There hasn't been a day this week, where at a dinner or boardroom table, the topic of the Stanford sexual assault case hasn't come up. What is markedly different about this particular violent act, what has spurred so much outrage, grief, bewilderment, and therefore widespread discussion -- is the brave and powerful statement made by the anonymous victim. Her honest and fair language, her familiar experiences of shame, grief and embarrassment transcend this crime alone, and connect with any reader - because those emotions, are a painful part of our shared human experience. While some may be unwilling or incapable of personally identifying with the brutality experienced by this brave woman, we all know what it feels to be embarrassed or ashamed. This is why the sum of her words is almost too much to bear - her recount of the crime and it's physical aftermath; the ways she has been revictimized by the humiliating and demoralizing experience of the trial; and the emotional suffering she and her family have experienced as a result. Her anonymous face has become, to us, every daughter, sister, friend and stranger we know.
What her statement illustrates is the way that violence and crime impact not just one individual, but poisons an entire society. It embeds fear and sadness, and robs us all of safe and healthy relationship with one another.
Her experience is sadly not unique, but her bravery and eloquence is. Her words have ignited a national process of awareness raising, understanding, grieving, repair and healing that is far more powerful than any prison sentence or punitive punishment. A swift jail sentence moves an issue off of our streets and out of our minds. But the damage done to all of those in the wake of a crime lives on powerfully - re-damaging the victims and everyone around them. It creates a wake that forever disfigures the impacted community. Our schools, cities and entire country ultimately bear the resulting ugly scars.
Restorative justice is a term used to describe a criminal justice system that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large, the process that this brave victim's letter has brought to light.. It is an approach to healing societies and individuals. It is a movement to address crime and violence, not just with punishment , but using dialogue and education to foster empathy, healing and change in a community. It addresses the root of violence and crime. Justice only really occurs when a perpetrator is forced to face the consequences of their actions and begins to restore the harm done. It requires more than just jail time. It demands emotional understanding to effect permanent change. Justice is also giving the victims and everyone touched by a crime, the opportunity to heal, and repair. To allow victims to begin to move on with their lives, by righting an internal wrong through dialogue and understanding.
As evidenced in our current criminal justice system, mere jail time isn't changing the cycle of violence or repairing our communities. In the United States, we have a 76.6% recidivism rate in our prisons - meaning that 76.6% of those released from prison will be incarcerated again within a five year period and frequently having committed even more grave crimes. We are not changing the cycle of crime and violence - we are producing a new pipeline of hardened criminals. And, the majority of violent crimes are committed by those who have been victims themselves, you can see that we are caught in a nasty cycle where we turn victims into criminals and perpetuate the damage to our society. I do not know if Brock Turner has been a victim before, but I do worry about the efficacy of a system that hands down a 3 month stay behind bars for a violent crime such as this. Without counseling, without forced dialogue with the victim, without any pathway to repair, this sentence can't begin to create long term change. I worry that his father's statement about "20 minutes of action" is indicative of a culture of dismissiveness and insensitivity for the real impacts on a victim. There is nothing restorative about this being the way we address crime and raise our boys.
So much about this woman's experience has rattled my core because it brings up ways I have been victimized myself, and because her experience is so familiar to the majority of women I know, on campuses, in the workplace, in every strata of society. Sexual aggression and abuse is a societal norm when it impacts 1 in 5 women. This case is casting light on a societal brokenness that needs healing.
It is forcing all of us to face anger, pain and experience empathy, and have dialogue that fosters understanding of what sexual crime does to injure not just the victim, but also the perpetrator, their families and an entire society. It is forcing us to understand the real impacts of crime and look at the root of the problem. It is hopefully, causing parents to re-think the way they talk to their children about consequences - not losing a semester of school, but damaging a country, fundamentally injuring the way men and women relate, instilling fear in families, taking away another's health and livelihood. This brave victim is actively demonstrating the need for the victim's voice to be heard within our criminal justice system in order to facilitate a restorative approach: "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. "
And, now, with heavy hearts, we must face the cultural realities of sexual abuse and victimization across our college campuses, streets and workplaces. We must consider how we establish justice that looks like fair punishment, not a slap on the hand, and foster healing of all impacted by crime. We need to invest in addressing root of these societal ills. It's just not enough to continue to throw money into a prison system that doesn't address the root issue. That is a cop out, a temporary lockbox that puts the shame and damage out of mind for a proscribed period of time, hoping it will go away. It's time for a different approach. Past time, in fact.