An Open Thank You Letter to the Stanford Rape Survivor on Behalf of All Survivors Without Justice

saam_tealribbon_jpeg.jpg

As I write this I am still shaking. It's been a couple of days since I first read Brock Turner's victim's   letter to the court and her rapist.  It's been a couple of days since I found out that her rapist, who was literally caught in the act of raping the unconscious victim, chased, and apprehended by two heroes, was given six months in prison for his crime.

Like most victims of rape, we've been waiting for this verdict. We've been waiting for justice. Not just for Brock Turner's victim, but for all of us, who have gone without justice ourselves. We thought surely this was the case.

He. Was. Caught. Raping. Her. For. Christ's sake. DUH. I mean really. DUH.

And it wasn't enough. Nope. It wasn't good enough to be seen raping a girl by two witnesses. The rape kit's evidence--the dirt and his DNA in her body--was not enough.

Nope. Not enough.

I can't imagine what she's going through right now. I didn't have her courage 18 years ago. I didn't have the wherewithal or strength to stand up and face my rapist. I cowered in front of the D.A. who asked me, "Are you ready to put a man behind bars who has the rest of his life in front of him?" I was twenty-two. I didn't think I was going to have a rest of my life. I planned on leaving his office that day and killing myself. I felt disgusting. Sick. Worthless. Ashamed. I didn't know how to respond to him. I sat with my head down and shook my head and said, "No. I don't know. I don't think so." He wanted me to "think long and hard" about what my statements would do to this "young man's future."

He didn't ask me about my future.

He asked me what I was wearing. (For the record: jeans, hiking boot, a yellow daisy-printed shirt--with a collar). 

He asked me why I agreed to go to dinner with a man I barely knew.

"I thought he was cute. I thought he was nice...but he wasn't."

Then he asked why I was drinking. Then he asked me why didn't fight harder. Why there weren't more bruises? (For the record. I had a massive bruise on my back. I had internal injuries. Kidney damage. Septic shock.) He couldn't see any of that during my twenty-minute stay in his office. 

I went home and showered. I went back to classes. I graduated from school. I had a baby.

But, I never forgot. I never will.

His face comes to me in nightmares. I can't get him off of me. I cry out and try to scream and I don't think anyone can hear me. Just like the night he raped me. I scream and I scream. 

No one can help me.

My husband shakes me awake on the nights these dreams come. "You're home. You're safe. Go back to sleep."

I roll over, but I can't sleep. 

Sometimes when I am driving the song "Santoria" comes on I am transported once again to that dark room. I hear the song that my rapist was blasting so no one could hear my screams. "Daddy's got a new Forty-Five...and I won't think twice to stick that barrels straight down Sancho's throat." 

I shake my head. I turn off the radio. I try to regroup. I try to forget. But, I know I will never forget. I will wonder who he did it to again. I will wonder, forever wonder, why me? What did I do? What could I have done differently? But, the answer, I know is simply nothing. He was the one who had to change. He was the one who didn't have to rape me. 

I am sad for our world today. I am sad because I know what it costs to be a woman. I know what it is like not to be believed, to be discounted, to be objectified, and vilified.  I know that no matter how far we’ve come, we have so much farther to go. So much. As long as women are being blamed for being the victim, and punished for speaking out, there will never be justice.

I am worried too. I am worried for my daughter. For all the daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. Don’t for one second think: “Not mine. Not my daughter. Not my child.” Because, let me assure you, it can be. As long as there are rapists, your child can be raped.

You can’t prevent it. You can’t wear the right outfit. Drink the right amount of wine. Walk on the right side of town.

The only way to prevent a rape, is to stop rapists. And if they’re on the streets, if they’re given the tacit permission that It’s no big, deal. That it’s Ok. It’s going to keep happening.

While I am sad, worried, sick, and tired, I also have hope. There is a light—a beacon—to use the Stanford Rape Survivor's own eloquent words--that exists today for all of us victims. And I’d like to thank her—profoundly from the deepest part of my soul—for what she so beautifully put into words on behalf of all of us survivors—from the newborn to the aged—(Yes, rape can happen at any age, too—and you’re a survivor no matter what age).

Yes, the Stanford Rape Survivor is the one of the most courageous, brave, and amazing young women in our world today. She said to the judge, the broken judicial system, and her rapist, what I didn’t have the courage to say 18 years ago and I am immensely grateful. And more than anything I am grateful for this. So incredibly grateful for these beautiful words:  

 

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.

 

No, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are my hero.

 

The Power of Story: Telling the Truth, Channeling Tolstoy, and Surviving Rape

 

This past week I had the honor of talking and emceeing at TEDxXavierUniversity. But before last Thursday night's main event, for the past few weeks or so, I've have had the opportunity to work with the students at Xavier University to help the other six speakers prepare for their own talks and develop their own stories. I was asked to listen, respond, and ultimately weave together a common thread between the six talks, which all centered around the theme of decoding deception, or to look at things a bit more positively, the search for truth.

