Over the last three months, I have watched the nation rally around a woman to whom we all owe a great deal. Her heroic act in speaking out against her rapist with a single impact statement left the world in awe. Most called him by name and many refer to the University on whose campus the crime occurred. As an outspoken rape survivor myself, many of you have been asking for my thoughts on the judge’s despicable sentence, the rapist’s father’s letter, and what this means for our acknowledgement of sexual assault victimization as a society.
Though I could have commented extensively on each and every piece of information I’ve gathered on this case since the sentence stole headlines at the beginning of the summer, I instead chose to bite my tongue. Instead, I watched the rest of the world combat rape culture and victim-shaming for once. As someone who lives her life advocating for other victims of crime while encouraging mental health and individual empowerment, it was a relief to finally feel as though the masses were doing the same.
Friday morning, Brock Turner was released from jail after serving only half of his pathetic six-month sentence. After watching the news channels featuring his name and his face while he freely walked out of confinement, I felt it was finally time to sit down and write to the woman more deserving of our attention. Even if this never finds its way to her inbox, I do hope it reaches others out there like us. For each survivor that speaks out, another could be saved.
From One Lighthouse to Another
Greetings, to one of the bravest women I’ve never met. My name is Kimberly and I am one person of millions that read your victim impact statement. I (along with most adults with access to an internet connection) was suddenly consumed by the pages you directed at your assailant. To your words, I will not attempt to add one singular thing. They are yours and yours alone. And they were perfect.
I don’t know your name, what you look like, where you grew up, or what you do for fun in your spare time. I don’t know your family, your friends, your boyfriend, or your acquaintances. No, I know nothing about you. And yet I do know you.
You see, I was you. In September of 2007, I sat at the kitchen table in my childhood home and poured my heart and soul into the most important pages I would ever write. A few days later, I got up in front of a Weld County Colorado judge, my convicted rapist, our attorneys, my family, friends, TV cameras, and people I’d never met. With a sense of crucial purpose, I read my victim impact statement aloud. I knew how vitally important this part of our criminal justice system was and I felt like it was finally my turn to give my version—the real version—of the worst morning of my life. Though at 21 years old I was not as eloquently spoken as you, our messages of prevention and survivor empowerment were the same.
Yet, one judge who held your life in his hands yielded to a convicted criminal. The “severe impact” on this man’s future was determined to be more important than yours. And that speaks the loudest to you, to me, and every other victim out there.
I absolutely cannot begin to understand how you must be feeling. My guess is that the last three months may have been akin to the eye of a storm for you and your loved ones. A brief period of bittersweet relief knowing the monster who raped you was somewhere that he’d be unable to hurt anyone else, yet simultaneously preparing for his swift release.
The judge in my case chose a punishment that fit the crime of rape and sentenced my attacker to what felt like a long time in the Colorado Department of Corrections. I know now I was lucky, most of these predators never see the inside of a prison cell, let alone spend a significant portion of their lives behind bars. I am so incredibly sorry yours will not.
I do not need to state the obvious, though it bears repeating: the sentence your assailant was granted was an immense injustice to the American court system and to you personally.
He was released for “good behavior” for raping you. This is not justice.
Unfortunately, this criminal will only have to register as a sexual offender. That is not going to prevent him from a life of entitlement and believing himself to be of more value than another human being. And through everything I’ve read and watched, it shows his support system will only reinforce this elitist mentality.
I honestly have nothing more to say about the miscreant who violated you. I think you did a perfect job of describing him yourself. Who he was or what he had accomplished leading up to that point ceased to matter when he committed such an irreparable act against you. So often the focus lies on our pasts and the perpetrator’s potential. I’m sure you know now, but this is a cycle that must end.
The painful secret we survivors all share is that the damage someone else caused doesn’t magically disappear. We can’t just “move on” or go back to who we all were before ever again. “Normal” no longer exists. Now, your real work begins.
There is a list of trauma responses a mile long, and many may have yet to rear their ugly heads. You won’t always act how everyone thinks you should because each person has a different idea of what recovery looks like. Likely, you won’t act how you think you should.
It’s okay to just sit in your grief for a time. It took me a long while to figure that out. But acknowledging and addressing that emotion will help you value the fact that you can feel it at all.
You may still learn about what depression truly looks like. When all the support and help and upcoming dates circled on your calendar are no longer there, they are easily replaced with emptiness and binge drinking and promiscuity and suicide attempts and panic attacks. It may feel like you’re just wading through life, not really living.
But hear me now—you must never stop fighting. Because you don’t just fight for who you are today, you fight for the woman you will become. Who you emerge as from this storm will be far more powerful, purposed, and near unrecognizable from you who were when you entered. That is the silver lining in all of these dark clouds. This internal battle doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.
You have created a beautiful firestorm. You have set the world ablaze with your heart and soul through your words. You have brought a crucial discussion into the homes of many people who may not have otherwise discussed consent. There are an overwhelming amount of victims you’ve already helped in ways you cannot imagine. You won’t hear most of their stories and that’s okay —some are not ready to be told.
I want to thank you. I am sincerely grateful for your courage because the entire world, at least for a few days, got to witness what it looks like when a victim turns into a survivor before their very eyes. You do not have to accept victimhood as who you are. That night does not get to define you. Only you can do that. And you’ve found your voice to do so.
You are a survivor—as you said, a lighthouse. You do not have to go running around looking for boats to save, you just need to stand and shine.
This may have been one of the hardest days of your young life, but you are not alone.
If the light from the lighthouse appears to only illuminate one set of footprints in the sand, it's because the sisters who have come before you carry you now. Some of us are called to fight until there is no one left to walk on this rocky shore. So from one lighthouse to another: if you ever feel your light dimming, know that we will all share your watch until you’re shining bright again.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) online or by calling the 24/7 crisis hotline at (800) 656-HOPE (4673).