I want to issue a blanket trigger warning to go with this blog post as it refers to a case involving rape.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the case of the Stanford student who, despite being convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault was given a shockingly lenient sentence. This, in and of itself is in many ways not surprising. However, the twist to this all too common story is that the survivor of this heinous crime wrote a powerful statement that she read to her assailant prior to his sentencing (if you haven’t read it yet, please do so: here)
We often hear about the “promising futures” of predators like these (please note that I’m not going to refer to him by name because my gag reflex will not allow it) even though they’re the perpetrators of horrible, senseless acts of violence. Most of the time, no one talks about the myriad ways in which the criminal's act will impact the survivor’s future.
With her statement, “Emily Doe” changed the narrative and gave voice to her own ordeal. Her words were so powerful and poignant and it inspired me to attempt to react to my own anger and outrage upon learning of this case in a productive way.
An Open Letter to Emily Doe
First and foremost I’m sorry. Sorry that your story is known enough that a random person who lives across the country from you felt compelled to write you a letter. Sorry that I’m not writing to you solely to heap giant piles of praise upon you for your incredible talent with the written word. Sorry that your world has been turned upside down by something done to you by an insignificant piece of human garbage.
Since I know a little bit about you (and I can’t emphasize how LITTLE of you I know - just one tiny sliver of what has been and will continue to be a full, boundless life) I’d like to tell you a little about me. I’m a psychologist who has cultivated a specialty in working with people who have dealt with trauma. I’m still relatively new to the game – I started grad school and clinical training in 2009, where I provided therapy to survivors of domestic violence. This experience crumpled my soul up into a tight little ball and then stretched it back out again, new and as yet unfinished. One of the most important lessons it taught me was just how important it is to listen to the hard things.
When you listen for a living, you build up certain defenses. It’s necessary to do the work. I tend to be a gallows humor kinda girl. Or, I just don’t engage. I avoid angry tweets and comments on news stories, as their irrational hatred has a tendency to seep into my brain and disturb my sleep. And I’m entirely useless as a therapist if I don’t sleep.
In reading about your case, I was angry to see that the judge in your trial took it upon himself to bestow a slap on the wrist to the person who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault. Unfortunately, this fact didn’t surprise me. We live in a world where rape is treated like an inevitable outcome of a night spent drinking, dancing, and flirting. What did surprise me about your story was you.
When I read about how so many people had been deeply affected by your statement, my curiosity got the best of me. I tried to just skim it, hoping to save myself a small measure of emotional energy, but I was immediately engrossed. Your way with the English language is truly remarkable. Please write a book. Seriously. The world will be a better place for it.
I am in awe of you, Emily. Your heart is so much bigger than any of this. That you were able to show conviction, and even mercy toward the person who treated you in a way that no living being should ever be treated proves that fact. I’ll be sharing your words with my clients for the duration of my career. You have already helped so many people who you will never know and for that I am immensely and forever grateful to you.
I wish it hadn’t had to be this way; that your life had never been upturned by someone else’s choice to do harm. But I want you to know that your pain and suffering have not been for nothing.
You are not this case or the violent act that necessitated it. Your life and your truth are well beyond the reach of those things and will only continue to grow, expand, and overtake the already shrinking bits of detritus this trial has been reduced to. Your words will continue to serve as proof that everyone should listen to the hard stories, not just those of us who live in this world as part of our job.
I don’t know you, Emily and I probably never will. But I have so much love for you and for anyone else who has been in your shoes. For any of those innumerable ranks of survivors, regardless of whether or not you’ve been able to give a voice to your story, you are all so important and so much more than what has been done to you. Please know that your futures are blindingly bright and yours to create.