factually what he is, but also because it bears repeating. Turner is a rapist is a rapist is a rapist. He might have attended a prestigious university, he might have swam fast, he might have been a blue-eyed white boy with a tousle of blond hair and a Stanford crewneck and have been the textbook picture of white picket fence overprivilege, but he is also – no, first and foremost – a rapist. He dragged a woman behind a frat house dumpster, her naked body strewn against a bed of pine needles, and he raped her. In so doing, he took everything – her dignity, her bodily autonomy, her right to be her own woman – from her. And after doing that, he ran away.
If this man’s selfish, heinous act has the power to gnaw away at everything that makes one autonomous and human, from a woman who he knew nothing of other than the nagging voice in his head telling him he was entitled to her – he deserved her – come on, who would ever say no? – then he deserves to be known as a rapist. He deserves to replay her pain and wear that scarlet letter for the rest of his life. Instead, he will serve six months in a county jail on paper, he will likely be released in three for good behavior and for being a rich white boy, he will release a handful of hand-wringing public statements, and he will move on, very likely telling himself what he has insofar told the public, that alcohol and “sexual promiscuity” and “party culture” drove him to it. He was nothing more than an idiot boy who got too drunk, and don’t you see a little bit of yourself in him?
I have to call Turner a rapist over and over so we don’t do what he will inevitably – forget what he is.
In a now widely-read defense letter written by the rapist’s father, Dan Turner, the writer manages to profoundly minimize the gravity of what happened to this woman in a succinct paragraph. He pleads that justice be easy on his rapist son, argues that he has already suffered enough for his crimes, uses every thin excuse in the book to diminish the events of that night. Perhaps the most disturbing, though, is his insistence that his rapist son does not deserve punishment, does not deserve for his future to be defined by “twenty minutes of action” out of the twenty years of his life. He reduces a moment that will fundamentally alter the direction of this woman’s life into twenty fleeting minutes. He reduces it the time it takes to shower or watch a bad sitcom. It was ephemeral, really, nothing more than a moment. It happened, and it ended, and it’s over.
When initially asked the details I remember most about that day that it happened, they tend to be the most irrelevant and random; haphazard bits of minutiae. It was April 29th. My roommate wasn’t home, but she had left the media coverage of the royal wedding on TV. Finals were looming ahead of us; I was stressed about comparative politics in particular. My term project had been a slapdash, thrown-together, banal piece on youth political movements and social media, and I was woefully un-proud of it. My French teacher had taken us to a bistro in town that afternoon for the monthly “table français,” where she bought us jasmine tea and scones and listened to us speak broken French to one another. I had changed into something I would normally wear to sleep in. Around four o’clock somebody I then knew only vaguely came into my dorm room. The door, as was typical, had been left unlocked. Then, fade to deep, deep black. Then, cut back to my dorm room, me in my desk chair, my friend Stephanie curled on the same unmade bed where something had happened three hours ago. I was holding the milkshake she had bought for me on the drive over to my place, and she had just brought up the four-letter word.
I remember coming home that weekend and constantly feeling a strange mix of nausea and being on the verge of tears. I don’t remember how or why or when I told my mom, but I remember it being at our kitchen table and her face turning, in a nearly comical sort of way, very pale. Like a cartoon. She said she was going to make a phone call, and for some reason I didn’t protest, choosing instead to go out on the back deck and stare at the green expanse of our yard. She came and found me, had just come out of my parents’ bedroom and told me to maybe avoid my father for a little while. “Is he okay?” I asked dumbly, thickly. “Not really.” Months later, my mom told me all she remembered me saying was “He was really strong.”
My mom made so many phone calls. I rode with her to the residence office at my university after finals week, where I sat in an office and met with what the school was calling a “victim advocate,” a soft woman with an equally soft voice, who asked me what happened, and it came out in what I’d maybe call a rushed mumble. Eventually my face crumpled and I held it in my hands, hot and wet with tears, knowing vaguely that this was an appropriate reaction to something that I knew had happened to me but that I still hadn’t managed to replay. My finals were waived. My professors would be notified. I could go home now.
Years later, in the quiet confines of a therapy room, I relived the deep, dark black.
I had been pushed onto my back on my dorm bed, was staring at the blandness of the ceiling. I felt an all-encompassing heaviness on top of me. I had always considered myself a “big” girl and for a fleeting moment I felt so very small and a little broken and that’s when it clicked. It had to get off. I began pushing back with both hands, grabbed and tore at everything within my reach – his face, his shoulders, his groin. It was like pushing against a massive, flesh-covered, concrete wall and the only thing that seemed to be moving was me. My shirt was ripped open from collar to sternum and then somehow, in rapid succession, everything I had on started to come off. I kept pushing and grabbing and nothing was working and suddenly, I grew so very tired. I hadn’t felt this tired in a long time. It’s over. Everything from the waist down felt numb and dense, like dental anesthesia, and then it dissipated into nothingness. I was watching what was happening to me there on the bed from the window. He finished and got up.
