We (Erin and Heather) had a long talk on Tuesday prior to publishing our post on sexual assault and the Brock Turner case. Partially because we’re lawyers and tend to be risk-averse, we often talk over our bigger, scarier, more controversial posts, and edit and edit and edit them half to death before we hit the “publish” button.
Tuesday’s post, though, was an even harder call than some of the other personal things we’ve written. We’re going to be upfront and say Erin was the primary writer, and Erin had not shared that story about being locked in a car by her date with very many people before Tuesday. It’s been more than fifteen years since it happened, and she still feels a sick flush of shame when thinking about it. Even after publishing, we spent some serious time debating whether we’d made the right call, whether we should take it down.
We were bolstered, though, by a few occurrences, two of which we’d like to mention.
First, a prominent blogger complimented the article:
“I’m glad you wrote. We need more voices.”
Second, a very good friend* of ours told us we absolutely should not remove what we’d written, saying this:
“Silencing women is part of how this fucked up system keeps reproducing itself.”
Of course, both of them are absolutely right.
Silence – as tempting as it is, as easy as it is – gets us nowhere.
We are not young girls. We are women, seasoned professional women, and we were both kind of shocked by how all of the societal “conditioning” everyone talks so much about was playing out in our own lives, and was playing out in our internal hand-wringing about whether to post (or take down) Erin’s essay.
The two of us have been friends — close, share-everything kinds of friends — for much of our adult lives and yet, Heather was stunned when she read Erin’s story, and Erin was stunned when Heather related one particularly bad personal story of her own. “Oh my god, I had no idea…”
Had we not talked about these experiences because they just never came up? Maybe. But maybe they never came up — in the 10+ years of talking daily/hourly/all the time — because we each still felt shame and embarrassment…and it was easier and more comfortable to just not talk about these incidents. And then, even when Erin was brave enough to write about her experience and share it publicly, there we were… wondering whether we should have just kept quiet. No need to complain, make a fuss. No big deal. Conditioned to be silent.
Silence from women who experience harassment and assault – in all its many forms – makes the entire thing easier for would-be perpetrators and their sympathizers, not to mention causal bystanders who would prefer not to acknowledge that this problem exists. If we don’t talk about it, we can all look away. Even the victims.
And then we read the statement that Brock Turner’s victim wrote. The one she bravely read out loud, in court, in front of Brock Turner.
Here is our very favorite part of her eloquent and devastating writing.
And finally, 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. 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.
Brock Turner’s victim is absolutely correct: she is a lighthouse — and we decided right then and there that we were going to absorb her light and shine it forward by refusing to quiet our own voices. By refusing to bend to the accompanying discomfort and shame.
We thought to ourselves, we may be only one small ray of light, but we can be part of the solution for which this young woman so bravely and gracefully fought.
And then we talked about our own sons and daughters. We talked about how many lives were shattered and changed by this one man’s terrible act. We wanted to clutch our own little (and not so little) children and protect them from ever, ever experiencing anything like this – whether as a victim, as a perpetrator, or as a witness. And we concluded that the single best way that we can protect our own children is to talk to them – to shine light on how important it is to take care of one another, to respect one another, and to conduct yourself in a way that holds up the dignity of the people around you.
We cannot send our daughters and sons off to college and cross our fingers and hope all will be well, while remaining silent about what rape culture looks like. The data itself tells the story: a 2015 study reported that one in four women will experience some form of sexual assault during her college career. One in four.
Approximately 11% of college women are victims of rape or sodomy; half of these victims report that force was involved, and half report incapacitation due to alcohol consumption.
Parents of daughters, are you willing to gamble that your daughter won’t fall on the wrong side of those odds?
Parents of sons, are you OK with your son being part of an environment where this behavior is so common? Are you confident he won’t have a friend or fraternity brother who victimizes women? Are you confident he won’t be a perpetrator himself?
These statistics are ghastly. And they are why we must talk openly about rape, assault, and consent.**
We don’t plan to take down our post about Erin being locked in a car with a man she feared would harm her. In fact we plan to circulate it more broadly.
If Brock Turner’s young victim can be brave, we sure as hell can be brave too.
If you would like to help us shine the light forward by sharing our original post and this post with others, we would very much appreciate it.
Lastly, we blog and write and do all of this social media stuff because we love our readers and the little corner of the world we are building where we can share and vent and laugh and cry.
We were really, truly impacted and angered by all that we read this week, and we want to reiterate our offer from Monday:
If you have a story you would like to share (either anonymously or using your name), call or email us. We will hear you and share your words.
*We send thanks and gratitude to O.H.