It’s Friday night and two generic college students are stumbling back to someone’s dorm room after meeting at a stereotypical college party. They’d both drank more than they should and their talking turned into flirting, flirting into dancing, dancing into kissing. The door to the dorm room closes and what happens after that no one but them really knows.
This is what a standard college rape case looks like. There were no witnesses once they got to the crime scene, and therefore the case becomes a he-said-she-said situation. The girl doesn’t report it to the police because she doesn’t remember everything; there is no rape kit done to prove what happened; there is no DNA, and there are no charges against the man who raped her. In fact, more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims never report the assault. The rape gets swept under the rug and never thought about again, except by the victim, who has to live with what she thinks happened to her every day.
Katie Koestner was the first to break this standard in 1990 when she was raped in her dorm room at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. She coined the term “date rape” when she spoke out publicly about her assault. She was ostracized by friends and peers; her relationship with her family became strained. Now she travels to different schools to talk about her experience, warn women about the dangers of date rape, and comfort the one in every five fellow victims who have suffered in a similar way.
26 years later, another victim’s case has made international news. Emily Doe, whose real name is being kept under wraps, has spoken out against her attacker, Brock Turner, who, at the time of the assault, was a freshman at Stanford University. Due to Doe’s unclear memory of her assault, Turner dominated the conversation and became more credible than the victim. Doe fell into the 72 percent of rape victims that were so intoxicated, they were unable to consent or refuse the attacker’s advances. Regardless of the extensive evidence against him, the assailant managed to skate by with only six months in county jail, three-year probation, and a place on the sex offenders registry, even though he faced 14 years in prison for his crime.
This lenient sentence proved to rapists that they do not have to take rape accusations seriously. It is allowing them to believe that if they are young, intoxicated, high-achieving, athletic and from a good family, they are exempt from the minimum penalty for rape. It gives them almost free-reign to do as they please because they are confident they will not face any consequences. Out of every 1000 accused rapes, only six rapists are incarcerated. This makes everything a victim feels immediately after the attack ten times worse.
Victims already feel less safe after being sexually assaulted. They isolate themselves and fall into depression. They blame themselves for what happened to them. As women, we are always told not to drink too much, dress modestly, change our behavior to protect ourselves. It’s the survival of the fittest; rape is going to happen –just make sure it doesn’t happen to you. It promotes a “boys will be boys” attitude. Because of this, eight percent of rape victims do not believe their attack is important enough to report and, even worse, 13 percent believe the police would not do anything to help them. If our criminal justice system improved the way sexual assault victims were treated, maybe 81 percent of women wouldn’t have short-term and long-term emotional problems afterward.
Emily Doe was no different than these other women. During the weeks following her attack, she didn’t eat; she didn’t sleep; she didn’t interact with anyone; she drove to secluded places after work to scream; she cried in stairwells. In addition to her emotional distress, she also had to deal with bruising, lacerations and soreness all over her body. Some people would say she was lucky that was all she had to deal with. Five percent of rape cases result in pregnancies and STDs are always a risk.
The risks associated with rape should be enough for victims to speak up about their experiences; but for one reason or another, they stay silent. Emily Doe hopes that her speaking out about her assault, and the lenient sentence, will encourage more women to try and change the system. Regardless of whether it was a first offense and the age of the assailant, rape is not learned through trial and error. At age 19, a person should know the difference between consensual and nonconsensual. But, unfortunately, that is wishful thinking. For every 1,000 women attending college, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year.
It is way past time to be concerned about rape. One in six male students said they would commit rape if they thought they could get away with it; two out of five male students agreed when the word rape was changed to ‘force a woman to have sex’. It disturbs me that it took a six-month sentence to wake up California officials and force them to face the fact that the definition of rape needs to be changed to encompass more than just intercourse. But since this story exploded, talk about rape and its consequences have been prominent all over the Internet. Since 65 percent of all adults use social media, letters, memes, and petitions have circulated across the world. Doe’s letter to her accuser went viral and has been read more than 13 million times on Buzzfeed and her eloquent writing only fueled the outrage. She had 12 pages of pure emotion and effective word-play, which are now convincing the world that it is finally time for a change. A supporter also created an online campaign to recall Judge Persky; the campaign has over 500,000 signatures and this public outcry against Perksy resulted in his removal from another sexual assault case.
Twitter and Facebook are the most common social media outlets used for protests such as this. 71 percent of online adults use Facebook and between 30 percent and 40 percent of Twitter members use the social networking site to promote political materials, their own political thoughts and political agendas that are deemed important. Hashtags have been made in support of Emily Doe, such as #BrockTurner and #Stanfordrapevictim. The power of social media can finally make a change in the way society views rape. The consequences of rape can now become severe enough that people cannot use the excuse of being intoxicated to defend themselves. The consequences can now be changed to instill fear in them even when they are drunk. Turner is not necessarily an evil human being, but he made a serious mistake. This mistake has been made time and time again by too many people. Too many lives have been ruined because of mistakes like this and it cannot continue. If nothing else, Emily Doe has ignited a tiny fire in the hearts of men and women around the world through her words and through social media. We must now take this into our own hands and force society to acknowledge just how much things need to change. Through social media, we can rise against men like Turner and cases such as this and put an end to this suffering.