Admittedly, I was getting tired of seeing the name Brock Allen Turner in my newsfeed. I avoided learning any details of his crime. I didn’t want to read the letter from his victim, mostly because I was afraid of letting any images enter my brain that I couldn’t remove.
Maybe due to my vivid imagination or my effortless visualizations or the fact that I wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies until I was 13, visions of rape from movies or books are glued in my psyche. Once I see or read them, I never forget them.
I hate the movie Dogville because of the rape scene with Nicole Kidman. I watched that film 12 years ago and the scene still disturbs me. It wasn’t particularly violent, but the resigned look on her face as her assailant rapes her haunts me to this day.
In college, I was excited to purchase my philosophy professor’s first mystery novel. I had been enraptured by his descriptions of Plato and Socrates, and couldn’t wait to delve into his story world. However, the book was filled with violence and one particular rape scene that remains burned in my mind.
As an innocent, sheltered still-teenager, I could not understand why my respected philosophy professor would write such violence. Was that his way of indulging his own fantasies? It was an unfortunate reality check for me.
Later in adult life my passion for reading fiction was reignited by reading Chris Bohjalian’s Midwives. I eagerly purchased his book Skeletons at the Feast and he signed it at a library event: “To Katie, What a pleasure it was to meet you. Thanks for your faith in fiction (renewed!). All best, Chris Bohjalian.” When I began reading it, I couldn’t read beyond page 5 because of his descriptions of the horrors done to women and girls in war times.
While millions of people have read the Buzzfeed article in which Brock Turner’s victim addresses her attacker, I skipped over it. I read the trending headlines and looked the other way, not wanting another set of violent images taking up real estate in my mind.
But something changed when I read the first sentence of We With The Pitchforks:
I don’t know her name, but that’s okay, I don’t really want to know it. I don’t have any right to know it. I want to protect her privacy, as she has already been through quite enough.
I couldn’t ignore her anymore.
My tears flowed easily as I read. Turner’s victim sounded much like me. Her sister joked that she looked like a librarian in her beige cardigan. She liked quiet nights at home and reading before bed, and had to be convinced to go to a party.
I didn’t drink in high school, mostly due to lack of opportunity.
In college, my friends who drank in high school opened social doors that included binge drinking and parties.
One night in the backyard of a house party, my friends noticed the boy I had been kissing leading me up the steps into the dark house. They swiftly intervened and he left soon after, his plans foiled by my vigilant friends.
That scene—my own dangerous scenario—will stay with me forever. I was intoxicated. I had little control over what I was doing. As this virtual stranger led me into the house, I looked forward to continue making out on the couch. No other possibility about what might happen entered my innocent mind. In fact, I was miffed at my friends for putting a stop to my fun.
It’s frightening to consider how easily my fun could have resulted in a fate similar to the woman’s whose testimony left me sobbing.
Another instance at my second university could have ended much differently. I binge drank at my first and only frat party. Only one friend went to the party with me, and eventually she had to go back to the dorm. I was having fun, so I stayed. And I drank more. And when I needed to walk the 3/4 mile distance home, some people I didn’t know sent me walking alone in the dark with a male foreign exchange student I didn’t know.
He was kind and chatted pleasantly as we walked. I remember having a hazy awareness that I was walking alone with a boy I didn’t know. I tried to stay aware of my surroundings and I was sober enough to know where I needed to go. I was lucky to make it home safely. If he had wanted to overpower me, he would have had the cover of darkness and the advantage of strength.
Unfortunately, millions of women just like me are not so lucky. One or two factors difference in my situations could have resulted in the horrifying scenarios that Brock Turner’s victim and countless others (of both sexes) have lived through.
Where does it end?
Realistically, I know that violent stories will still be written and filmed, so it won’t end with lessening the bombardment of rape images in society.
The culture of rape ends with how we teach our children.
I remember a high school assembly in which my class heard a rape victim describe her date rape. She revealed that the extent of her assault was digital penetration, just as in Brock Turner’s victim’s case.
Our attitude shift through the auditorium was immediately perceptible.
She wasn’t really raped. It was only a finger.
Classmates exchanged looks of annoyance. Why did the administration disrupt our lives to hear this “victim” talk about how she was fingered when she was drunk?
Within minutes, students started talking over her. The speaker became flustered. She finished her talk and we complained as we walked back to class that the administration couldn’t even find a “real” rape victim to speak about sexual assault.
I am embarrassed by our collective reaction to her. She may not have been a perfect public speaker, but the fact that over three hundred teenagers couldn’t take her story seriously reflects a greater problem in our society. We make concessions for those accused of rape. We allow excuses for their behavior. We redirect the blame. We minimize victims’ testimonies.
This culture begins in childhood.
Recently at my library job, a mother asked if I could waive her child’s overdue fine because it was his first offense. I refused, informing her that there is no library policy to waive first fines, and that many consider fines a way to teach responsibility.
The mother then backed out the door, shaking her head in disbelief and repeatedly exclaiming how terrible it was for a library not to have a grace period for children’s first library fines.
When I taught middle school, I received notes from parents asking me to excuse their child’s late homework. Most often the excuses were petty and put me in an awkward position.
What lessons are we teaching our children? It’s okay to be irresponsible? Everyone gets a do-over?
We need to teach our children “no means no.” The first step is to enforce “no” as a parent and to respect “no” from our children. Google the phrase “teach boys no means no” and you will find many compelling reasons why respect for “no” must be taught to all children from a young age.
Here’s one article I like: Tickled to Consent: Teaching Little Boys that No Means No. It is from an excellent website, The Good Men Project, that I encourage you to check out. Their tagline, “The conversation no one else is having,” speaks to why it is important for parents and teachers to have awareness about how our choices influence rape culture.
A must-read about how parents and teachers either encourage or avoid rape culture is Rape Culture Starts As Early As Middle School.
It’s easier said than done, I know.
We make these concessions for our children out of habit, often without realizing what the future implications could be. We don’t connect the dots. We minimize children’s concerns and excuse behaviors when we say boys will be boys, he probably likes you, just ignore.
It’s exhausting contacting teachers, administration, transportation, and coaches every time a child reports teasing, harassment, or inappropriate conduct. We don’t want to be that parent.
But we have to be that parent.
Because some day, your daughter will be walking home alone in the dark with a boy.
Do you want that boy to be the one whose parents wrote an excuse letter every time his homework was late? Or the one whose parents made him pay his own library fines when he couldn’t find his books?
When we teach our children responsibility and “no means no” for seemingly trivial things, we lay the framework of knowledge and respect that will guide their decisions as emerging adults.
Because a parent’s excuse note to a teacher for their child’s missing homework one day becomes a parent’s excuse note to a judge for their child’s rape crime the next.