This post is, though by not any means complete, an account of my brief introduction and discussion of the truth before the talk. (Full disclosure: I usually black out during public speaking. And by black out, I mean, my mouth moves, words come out, but I have no idea what I am saying or doing. And at TEDx I was especially nervous to speak this time because it's 1) Not every day that your every word is recorded and 2) I don't usually talk about my experience as a rape survivor at work.

Now I am not secretive about it. In fact, for the past several years I have spoken about it to groups of women on various occasions. I mostly talk about its impact on my health, mental health, and life. However, getting up in front of colleagues, students, and yes, even one of my bosses, and telling them about the time I was raped, was not easy, but necessary. Absolutely necessary, because as I listened to the six speakers practice and encouraged each one of them to "tell a story," a real and truthful story, I realized I needed to as well. In short, I needed to, because story and my quest for the truth saved my life. And I believe story has the power to change other lives as well--maybe even save them.

Without further intro, I'll just share what I hoped to say at TEDxXavierUniversity, but probably didn't, because I have no idea what actually came out of this mouth (wouldn't be the first time):

I suppose the students asked me to speak because of what I do for a living. As a writer, my essential quest is the search for truth. The vehicle I use to get there is story.

But, the truth, as we all know, is a complex thing. We don't all get there in the same way. In fact, some of us many never arrive in the same place at all. In War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy said this about truth: 

“No truth presents itself to two people in the same way.”

I want you to chew on this for a minute with me:  

No truth presents itself to two people in the same way.

No truth presents itself to two people in the same way.

Tolstoy's not saying there is no truth, he's saying it's difficult for two people, no matter how aligned, similar, or for that fact, living in the same house, working in the same office, going to the same church, or driving on the same road, to experience anything in the same way. We all have our own biases, our own experiences, our blind spots, our own versions of the story.  It's the fundamental crux of humanity: Not one of us sees things exactly the same way. Our own point of view, our own blinders, our own perceptions, our own lack of understanding, our own motives, and even, our own imperfect memories, muck everything up.

So, then, can truth ever be attained?

I believe as a writer, it is precisely through storytelling, we find the essential truths. It's through storytelling, we discover our own humanity. We learn to see from another's point of view. I even believe in the power of the untrue stories we tell ourselves as much as I am of the true ones. Because I believe the stories we tell ourselves have power and truth in them--even if they're lies at first.

I should know. I've used story to save my life on more than one occasion. 

When I was twenty-two, like most young people, I thought the whole world mine for the taking. I got in my turquoise boat of Mercury Sable and headed west to get my fully funded Masters Degree from the University of Nebraska. My music was cranking the cassette tape of the Dixie Chicks. Natalie Maines and I were singing "Wide Open Spaces" at the top of our lungs together as I drove down 1-80 at a cool 85 miles per hour.

That was until, of course,  my car broke down in a remote town in Illinois--as a car is apt to do hauling a thousand pounds of books. Lucky for me, a man offered to help arrange to get my car fixed and rent me a car so I could get to my first day of class. He seemed kind and was definitely good looking. A Midwestern, blonde, blue-eyed charmer, he said smooth lines, like Baby, you can trust me.

The day I returned the rental car to his office and picked up my now fixed car, he took me out for a bite to eat. One beer later, I had no idea what I was saying, where I was. And before I knew it or fully understood what was happening, I was in a house, far away from home, in the middle of nowhere, in a town that I didn’t the name of, in a place I had never been. It was dark and I couldn’t see—save for a few cracks of light that came through the blinds. In and out of consciousness, I realized at some point, perhaps when he was telling me what a whore I was, that I deserved it, that I wanted it, and all sorts of other vile things, that he was raping me.

I didn’t know it then, but story would save my life that day. I went inside myself. I imagined I was not there. I told myself a series of stories--lies--if you will. 

And eventually, I told myself I was strong, even though I didn’t feel it.

I told myself he would not break me, even though it felt like I was already broken.

I told myself he would not win, even though I felt like a loser.

The more I told myself these things, the more resolute, the more awake, and more determined I was to escape, to run, to get far away, and to get help.

And all the while I told myself: You will not destroy me. You will not.

That story got me through that day. And the story I told myself over and over again, day after day night after night, year after year ultimately shaped who I am.

Because the moment you tell yourself that you alone are responsible for your own story, your own truth, not anyone else, nothing can touch you. No pain. No heartache. No rapist. No oppressor. No sexist comment. No malicious or selfish behavior.

No lie. No deception.

All of us--right now--are telling ourselves a story of our own. We tell others stories about ourselves, and sometimes we tell them so often that we believe them.

Stories are powerful. Stories tell the truth of our lives, because what we tell ourselves and others manifests itself.

Story has the power to change and transform.

So what is the story you're telling yourself? What do you believe to be true? What if you could change your story?  

I can't wait to share with you the stories of these amazing 6 speakers. Each one has their own version of what they know to be true. 

(As soon as their videos goes live, I will post here.) 

The amazing Xavier University TEdx team and all the 6 speakers who shared their stories and "ideas worth spreading" with us.

The amazing Xavier University TEdx team and all the 6 speakers who shared their stories and "ideas worth spreading" with us.