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How Should We Talk About the Stanford Rape Case? With Survivors In Mind

I was riding the train on the way home from work when I saw the news that had broken: the survivor of the Stanford rape case's letter had gone viral. The person who'd shared it on my social feed had written a content warning above it. I read it anyway. I'm a rape survivor. I started crying about halfway through her letter. I cried on the train as we sped toward home. I didn't care who saw me sitting there, staring at my phone with a tear-streaked face.

The survivor of this case could have been me. It could have been you. It could have been anyone

This is to every survivor who read about the case, read her letter, read about Brock's swimming times, read what Brock's father had to say, read the heinous comments online and went home, exhausted, falling into bed with no words because sometimes words fail you. If you're a survivor, so much of the world has already failed you. Rape culture is alive and well, so the person who assaulted you most likely wasn't taught not to rape, although you were taught to be careful. Not to drink strange drinks. Not to walk home alone. Not to seem too shy, but also not too flirty. 

By the outcome of this case, we've all been failed. Every survivor has been let down. 

But I'm sick of this, and I know I'm not the only one. The backlash to the insidious rape culture is what fuels me. Knowing that I'm not the only person who's sickened by this outcome fuels me. Knowing that there are other survivors out there, who may still be deciding whether they want to keep fighting or not, and need support to make that decision, fuels me. 

I was a campus rape victim. Had I gone to trial, I would have been an unnamed Jane Doe in the news. I was drugged and assaulted on a college campus, but I didn't have witnesses who would substantiate my claims. The partygoers who had seen something amiss wouldn't admit to it, because they were friends with my assailant. I was drugged, so like the Stanford survivor, my testimony would have been picked apart by my assailant's lawyer, simply because I had a very good reason for not remembering the assault. I denied what happened and didn't get a rape kit done soon enough. Nobody found me after the assault and told me something was wrong. By the time I came to terms with it, it was too late.

When I did come forward with my claims to campus police, I was asked the same kind of questions the Stanford survivor was asked. What had I been wearing? Had I been drinking? Why wasn't I drinking? Why was I at the party? Had I ever consented to sexual acts with my assailant before? What was my sexual orientation? Was I in a relationship? Was I sexually active?

These questions stopped me in my tracks. I never pressed charges and I didn't move forward with the case. 

The Stanford case is what seems like a cut-and-dry situation. There was substantial evidence. There were witnesses. She had a blood alcoholic limit over three times the legal driving limit. She was in no state of mind to consent. A rape kit was performed the same night. And yet—even with all that evidence—the rapist was sentenced to six months.

This is why rape survivors don't come forward. People ask me all the time, when I reveal I'm a survivor, why I didn't come forward. Why didn't I contact police? Why didn't I go to trial?

This is why. This case is the definition of why survivors don't speak out.

It doesn't matter how many facts are gathered, how much investigating is done, how clear-cut the trial should be. When rape culture plays a part, rape survivors always lose. And that's why I never came forward. That's why hundreds of thousands of survivors won't come forward this year. 

Talking about what happened to us is hard work. What the Stanford survivor did—in sharing every detail of her assault and the aftermath, as best as she can remember, with the world—was hard work. As someone who has written about my rape publicly, I know how absolutely draining and devastating it can be to revisit the subject. It can bring up bad memories, and re-traumatize survivors. And I'm not asking every survivor to do that. I'm asking those of us who can: please do. If you feel safe enough in your life to even identify that you're a survivor in some discreet way, even in a way that only other survivors will notice, please do. We need solidarity to get any legs in this movement. We need community. If you have the courage, the mental capacity and the ability to talk about rape culture and the problems with this case, please do. Make your voice heard.

And to everyone who isn't a survivor: please speak with us. Support this movement and our perspectives. As a survivor, I'm being completely honest when I say that the recent onslaught of news coverage about this case causes me to have nightmares. I wake up a few hours before I need to for work, every morning, and think about this case and try to go back to sleep. We need people who aren't struggling with this on a personal level to be on our side. We need allies who are strong and willing to help us fight this necessary, important fight. 

The Stanford survivor did the most basic thing: she asked for justice for what happened to her. And she wasn't given that. She wasn't the only person who was failed with this outcome, and we need to make sure that we won't stop until change has been made. We don't need programs on campuses that teach about the problems of college drinking. We need programs that talk about the problem of rape culture, and how to end it. And we can't afford to wait. We need them now.

Alaina Leary is an award-winning editor and journalist. She is currently the communications manager of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books and the senior editor of Equally Wed Magazine. Her work has been published in New York Times, Washington Post, Healthline, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Boston Globe Magazine, and more. In 2017, she was awarded a Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her dedication to amplifying marginalized voices and advocating for an equitable publishing and media industry. Alaina lives in Boston with her wife and their two cats.
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