Why The Stanford Case Is About More Than Brock Turner's Sentencing

As I witnessed the uproar surrounding the Stanford case and the blame towards the victim for the past week, I felt sick. Physically sick. The statement released by the victim detailing her distress and her fear that Brock would not be charged, the legally necessary but sickening use of the word "alleged" over and over in reference to the assault that will affect her life forever — it all created a special kind of nausea that comes when public events cross with your deepest, private triggers. I felt devastated as I imagined all the university students suddenly changing their minds about coming forward against their rapists. If you haven’t been following the case: rapist Brock Turner, who more often than not has been portrayed in the media as a fantastic student and an athlete, but is, in fact, a rapist, attacked an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. In reply to the uproar that followed, including his delightful misrepresentation in the media and the suggestion from his dad that no one should go to jail for ‘twenty minutes of action’, the victim released a 7,000-word statement detailing her despair and the effect that the attack has had on her mind, body, and the people around her. The justice system could choose to help her, but instead, they have chosen to engage in a protracted legal battle to protect Turner’s future. Something that is unfortunately often seen in rape and sexual assault cases: they are minimizing the victim’s situation, and making every effort to protect Turner’s education and future, but not the victim’s physical well-being and psychological safety. Imagine someone really hurt you, physically and emotionally. Scared you and abused you. The judge says that you don't have to see them again, but they won’t be getting charged because it could badly affect their well-being and their future. Then imagine the rapist's father writes a letter to the judge responsible for your case, describing your rape that’s devastated you as ‘twenty minutes of action’ and suggests that any punishment would be ridiculous. After everything you've been through, do you feel safe living in a world where your rapist walks free? Do you trust them to protect you? The Stanford case is about more than a victim fighting for her freedom. It’s about more than sending down a rapist who deserves to be sentenced. It's even about more than the systemic misogyny of society, or the way that women have long been controlled and coerced by abusive entities larger than themselves. What's happening to the Stanford victim highlights the way that the American legal system continues to hurt women by failing to protect them from the men they identify as their abusers. • For example, 19 states in America still allow rapists to assert parental rights over children conceived through rape, yoking women (and their children) to their attackers for a lifetime, an unimaginable cycle of re-victimisation. But it's real. The same man who violently assaulted you could get the right to cuddle the baby that resulted from that assault.

• That's not the only way legal ties can make it impossible for a woman to escape her abuser. In some cases, victims of domestic violence can even be evicted from their homes for calling the police on their abusers. There are actual laws that allow landlords to kick tenants out if the police are summoned for disorderly conduct of any kind — doesn't matter who the "disorderly" one was — and this affects poor women most frequently. It's why 20 percent of homeless women say they are on the streets because of domestic violence. Victims of rape and sexual assault deserve better. They do not choose to have their reputations pilloried and their characters questioned as a tactic for getting what they want, or in this case, protecting the perpetrator. What if we realise that the women who come forward have everything to lose, no matter who they are? The public outcry on the Stanford case has been truly heartening: the swell of shock and indignation those following the case. It wasn't long ago that women had restrictions to reach out and support one another, for fear of tarnishing their reputation or having their opinions ridiculed by men. Instead, they quietly read from their newspapers, hoping they wouldn't be next. Those days are over. They should be done with. We are not scared anymore of losing what we worked for, of being branded hysterical or difficult, of being targeted by men, or being questioned by the legal system over the validity of our attacks. The words of everyone standing up for the Stanford victim will reverberate, inspiring young women to watch for dangers in relationships, to stick up for themselves. Soon, no one will accept shame and fear as the norm. And so, while the Stanford victim has been questioned, assaulted, and indefinitely silenced, her voice has never been louder.

Follow journalist and creative writer Bethany Ashley on Twitter here

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