When BuzzFeed published the full court statement from the Stanford sexual assault survivor, it spread like wildfire on social media, on television news, and even in Congress. It quickly became one of the most impactful stories to emerge in 2016, shedding much-needed light on sexual assault at large.
While Brock Turner, a former Stanford student, received only a paltry sentence for his crime, the effect that his victim's statement had on the national conversation was undeniable. Suddenly, it seemed, sexual assault became the pressing issue it always should have been. The survivor, eventually dubbed "Emily Doe," inspired other rape survivors to come forward with stories of their own assaults. Similarly moved by her account, California closed a major loophole that gave rapists lighter sentences in certain situations.
On Nov. 1, Glamour magazine named Doe "Woman of the Year" and published a powerful essay she wrote addressing the impact her statement has had.
Doe first recalled how she felt upon learning that the judge sentenced her attacker to a mere six months in jail. "I was struck silent. Immediately I felt embarrassed for trying, for being led to believe I had any influence. The violation of my body and my being added up to a few months out of his summer," she wrote. "I began to panic; I thought, this can't be the best case scenario. If this case was meant to set the bar, the bar had been set on the floor."
But, she continued, when her statement went up on BuzzFeed, racking up tens of thousands of views, she started receiving messages from all over the world, crafts from strangers — even a photo of a young girl sent by the girl's mom, who wrote to her, "This is who you're saving."
The weight of her words, read aloud by the likes of CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield and members of Congress, was almost too much: "My body seemed too small to hold what I felt."
In the very beginning of it all in 2015, one comment managed to lodge harmfully inside me: Sad. I hope my daughter never ends up like her.
I absorbed that statement. Ends up. As if we end somewhere, as if what was done to me marked the completion of my story. Instead of being a role model to be looked up to, I was a sad example to learn from, a story that caused you to shield your daughter's eyes and shake your heads with pity. But when my letter was published, no one turned away. No one said I'd rather not look, it's too much, or too sad. Everyone pushed through the hard parts, saw me fully to the end, and embraced every feeling. ...
So now to the one who said, I hope my daughter never ends up like her, I am learning to say, I hope you end up like me, meaning, I hope you end up like me strong. I hope you end up like me proud of who I'm becoming. I hope you don't "end up," I hope you keep going. And I hope you grow up knowing that the world will no longer stand for this. Victims are not victims, not some fragile, sorrowful aftermath. Victims are survivors, and survivors are going to be doing a hell of a lot more than surviving.
Cover image via Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock.coms