HIS POTENTIAL, HER EVERYTHING: A post about the Stanford Swimmer & His Victim

HUGE TRIGGER WARNING (BOTH IN THIS POST I’VE WRITTEN, AND IN THE LINK), BUT THE LINK IS ABSOLUTELY WORTH READING

This link is, in its entirety, the letter written by the woman raped behind a dumpster by a Stanford swimmer. He was found guilty of 3 felonies, and sentenced to only 6 months in a county jail because of…SAY IT WITH ME: PRIVILEGE AND RAPE CULTURE. The whole thing is maddening. And if you read this, you’ll be mad.

 
I read the whole thing and cried with fury and recognition the entire time. She read it in court, to him, and it made me feel better to imagine these words spoken aloud with him in the room, but not enough better. Nothing is right about this crime or about this failure of punishment. The letter is enraging, righteous, devastating, furious, and educational. The victim of this crime has written a damning, brilliant statement that should be required reading in orientation week at college, and should also impact sentencing for rape, which is notoriously pitiful.

 
I remember thinking when I was young that there were ways one could avoid being assaulted, things one could do to keep from being seen as prey. I didn’t think this because I was an idiot: I thought this because society has long insisted that rape is the victim’s fault. I thought, back then, that it was entirely my fault that I was frequently – FREQUENTLY, as in more than once a week – groped, grabbed, and shown things I didn’t want to see. My teens and twenties were full of assaults and terrors of varying kinds, from exposures – once a man stalked me up a hill and lay naked and erect across the sidewalk in Boise, jerking off as I, panicked, stepped over him. I had not known he was behind me, nor had I known he was about to hop out of the bushes. I was only walking home. In NYC, in my early 20’s, men crept behind me, leapt out of doorways, told me they could climb in my windows, broke into my apartment and watched me sleep, grabbed me from behind in the dark, jerked off on my clothing in broad daylight on crowded subways, shoved their hands down my pants in the same situations, and regularly told me that no one would save me if I needed help, because I was not pretty enough to be believed (who would rape you?) /so pretty I had made them lose control (it’s not rape if you’re sexy, you wanted it).

 

It has nothing to do with pretty, of course. It has to do with power.

 

Thus none of their actions were their responsibility, but mine. They couldn’t help it.
In the last few years in this city – I came back here because I dearly love New York, for all the things about it that are glory, and I figured I could deal with the things that aren’t – they are everywhere – I’ve been shoved by a man on a dancefloor for being “too sexy” and thus looked at by other men, driven places I didn’t want to be driven, stalked by men I didn’t know, who took pains to let me know they knew which window was my bedroom, and they could climb my fire escape from the street if they felt like it, anytime. I’ve been followed for blocks by men who then stood outside my apartment for 12 hours, waiting for night. I’ve gone to police to report these things and been hit on in police stations and told that all this was just because I drove the boys crazy. For a year or so, because I was very sad, I was especially attractive to predators, and finally, I was so exhausted and scared that I moved apartments. The whole time, people told me I had done this to myself by being a friendly person in the world, by smiling at other people and saying good morning, by wearing lipstick and having long hair, by being a woman. By being a vibrant person with a lot of energy, by having big eyes, by being 5’3″, by working in coffeeshops, by laughing in public, by being outspoken.

Everything. Every reason.

 

Just before I went to college, I was assaulted by a man I knew very well, as he was a member of my extended family, with language similar to the language used throughout this letter, by people excusing the rapist.

“It’s not my fault. You’re doing this to me.”

I was sleeping. He had previously attempted to seduce and have sex with me, and denied, he crept over to my bedside and jerked off across my face while I slept.
I did not report this. Perhaps because of exactly what the woman in this article details. Imagine what would have happened in my life had I reported myself assaulted by a very intelligent, powerful, privileged man? I was 18 and about to go to college. I had no money, no resources, and he did. I was terrified that I would lose not only my reputation, but the part of my family he was married into (I did – he accused me of trying to seduce him.) I must have been asking for it. In fact, I probably tried to seduce him because I wanted to share in his privilege by using my body as a barter. I was trying to buy power from him. See how this works? Surely this was not his choice, and surely it was not his fault. It was entirely my doing. I was young and nubile and near. Surely I wanted to open my eyes and see him above me. Who wouldn’t?

 

In fact, though it was horrible, I didn’t even see it as assault at that time, but as a normal and horrific part of every woman’s life. Awful surprises, and then one recovers. Now, of course, I feel differently. Not only did this man (and the rape culture he was a mascot and typical representative of) destroy for years my ability to trust even (or perhaps especially) men I loved, he also made me feel uncertain as to my capacity to live in the world at all. How could I stay safe, if had been born prey? If I might, at any moment, be shoved up against a wall and blamed for the bruises? If at any time a man could claim that he had raped or even killed me because I was a sex witch of some kind, a thief of male agency?
This has got to change. Everything about it. Everything about a society that says the rapist is not at fault. (The series of questions directed at the victim here is particularly profound and particularly typical.) EverythingHI about a society that says unconsciousness is consent. Everything about a society that ranks a rapist’s potential achievements over his victim’s…everything.

 

This system is broken. Voices like this woman’s are brave, fierce, and working at fixing it. Let us all help her.

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