It was a Friday before a weekend I was going home to visit my parents, and I didn’t drive then. Suddenly everything came back to earth, to the present, and I remembered my mom was going to pick me up, was probably on her way. On the bedside table, my phone began blinking. She was parked outside. He was headed out of my room, and I begged him to stay so my mother wouldn’t see a guy leaving my dorm. “Can I leave first?” “No, I’m leaving.” The door clicked shut.
The whole thing probably took about twenty minutes.
I spent a while as a shell of a person, watching my body move and operate and interact, but not owning it. I was a marionette with some mysterious, faceless being operating my strings, somebody who knew how a young woman’s body was supposed to act but not how to feel. And then sometimes, I felt too much, tormenting myself and my loved ones, screaming into pillows, shivering and sobbing in front of a clueless boyfriend.
My rapist did not exit my life when he exited my dorm room. He made every effort to remind me that he was still there. He pointedly asked friends what he did to make me hate him so much. He cornered me in front of the library one afternoon and opened his arms wide, stepped toward me, implying that he wanted a hug. I was horrified and wooden and my brain short-circuited and I opened my arms, too, allowing myself to become wrapped in a nauseating embrace. When I lived on campus the following year, he followed me from my car to the campus apartment entrance one night, picked up the bag of groceries I had left on the sidewalk while rummaging through my wallet for my I.D., and strolled in. “I live here,” he told the person working the front desk, and the marionette operator walked me up the stairs behind him to my apartment door, let me grab the plastic bag out of his hands and slam the door behind me. Two weeks later, I dropped out for the semester. At one point, I heard that both he and his girlfriend were in a horrible car wreck, and I was perturbed how much I wished he had died, not because I wished him pain but because I wanted him erased and I couldn’t do it myself.
More than anything now, I am angry. I have managed to transform that anger into the aforementioned rage. I speak out against oppression. I write long, rambling, ranty Facebook statuses. I am grateful that I care about important things. I am grateful that important things now affect me on a deep level. But if I am being completely honest, I also fucking hate it. If I could do anything, I would take back my twentieth year. I want to remember it all, every day of my twentieth year, not just April 29th. I want to remember my birthday and that Christmas, spreading my toes in the hot sand of a North Carolina beach, getting tipsy on burning sweet raspberry vodka for the first time, losing my virginity with someone who liked me a little too much, learning to live on my very own, growing steadily into my own woman – those memories are fabrications. My life as a young woman begins with my rape. It is, regardless of how I feel or what I want, a defining moment. And while I am told that I should be so proud to have grown into the pillar of strength and resilience that I am because of it, truthfully – again – I really fucking hate it.
In the months and years that have passed since my rape, I have been told many, many times by people I love so deeply that I am strong. I posed for a photograph in a sunlit alley in Old Town Alexandria, holding a white sign emblazoned in black lettering with the one thing I remember him telling me before he raped me, in the hopes that I would prove to the world and myself that I am more than that day, than that man, than how little that man thought of me. And while I did feel strong and maybe a little beautiful watching my friend edit those photographs, what I wanted the most at the end of it all was to disassociate myself. I wanted to stand at the edge of a massive cliff, stare out at an expanse of wind and ocean, and throw what happened to me over it and watch it dissolve. I am no longer what happened to me, I am what I choose to become. But I can’t. It won’t.
It won’t go away for Turner’s survivor, either. It won’t go away for the myriads of women and men who this happens to on a sickeningly daily basis. Wounds heal and trauma subsides a little but it will always, always stay. In fact, it more than overstays its welcome. It sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear at inopportune moments, when you’re driving down the highway or when you’re about to kiss somebody you love. And the irony of everything is that this was caused by somebody’s choice but was no choice of our own. You had no part.
The survivor in the Turner case wrote a twelve-page letter to her rapist that she read in court and that then went viral. The letter is horrific, but is also profoundly articulate and insightful and beautifully written, and it is absolutely worth reading to every male in existence. The letter humanizes her, makes her a living, breathing woman instead of another RAINN statistic. She mercilessly tears down her rapist and the culture that allowed what happened to her to take place. She is the epitome of strength. She personifies everything that twenty-year-old Taylor on the bed in that dorm room wishes she could be. But she also had no choice. This is not what life wanted for her, and she has to keep living.
In the aftermath of the Turner case, the question has arisen of where people who rape, who feel entitled to bodies that are not their own, come from. They come from our schools and universities and neighborhoods. They come from right here. More importantly, they come from the idea that rape is over in twenty minutes.