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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 6/28/16

The Naked Truth About America's Rape Culture

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Message Elayne Clift
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Millions of people are now familiar with the heartrending statement read by his victim to Brock Turner, the Stanford freshman swimmer convicted of sexual assault at Stanford University for which he received a six month sentence.

Because of her extraordinary courage, the 23-year old woman whom Turner assaulted behind a dumpster while she was unconscious has given us a way to begin to comprehend the trauma of rape and sexual assault. Perhaps she is the Anita Hill of rape who will bring sexual assault out of the closet, Maybe she will lead America to its "come to Jesus" moment in which we have a collective epiphany about a heinous crime that has been ignored, trivialized, unpunished, and victim-blaming.

One can only hope. Because Turner, his father, and the presiding judge, a former Stanford athlete himself, seem to think the issue was not rape or sexual abuse but alcohol. For them it was about not ruining a young man's life for "a 20-minute occurrence." They reduced Turner's sexual abuse and a pervasive epidemic of the violent crime of rape to a conversation about substance abuse. Turner's lawyers perpetuated the myth that women are to blame for drinking too much, being sexually active, dressing provocatively, not saying no (hard to do when you're unconscious).

Nowhere has the rape crisis, especially on college campuses, been better captured than in Jon Krakauer's 2012 book, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Krakauer shares dramatic stories of women in Missoula raped by revered football players at the University of Montana and what life was like for them in the face of post-rape travesties.

No woman before now has shared the agony of rape or sexual assault and the effect of having one's life challenged in unimaginable ways as Turner's victim did. Here is some of what she said at his trial.

"When I was told to be prepared in case we didn't win, I said, I can't " He was guilty the minute I woke up. No one can talk me out of the hurt he caused me. Worst of all, I was warned, because he knows you don't remember "He can say whatever he wants and no one can contest it. I had no power, I had no voice, I was defenseless."

"Assault is not an accident. This is not a story of another drunk college hookup with poor decision making. Somehow, you still don't get it. " Alcohol is not an excuse. " Alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake I admit to, but it is not criminal. Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, [but] I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away."

"My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty. The isolation at times was unbearable. You cannot give me back the life I had before that night. " I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events " I have become a little barnacle always needing to be at someone's side. " It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry. You have no idea how hard I have worked to rebuild parts of me that are still weak."

And still rape and sexual abuse goes on, unpunished, trivialized, victim-blaming. As I wrote this commentary, a petition was circulating seeking support for rape education for college athletes. "My mother was drugged and gang-raped by four football players in 1998," the petitioner wrote. "Oregon State University gave two of them 25 hours community service and [the coach] gave them a one-game suspension. " My mom wanted to kill herself " We don't take sexual violence seriously enough. Nothing has changed."

I also heard from a friend who suffered years of sexual abuse from her stepfather, whom she accidentally killed while he was raping her. Convicted of premeditated murder, she recently sought re-trial because the issue of sexual assault was not introduced initially. The DA asked her why she hadn't mentioned it then. "Because," she said, "I wasn't ready to sit in a chair like this and have a man like you say he didn't believe me."

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Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)
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