Like many of you, I’ve been sickened by the story of the Stanford swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, and received only 6 months in jail.
And especially sickened by his father’s letter to the judge, asking the judge to consider the boy’s “20 years of life” rather than “20 minutes of action”. After all, what’s twenty minutes?
When I read the victim’s 7000 word statement, I was cheering all the way.
So today, while I’m still a little under the weather and I’m having all these deep thoughts, I’d like to share a few things that have occurred to me.
1. Rape Culture Can Make Rape Seem Not That Bad
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I have a little bit of sympathy for Brock Turner. Not sympathy in the sense of “he could have had such a good life” or “it’s too bad he’s getting all this media attention”, but rather sympathy because all Brock did was live out what he had been taught.
That doesn’t lessen his moral culpability, by the way. It’s just that I can totally picture an 18-year-old growing up in an affluent family where the parents bend themselves backwards for him, and growing up in our pornographic culture which makes violent sex seem normal, getting drunk one night and doing this.
It doesn’t mean I think he’s not responsible.
It’s just that he is the epitome of what we have created.
We have created entitled kids. We have filled the internet with porn which normalizes sexual violence (one of the big negative effects of porn is that rape is seen as “not that big of a deal”). We have rap music which celebrates rape. We have a college culture which brags about promiscuity.
And so one night he gets drunk, she gets drunk, and he does this.
Note, too: The alcohol is not to blame. Alcohol does not turn us into different people. Alcohol only lowers our inhibitions, so that we’re more likely to do the things we may want to but would never do in polite company. Millions of people get drunk every night in North America without raping anybody. His own conscience was the deciding factor, not the alcohol.
I think we live in a culture where rape is somehow seen as normal. Think about it: 50 Shades of Grey turns what is arguably sexual violence into something that is erotic. The fastest selling sex toys today are things that are supposed to inflict pain (or at least mimic something that causes pain). Sex acts that are depicted most often in pornography are not acts which are mutually satisfying but instead acts which are objectifying and degrading.
We have lost the beauty of sex and made objectification of the other person normal.
So in all of that culture, is it any wonder that the dad can look at the fact that his son dragged an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, cut her up with pine needles, shoved something inside of her, and then say it was only “20 minutes of action”?
Tragically, it’s not. And in her letter, the survivor (I like that word better; let’s call her that) wrote so eloquently about the emotional trauma that she has experienced since–the sleepless nights, the crying fits, the fear to sleep in the dark. Something precious was stolen from her.
And I know that so many of you who come here everyday have something like this in your background. It may have been sexual abuse as a child. It may have been date rape. It may have been some other form of sexual assault. But your ability to trust and to see sex as something positive has been severely damaged. In her letter where she’s addressing Brock, she writes:
My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self deprecating, tired, irritable, empty. The isolation at times was unbearable. You cannot give me back the life I had before that night either. While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see. I showed up an hour late to work every morning, excused myself to cry in the stairwells, I can tell you all the best places in that building to cry where no one can hear you…
I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five year old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up, I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o’clock in the morning.
I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events with drinking among friends where I should be comfortable being. I have become a little barnacle always needing to be at someone’s side, to have my boyfriend standing next to me, sleeping beside me, protecting me. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.
I think many could relate to that.
2. And Yet…And Yet…There is Healing from Sexual Assault
I called this post “How 20 Minutes of Action Can Steal a Life”. I didn’t call it “How 20 Minutes of Action WILL Steal a Life.” Yes, rape and sexual assault CAN define you and CAN cause tremendous harm that will last a lifetime.
But I don’t think it has to.
I can’t write this as a sexual abuse survivor because, thank God, I am not one. I have endured many things, but that was not one of them. And so I want to write very carefully now because I know that I haven’t walked in those shoes, and I am very sensitive to the fact that I can’t really imagine what it is like. So please forgive me if I am being presumptuous.
Let me raise a different scenario, totally separate from rape: I have held the dead body of my son.
Many people will tell you that losing a child will haunt you your whole life and you never recover from it.
Again, I don’t think that needs to be true.
What I have learned is that there is healing in Christ. Healing doesn’t mean that you forget that it happened or that the grief goes away. Healing, I find, is in the ability to recognize “this is a part of who I am now” but that part does not mean I can’t function well in real life. I can still be sad. I can still grieve. But I am also able to live the rest of my life to the fullest.
That is what healing is–looking into the reality and depth of the hurt, seeing the truth of God and the truth of eternity in that hurt, and then being able to walk forward with the hurt. You don’t deny it or hide it. You shine God’s very strong light onto it, and see it as God sees it.
In the case of sexual assault, you see that Jesus grieves, too. You see that God promises that there will be justice. You see that God says your hurts do not define you; God’s love and grace define you. You see that no matter what happens in this life, God can give you a super-natural peace that will follow you into the next life–and that you can even experience joy in Him because you know that this life is not all there is, and that God wants to do an amazing thing even in this weakness.
I hope that you all can experience that, and if you’re not there yet, please ask someone to pray with you or, better still, see a counselor. God put is in the body of Christ so that we could help each other!
3. You Don’t Need Your Abuser’s Confession to Heal
The third thing that really hit me is something I got from the survivor’s letter: She was so obviously hoping for closure, which would come when he admitted what he did. First, she hoped that he would admit it so they wouldn’t have to go to trial; he didn’t. Then she hoped she would admit it at the trial; he didn’t. Then she hoped he would admit and acknowledge it after the trial in his statement; he still didn’t, apologizing only for getting drunk.
Listen to what she says when she’s addressing him in her letter:
Lastly, you said: I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.
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.
She then goes on to talk about how he was the guilty one; he assaulted her. And she says very powerfully:
You are guilty. Twelve jurors convicted you guilty of three felony counts beyond reasonable doubt, that’s twelve votes per count, thirty six yeses confirming guilt, that’s one hundred percent, unanimous guilt. And I thought finally it is over, finally he will own up to what he did, truly apologize, we will both move on and get better. Then I read your statement.
If you are hoping that one of my organs will implode from anger and I will die, I’m almost there. You are very close. This is not a story of another drunk college hookup with poor decision making. Assault is not an accident. Somehow, you still don’t get it. Somehow, you still sound confused.
I don’t know if Brock Turner will ever get over his confusion and understand the gravity of what he did. I don’t know if he will ever apologize for real.
Yet it sounds like that is what she was really hoping for. And isn’t that the cry of every victim? “If only he will see what he did to me.” If he gets it, then the the person who objectified you will now see you as a person, too.
But while it’s helpful for healing, it can’t be necessary.
If someone hurt you in the past, do not rely on that person acknowledging it to bring about your healing.
My father leaving hurt me terribly. I always hoped that he would somehow “get” it and we could have a real conversation about it. He now has Alzheimer’s. That hope is gone. And I’m honestly okay with that, because I learned a long time ago that the fact that my father doesn’t understand what he did does not reflect on me as a person. My identity is in Christ. My father did not take my identity away, and so he does not have the power to give it back. Only God does.
If you are still waiting for your abuser to “get it”, then you are still giving your abuser power over you.
If someone hurt you, they took something from you, yes. But if you understand that your identity is in Christ, then you don’t need that person’s acknowledgment to give you back your strength, your power, your courage. You can find that in God.
And I truly, from the bottom of my heart, hope and pray that you all do.
Those are the thoughts I’ve had this week as I’ve read the letters and the news reports and the outrage. I hope they are helpful. And, as I sit here coughing and wishing that this cold would go away, I’d love to know what you think, too. Does any of that resonate? Or did you have other thoughts about the trial? Let’s talk in the comments!