SAN FRANCISCO — With her furious and graphic 12-page letter to the court, the young woman at the centre of the Stanford University sexual assault case has instantly become a powerful symbol of courage and resilience to other sex-crime victims, all while remaining anonymous.
Her widely shared statement has been held up as a must-read for boys and young men and a source of strength to other women who have fallen prey to sexual assault. BuzzFeed and The Washington Post posted it online, and CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield read nearly the entire thing on the air.
In it, the woman recalled the emptiness she experienced after the attack, vented her anger over her assailant’s seeming lack of remorse and described in detail her invasive hospital examination, recounting the ruler nurses used to measure the scrapes on her body and how enough pine needles to fill a paper bag came out of her hair.
“What brought tears to my eyes was just how courageous she was,” said Victoria Kress, who teaches counselling at Youngstown State University in Ohio and works with sex assault victims. “It’s not typical that somebody does come forward in this type of a way.”
A nationwide furor erupted last week when a judge sentenced the woman’s attacker, Brock Turner, a 20-year-old former swimmer at Stanford, to six months in jail, triggering criticism that a star athlete from a privileged background had gotten special treatment. Prosecutors had asked for six years in prison.
The fury grew when it was learned that Turner’s father had sent the judge a letter lamenting that his son had already paid a steep price “for 20 minutes of action.”
The victim has not come forward publicly outside court, and little is known about her other than her age — 23 — and that she wasn’t a Stanford student. She was attacked as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster in January 2015 after drinking at a fraternity party, authorities said. She said she did not remember the assault.
In her statement, she said she would learn from a news report later how she had been found naked. She did not immediately tell her boyfriend and parents about the attack, pretending the whole thing wasn’t real, she said. She didn’t talk, eat or sleep.
But she also thanked her parents, sister, boyfriend and friends for their support and a prosecutor who “never doubted” her.
Experts said she effectively highlighted the obstacles to recovery that sex assault victims face and the support they need to succeed.
“We know that there are things like being believed, being supported by those around you that can help in terms of recovery,” said Victoria Banyard, a psychology professor at the University of New Hampshire who studies the long-term effects of sexual assault.
In a recent text message, the woman told a prosecutor that she was staying anonymous to protect her identity, but also as a statement.
“I’m coming out to you simply as a woman wanting to be heard,” she wrote. “Yes, there’s plenty more I’d like to tell you about me. For now, I am every woman.”