opinion

"I never reported it." Why the Stanford rape victim statement meant so much.

When I was 20 I got really drunk, I went home with a boy I’d been sort-of-seeing, and I woke up the next day and discovered that things I hadn’t wanted to happen had happened. To be clear, I’d told him repeatedly when sober that I didn’t want to sleep with him. The next morning, when he filled in the blanks where my memory should have been, he kept saying I’d told him I’d changed my mind. But I had been blind drunk. And there were other details about it that made me feel awful, other things that made me feel used and violated and, there’s no nice way to say it, raped.

That was over a decade ago now. I never reported it. I knew what it was, and how it made me feel, but I also knew what a crapshoot it would be to try and pursue it. I was at university at the time. I was the women’s convenor of a political club, the women’s officer of the student union, the editor of the women’s edition of the newspaper. I knew what consent was, and what it wasn’t. I knew the ugly ball that sat in the pit of my stomach might not ever go away. The horrible sickness I felt every time I saw him would never recede. I knew I’d never be able to ever fully erase it from my mind. But I also knew the law’s not kind to the victims of sexual assault, and when the assault falls in that grey area of alcohol and men you’ve already done things with, it’s even more difficult to prove.

I also knew the law’s not kind to the victims of sexual assault. (Image: iStock)

At the time, I lost a close friend over it. Over my insistence on calling it out but my refusal to report it. “If that’s what you really think happened, tell the police,” she would say. But I just told her I didn’t see any point. 97 per cent of sexual assaults end that way.

I went to the university counselling service and had as many sessions as I could for free. I avoided things where I knew he would be, events that I might see him at. I started resenting the people I knew who I had told about the incident who didn’t drop him as a friend, and I clung so tight to the ones who did.

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A couple of years ago, I was at the pub and I saw him. I felt sick immediately, and I wanted simultaneously to make myself small and to make myself stronger. I didn’t want him to see me, to know I was there, but I also wanted him to know that I was fine, I was good actually, I was doing well.

He did see me. He came over to our table and put his hand on my shoulder and asked me if we could finally put it behind us. I couldn’t believe he had touched me. I don’t really remember what I said. Inside, I was trying not to scream, feeling like I’d been covered in cockroaches crawling all over me. I haven’t been back to that pub since. Just in case I see him again.

Why would I tell this story? Why would I bring this up? When I read the Stanford rape victim’s statement and watched the unfolding furore I felt such awe for this woman, this “warrior” as United States Vice President Joe Biden has called her. And I also felt ashamed that this had happened to her. And to so many other women around the world.

Brock Turner was sentenced to just six months in prison for aggravated sexual assault.

Because I know the truth. The incremental degrees of what our society considers to be “real rape” mean women who have experienced crimes that fall in the shades of grey will often never speak up.

They will carry the burden of what they feel and how they have been violated with them every day, but they will look at the justice system and say “this path is not for me, this pain is not for me”, and they will move on as best they can.

So if you are looking for a reason why so many women shared Emily Doe’s statement, why the collective outrage of the internet honed in on one young man, go no further than the millions of women around the world who know what sexual assault feels like, but who’ve never reported it. Even though they could point their finger at the perpetrator, or they have the bruises to “prove” it.

I don’t regret not reporting what happened to me. I know that might make some people mad. It might make some people say I’m not telling the truth. But the truth is, Emily Doe was unconscious. She was listless, lifeless and compromised. Brock Turner was only caught out because he was caught in the act. Because he was detained when he tried to flee. Because there were witnesses, and they didn’t know each other and now, in 2016, people are better at accepting that drunk people cannot consent.

But even with all those facts on her side, Brock Turner still got only six months in jail. He still had friends and family lining up to say he was the one being punished.

That is our justice system today. And that is why this case is bigger than just Brock Turner and Emily Doe.

What we do next as a society is just as important as what happens to Brock Turner.