If you’ve been on the internet in the past week, chances are you’ve seen and heard about the troubling Stanford rape case. Brock Turner, a former Stanford University student, is now a convicted rapist after he sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus. If you’ve read any of the articles or summaries about what happened, it’s a chilling account of a woman searching for answers after she woke up in a hospital with no recollection of what went on that night. I had seen the headline circulating for a few days, but until I finally clicked on the link to the victim’s letter published by Buzzfeed, I didn’t realize this case would have such a profound impact on me.
The victim, who is choosing to remain anonymous, wrote about the severe effect the assault had on her. She describes in painfully accurate detail how she remembers waking up on a gurney in a hospital hallway, being asked to sign papers that said “rape victim,” and reading an article in the news about herself—which was how she found out about her own assault. That’s how she learned about what happened to her, at her desk at work, surfing the internet just like everyone else. Reading her letter brought me to tears. It brought me to tears because I can imagine exactly how she was feeling. In fact, what happened to her was my worst nightmare. I’ve been in situations so similar to hers it’s scary. In her letter, she describes finally being able to go to the bathroom after being questioned and surveyed by doctors and nurses at the hospital. She said, “I went to pull down my underwear and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing.” I’ve been there, except it wasn’t in a hospital. It was in a strange house with a strange man. I’ve woken up to the horror that is not knowing what happened, attempting to piece together the events of the night, and feeling absolutely sick over the whole thing.
Like this young woman, I blacked out. I drank to the point that my brain could no longer create short-term memories. Blacking out wasn’t abnormal for me and sometimes I went out with the thought that I wanted to get wasted beyond oblivion. But does that mean I was asking to be raped? No, it doesn’t. I read something on the Internet this week that said, “Drinking is not a crime. Rape is.” And I could not agree more. The worst part about the Stanford rape case is that the rapist used the college binge drinking culture and sexual promiscuity as reasons for his actions. But these two things are not inherently related. I read a comment about the case on Facebook that said, “What did she expect, going to a frat house with drunk fraternity bros full of testosterone?” This infuriated me. Just because frat bros get drunk doesn’t mean they can just sexually assault people while intoxicated. There is no reason those two things should go hand-in-hand. Alcohol does not give you permission to commit rape. Sexual assault should never be something that just happens, whether you’re drunk or not.
That brings me to another relevant topic. Consent. Have you heard of it? Well, you should have, but if not, listen carefully. A person who is drunk cannot give consent. They could be in a blackout and not remembering anything at that moment. It should be obvious then, that a person who is unconscious because of how much she has had to drink cannot give consent either. It all boils down to entitlement. Brock Turner felt entitled to taking advantage of that woman’s body. Whether she flirted with him, danced with him, or just looked at him, he felt entitled to forcing himself on her for his selfish pleasure. This is rape culture in action. This is sexism in its purest form, men believing women are sexual objects whenever they please.
I’ve been the girl that actually has “consented,” but had no idea that she did until the next day when she was told. I’ve been the girl that shamed and blamed herself for getting that drunk, for blacking out, for putting herself in that position, for “asking for it.” I’ve been the girl that continued to drink away the pain and agony of not actually knowing if she had been raped or not. You know what crossed my mind when considering that it may have happened to me? No one will believe me and I have no proof. If the Stanford case shows us anything it’s how badly victims of sexual assault are treated. One in five women will be raped in her lifetime. Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free because of these unreported crimes. We encourage women to speak up against violence, then we watch as they’re shamed, blamed, ridiculed, while their rapists are only given six months in jail because longer would “greatly affect their lives.”
Yes, blacking out is a sign of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but when drinking heavily we ask for a hangover, a sleepless night, or a lost purse. We don’t ask for our bodies to be violated by men who think it’s okay to commit a crime.
You are not a bad person for drinking, even if you black out. That little belief kept me in my active addiction for years. I thought, if I let these horrible things happen to me and don’t remember it because of drinking, I am a worthless human being and I don’t care if I die. But the reality is, it doesn’t matter how much you drink, how short your skirt is, or how hard you were flirting with anyone; no one has the right to rape you.