These days when we think about heroes we may picture those in military service. The men and women who put themselves in harm’s way fighting wars far from our shores. But recently, I was also impressed with another kind of hero, someone fighting a different kind of war right here at home--- The war against ignorance about rape and sexual assault.
Emily Doe, the young woman at the center of the Stanford rape case, spent more than a year fighting to regain her life physically, emotionally and spiritually after being raped by former Stanford University student Brock Turner. The case has gotten a lot of attention both for the grotesque details of the rape, and for the sentence of 6 months in jail, 3 years’ probation for Turner after a jury convicted him of three counts of felony sexual assault. The award winning swimmer, claimed there was no rape, that Emily--not her real name--” wanted it” and that alcohol ruined his life --yes, HIS life. The jury didn’t buy his pathetic attempt to gain sympathy, but apparently the judge did expressing concern about “the severe impact” of a longer sentence on Turner’s life.
We wouldn’t know any of this except Emily Doe decided to tell her story. She decided to stand up bravely against the blame- the-victim-defense rape victims typically have to endure. She had to steel herself against the decidedly prying questions about her sex life prior to the incident, and then she had to publicly relive every excruciating detail of the rape. Emily faced her attacker in the courtroom and read her 12-page victim impact statement, leaving in the stomach churning graphic details. She herself didn’t learn how it ended until after the rape. Turner was in the middle of his savage attack when two Swedish grad students saw them behind a dumpster. The Swedes were riding by on their bikes and realized what was happening. They stopped the attack, caught him when he tried to run, and called the police. They testified Turner was on top of Emily’s nearly naked unconscious body. And yet Brock Turner’s dad defended his son saying it was unfair that Turner should be punished for “twenty minutes of action.”
When it comes to rape and sexual assault, obviously, a lot of people still don’t get it. They don’t get that this most invasive crime is not about sex, but about violence. They don’t get that there are thousands, perhaps millions of walking wounded --victims who’ve kept silent about their rape because the thought of adding public trauma to the private hell they are suffering is just too much. And, of course, many who do decide to tell their story are not believed. Emily had witnesses, and still had an uphill battle to prove her case.
Emily Doe’s victim’s statement went viral --millions now have a better understanding of the reality of rape for victims, not just in the moment of the horror, but for years after. A PTSD that has nothing to do with bombs or bullets, but is every bit as traumatic. In her victim’s statement, Emily praised the two Swedish cyclists, writing, “I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story.” No doubt those men are to be commended for intervening--scary to think that many wouldn’t have. But, Emily Doe, whoever you are, I hope that you will come to realize that you are the hero of your own story.