Yesterday I read this letter addressed to the rape victim's attacker. I haven't thought about much else since. In case you are somehow seeing this for the first time on my website, Brock Allen Turner is getting a slap on the wrist after being convicted, unanimously by a jury, of three counts of sexual assault. I can't stop thinking about it because she could so easily have been me more times than I care to admit.
I grew up in a place where teenagers threw house parties when their parents were out of town and broke into liquor cabinets and asked older siblings to buy beer. I visited older friends at their universities and went to frat parties. I had my fair share of drunkenness by the time I graduated high school. From there I moved to New York City where I scored fake ID's and had promoter friends that kept me lubricated on free Grey Goose into the early hours. Once I turned 21 I could walk into any bar I wanted in the grand old US of A and proceed to drink myself stupid if that is what I chose to do.
Although I developed a decent tolerance to alcohol during these years, there were times that my 5-foot-nothing-100-pound-frame couldn't handle it. I'd wake up with little or no memory of how I got home. For the last 24 hours all I can think about is the fact that I am so lucky that I never had to write a letter like hers.
But that doesn't mean I'm off the hook.
I travel extensively. Usually alone. I've been to over 30 countries, predominantly developing. Many with a reputation for rape. And I still drink. Not as excessively as in the past, but there are times I still have one too many.
I have pulled off some sketchy shit, sober and otherwise. The former when I felt like I had no other choice, the latter when I felt comfortable enough with my surroundings and drank too much.
There have been times I have thought, "This is it. This is the night I get raped, robbed, possibly murdered." I only tell these stories to a select few. I don't want my family to worry about me. These are sober stories, of course. If I were blackout drunk, I wouldn't be coherent enough to know what kind of danger I was really in at the time. That one is always in retrospect.
I don't expect people to watch out for me. I'm too stubborn and independent. I've been extremely fortunate to have people who watch out for me anyway. I have been surrounded by human angels when I have needed them most. There was a time that a fellow backpacker in Vietnam gave me a lap dance on a pool table, then later realized how drunk I was and made sure I got back to my hostel bed safe and unharmed. I've been told I'm too trusting of people I don't know well. It's probably true, but somehow I've always managed to surround myself with good friends and kind strangers.
I hope I'm not jinxing myself writing these things.
A couple of years ago I met someone traveling who told me his tales of hitchhiking across countries and continents. I told him I wish I could do it. He told me I absolutely could. I told him he has no idea what it's like to be a 100 pound woman traveling alone. I am fearless to an extent. I am not fearless enough to hitchhike across South America by myself.
I once heard a story of a women who was raped and instead of fighting, she started telling her attacker, "I forgive you, I forgive you. I'm sorry you have to do this, but I forgive you." It made her attacker stop. I don't know if the story is true, but I decided right then that if I were ever in her position I hope I would do the same. To have compassion because ultimately that violent act is so not about me. But that is hypothetical. Rape is a situation that you can't prepare yourself for.
It's weird and confusing and uncomfortable to sit here and write about my hypothetical future rape. It's fucked up I have to consider it at all. But it's necessary because there is a very real possibility of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I don't know why I have yet to learn self defense. My father and brother spent years learning Tae Kwon Do while I went to dance lessons and played soccer. Guns scare me and I can't travel abroad with one anyway. I'm damn strong for my size, but if I were to pull a knife out I can only see one outcome -- the knife being turned back on me. I'm physically too small to dominate a man of pretty much any size without proper training.
The fact of the matter is that if a man tried to rape me, he would succeed. I have made my peace with this as much as I can.
Part of that peace is the knowledge that if he were caught, he would be punished accordingly. But in light of recent events, that is not necessarily true. The internet is rightly outraged at Superior Court judge, Aaron Persky, for dishing out a ridiculously light sentence to a 19 year old entitled predator whose father is obviously a high quality douchebag excusing his son's behavior. This is terrifying for so many reasons which have already been discussed all over the interwebs so I won't delve into them here.
I stopped reading the Game of Thrones books because I couldn't handle all the rape scenes (among other brutalities, but mostly the rape). This judge's sentence shows that some of us are no better than we were hundreds of years ago. The elite can get away with whatever they want. Women don't matter. It's HER fault she was drunk.
At least we have good men like those Swedish boys that saved that girl. At least we have the internet where we can be outraged and make this story viral so that we can sign petitions to get that judge kicked off his throne. At least we can learn from this girl's sad story and educate our boys to become good men who take care of drunk girls rather than take advantage of them.
At the end of the day, there is so much more good than bad in this world. I truly believe that, for the most part, people want to take care of each other. But wherever there is light a shadow is cast. There will always be a darker side.
The nameless girl who had to sit in a courtroom and answer the absurd, embarrassing, and insulting questions pictured at the top of this post was not me. I've already said it, but repeating myself doesn't make it less true: I'm grateful and lucky it wasn't me. But it most certainly could have been.