No, this isn’t a post about how Beyonce killed it at the VMAs. Sorry, Bey. This isn’t a post about messy-haired morning selfies or claiming your flawlessness at any time of day. This is about something more sinister: the state so many young women seem to be waking up in lately, bruised and broken, in a strange place, with clouded memories or no memory at all.
Let’s start with what prompted this. On September 2, a scant three months after his incarceration for three felony counts of sexual assault, Brock Turner will be set free. His original sentence was six months, but the lovely young man got time off for good behavior. So I guess that’s the going rate of punishment, you need only give up one month of your life per felony assault and you’re away clean.
The thing is, amidst all the cries of outrage and injustice since his sentencing, you might have noticed that absolutely nothing has changed. I thought I’d said all I needed to say on the subject in my recent post “An Ode to Rape Culture,” but the courts in this country keep adding more fuel to my rage.
Just in that short time alone, several high-profile cases have had similarly sickening outcomes. Former University of Colorado student Austin James Wilkerson was convicted of sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact after assaulting a woman under the guise of taking her home to care for her while she was intoxicated, as well as going to great lengths to cover up the incident and repeatedly lying about it. During the encounter, he made a show of taking care of her in front of his roommate, waiting until he and the girl were alone to try to engage her in sex, calling her a “f-cking b-tch” when she told him to stop. He proceeded to put his fingers inside of her and ejaculate on her. Though he was sentenced to two years in prison, he will be under work release, meaning that he can leave during the day to go to school or work and basically continue his life uninterrupted as long as he returns to the jail at night.
John Enochs, a former Indiana University student, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery charges in a plea deal stemming from two separate rape accusations from 2013 and 2015. In the most recent case, the girl was at a frat party. She entered the house to use the bathroom, blacked out and woke up with a stranger (Enochs) having sex with her. She told him multiple times to stop, yet he continued. There were lacerations on her genitals after the attack. His sentence? One year of probation and one day in jail.
18-year-old Massachusetts high school student David Becker was charged with assaulting two women at a house party while both women were asleep in a bed together. He said that after he put his fingers inside of the first woman and she didn’t protest (hey maybe because she was ASLEEP) he thought it was fine to continue. He received two years of probation and will not have to register as a sex offender.
I actually couldn’t contain myself after that last one, this was my response on Facebook:
In every case you can find friends, family, lawyers, judges, chuckling over this silliness. Why are we even wasting time in court? As if we’re going to let something that these girls clearly caused to happen mess up the outstanding futures of our rich white males. I mean c’mon. Boys will be boys!
I may actually spontaneously combust the next time I hear that phrase. These boys aren’t being boys. They’re being rapists. They’re committing felony-level crimes. They aren’t losing their futures over some dumb childish mistake. A dumb childish mistake is denting the fender on your parent’s car, maybe cheating on a test, getting into their liquor cabinet and puking in your mom’s ficus plant. Sexually assaulting an unconscious human being isn’t a mistake. It’s a cold-blooded, predatory crime.
But let’s get back to Brock Turner.
When police arrived at the scene, the victim was on the ground in a fetal position, behind a garbage dumpster. Her dress was pulled up to her waist. Her panties were on the ground. Her hair was tangled and covered with pine needles. She was unresponsive and would remain unconscious despite all efforts to wake her until about 4 a.m.
Nearby, two men who had stopped the assault had Brock Turner pinned down. They said Turner had been on top of the unconscious woman, they shouted at him to stop, he ran, they gave chase and tackled him. The trial transcripts said he actually laughed and smiled when asked what he was doing.
In her statement to the court, the victim talks about the evening that led up to her assault. Her sister invited her to a frat house party.
“I would go, dance weird like a fool, and embarrass my younger sister.”
“My sister teased me for wearing a beige cardigan to a frat party like a librarian. I called myself ‘big mama’ because I knew I’d be the oldest one there. I made silly faces, let my guard down, and drank liquor too fast, not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.”
It’s at this point that her mind goes dark. The rest of the events were pieced together through eye-witness testimony during the trial. But for this young woman, one minute she’s drinking with her friends and her next recollection is waking up in a hospital.
“I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbows.”
Her panties are missing. There are pine needles in her hair.
“On that morning, all I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately.”
A rape examination was done on her, which any woman who has endured one can attest that it is much like being raped all over again. She was given medications for STDs, tested for HIV, a DNA collection device was inserted into her vagina, a cotton swab was inserted into her anus. Her vagina was painted with a blue substance. She was told to strip naked and was examined from head to toe. Photographs were taken with a ruler beside any abrasions. Her legs were spread open and a photo was taken of her vagina.
I know this sounds graphic, but I feel the need to spell it out for those of you who might not know what a rape kit involves. For those who scoff when I say that rapes are vastly under-reported. That women would rather suffer in silence, keep their secrets, hold their tongues than be subjected to this dehumanizing process. To the poking and prodding and the questions and the gossip, even the sympathy that can feel the opposite of comforting. The knowledge that you’ll get to be branded simultaneously both a slutty liar and a poor damaged creature, depending on who you talk to.
So why don’t women report rapes?
Because I woke up like this: Bleeding and filthy in a hallway.
I woke up like this: Missing my underwear and missing time.
I woke up like this. And endured all of this. So a monster who isn’t sorry can go to jail for three months and never look back again.