For one year after she awoke with no recollection of being sexually assaulted behind a dumpster at a party on the Stanford University campus, the victim of 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner had to relive the night and the ensuing events in court as Turner stuck by his denial that he did not rape her while she was unconscious.
This March, the jury unanimously found Turner, a former Stanford swimmer, guilty of three counts of sexual assault, and he was looking at a maximum of 14 years in state prison. Last week, the judge sentenced Turner to a measly six months in county jail and probation, arguing that a longer sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner.
In court that day, the woman whose life was inexorably and, yes, severely impacted by Turner's actions that night addressed her attacker directly. In a moving testimony that she later provided to BuzzFeed, the woman laid out how Turner's steadfast denial of sexual assault, as well as the assault itself, affected her and those around her.
The woman recalled the day after the incident when she woke up in an office and was told that she had been assaulted.
Her hands and elbow were bloodied and bandaged, her underwear was missing, there were pine needles in her hair. Nurses photographed her bruises and examined her genitals for signs of trauma.
"After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don't want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn't know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else," she said.
"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."
After more than a week, she found out about the details of her sexual assault on the news — alongside Turner's swimming times.
"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," her testimony read.
"And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he's really good at swimming."
Turner's victim addressed his statements about the incident — as well as his refusal to call what he did to her sexual assault.
"Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. ... We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That's the difference," the woman reportedly told Turner directly.
"You said, you are in the process of establishing a program for high school and college students in which you speak about your experience to 'speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.'
"Campus drinking culture. That's what we're speaking out against? You think that's what I've spent the past year fighting for? Not awareness about campus sexual assault, or rape, or learning to recognize consent. Campus drinking culture. Down with Jack Daniels. Down with Skyy Vodka. If you want talk to people about drinking go to an AA meeting. You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less."
She also confronted Turner's remorse for how his actions affected himself but not her.
"Lastly you said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life," she told Turner.
"A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken. Nobody wins. We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today."
Her powerful testimony makes the 6-month sentence feel like a flimsy slap on the wrist. (To make things even more vile, Turner's father later issued a statement that said his son's jail sentence was too steep a price to pay for "20 minutes of action.")
The testimony has been widely shared on social media since BuzzFeed published it last week. The host of CNN's Legal View, Ashleigh Banfield, dedicated Monday's episode to the case. On air, she read aloud the letter in its entirety.
The victim's painful year-long ordeal and the short sentence handed down to Turner — as well as the judge's absurd rationale for it — are not only an affront to her. They also send a message to other victims of sexual assault that the fight for justice and dignity is, in reality, an uphill battle against a system that disfavors you from the moment you speak up.
But is it worth it? The woman ended her testimony by expressing her solidarity with others who have been through the same:
To girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, "Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining." Although I can't save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can't be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you.
Cover image via amadeustx / Shutterstock.com.