On the same day the judge made his ruling, Emily Doe, a pseudonym assigned to protect her anonymity, read aloud in court her now-famous victim impact statement, words that have been heralded as a pivotal moment in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses.
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me,” her statement began, “and that’s why we’re here today.”
“You took away my worth.”
BuzzFeed News published the 12-page letter in full, and soon Emily Doe’s words were flooding the Internet.
It was because of that widespread impact that on Tuesday, Glamour Magazine named Emily Doe a 2016 “Woman of the Year.” Her statement, the magazine said, was a “take-no-prisoners” account that “changed the conversation about sexual assault forever.”
Doe’s words circled the globe. Within four days her statement had been viewed 11 million times; it was read aloud on CNN and the floor of Congress. Rape hotlines experienced surges in both calls and offers of volunteer help. And importantly, California closed the loophole that had allowed lighter sentences in cases where the victim is unconscious or severely intoxicated.
And accompanying the distinction was another personal essay from Emily Doe, the first time she has spoken publicly about what her life has been like since Brock Turner’s sentencing and the worldwide response.
In the essay, she writes about the supportive emails she received from Botswana, Ireland and India, and the gifts she got in the mail from strangers.
There were bicycle earrings, meant to represent the two Swedish graduate students who were riding bikes that night, who found Turner assaulting her, who chased and tackled him when he ran.
There were watercolor paintings of lighthouses, she wrote, an homage to a line from the very end of her victim impact statement:
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.
There was the woman who, in Emily Doe’s words, “plucked a picture of her young daughter from the inside of her cubicle” and wrote, “This is who you’re saving.”
And there was the letter from Vice President Biden.
“I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul,” he wrote to her in an open letter published again by BuzzFeed News.
He called her a “warrior,” and when Emily Doe read those words, she looked around her room. “Who is he talking to,” she wrote in her Glamour essay.
He said she had a spine made of “solid steel,” so she reached around her back to touch it.
“I printed his letter out and ran around the house flapping it in the air,” she wrote.
In his letter, the vice president said her words should be required reading for all men and women, and that he wished she had never had to write it at all. He called her brave.
“It must have been wrenching,” Biden wrote, “to relive what he did to you all over again.”
Emily Doe addressed that in her Glamour essay. She said that she was told from the beginning her assault included evidence that presented a best case scenario.
“I had forensic evidence, sober unbiased witnesses, a slurred voice mail, police at the scene,” she wrote. “I had everything, and I was still told it was not a slam dunk. I thought, if this is what having it good looks like, what other hells are survivors living?”
After the trial was over and the verdict came back in her favor — guilty on three felony charges related to the assault — Emily Doe wrote that she felt relieved and excited to read her statement and “declare, I am here.”
“I am not that floppy thing you found behind the garbage, speaking melted words,” she wrote in the Glamour essay. “I am here, I can stand upright, I can speak clearly, I’ve been listening and am painfully aware of all the hurt you’ve been trying to justify.”
But she immediately felt silenced and “embarrassed,” she wrote, when Turner’s sentence was read.
The violation of my body and my being added up to a few months out of his summer. The judge would release him back to his life, back to the 40 people who had written him letters from Ohio. I began to panic; I thought, this can’t be the best case scenario. If this case was meant to set the bar, the bar had been set on the floor.
The reaction to Turner’s sentencing was swift and furious from the public, from people in the man’s hometown, from advocates for victims of sexual assault. Fathers eviscerated the words of Turner’s dad, who said the verdicts forever altered his son’s future and were “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
But until her Glamour essay, Emily Doe had not, outside of her pre-sentencing victim impact statement, addressed Turner, who served three months of his six-month jail sentence before returning home to Ohio, or Judge Aaron Persky, the man who sentenced Turner.
Emily Doe used their names only once:
If you think the answer is that women need to be more sober, more civil, more upright, that girls must be better at exercising fear, must wear more layers with eyes open wider, we will go nowhere. When Judge Aaron Persky mutes the word justice, when Brock Turner serves one month for every felony, we go nowhere. When we all make it a priority to avoid harming or violating another human being, and when we hold accountable those who do, when the campaign to recall this judge declares that survivors deserve better, then we are going somewhere.
And it seems, like Glamour declared, that Emily Doe’s words really have changed the way the public thinks about sexual assault — and perhaps emboldened others to speak out.
Last week, six former Harvard women’s soccer players penned an open letter in the school’s student newspaper, addressing members of the men’s 2012 soccer team who drafted and shared a “scouting report” of their physical appearance that numerically ranked them by perceived sexual appeal.
In the Dallas Morning News, a contributor nominated as Texan of the Year the group of women at Baylor University who reported widespread and chronic issues of sexual assault and misconduct among the college football team, then faced harsh criticism from the campus community, donors and football fans.
And in some ways, it seems Emily Doe’s powerful message set the groundwork for a conversation that has even influenced the 2016 presidential race, where headlines about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s unsavory comments — and alleged actions — toward women have dominated news cycles.
Similar to what Trump has said about women who accused him of sexual misconduct, Emily Doe wrote in her Glamour essay that one person said she is “not pretty enough to have been raped.” Another comment, written right after the assault in 2015, “lodged harmfully inside” her, Doe wrote: Sad. I hope my daughter never ends up like her.
To that commenter, Doe used her essay to respond:
I am learning to say, I hope you end up like me, meaning, I hope you end up like me strong. I hope you end up like me proud of who I’m becoming. I hope you don’t “end up,” I hope you keep going. And I hope you grow up knowing that the world will no longer stand for this. Victims are not victims, not some fragile, sorrowful aftermath. Victims are survivors, and survivors are going to be doing a hell of a lot more than surviving.
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