Standing right under 5’3” and weighing just over 100 lbs., my stature looks anything but intimidating. So when I announced to my family that I planned to move 500 miles away for college, they flurried off in a worry and sent me off with a few intense presents.
One aunt gave me a plastic keychain shaped like a dog with tall, pointed ears and hollowed eyes to punch any potential assailants. A cousin gave me a battery-operated alarm system for my bedroom. And like many college students across the country, my dad refused to let me leave without buying me pepper spray for my keychain. With that, my parents said their teary goodbyes and I locked my apartment door with my overwhelmingly cluttered keys.
Maybe they’re a particularly worrisome bunch, but I can’t blame them. Over the past two weeks (not to mention the past decade or so), disgusting, tragic and terrible headlines convince us that either the human race now faces some sort of crisis or the world is tilted off its axis. Recently, the Stanford sexual assault case between 20-year-old Brock Turner and his unnamed victim confirms our fears that we do need to take ridiculous precautions to keep ourselves safe.
After raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in prison (though his release date shows he’s pre-assessed to behave well and will leave after only four months), when he could’ve received up to 14 years behind bars. His picture-perfect smile and crew cut have splattered our newsfeeds, detailing his accomplishments and lost potential as a swimmer—oh, and the fact that he did this pretty shitty thing to an innocent human being. Meanwhile, his unnamed victim’s life is forever altered emotionally, physically and mentally for a night she neither consented to nor remembers. Since Turner received his microscopic sentence, the victim published her moving, powerful and brave 7,000-word statement. In response, the Internet has exploded with reactions and letters, from Turner’s father’s disregard for his son’s actions to Vice President Joe Biden’s apologetic letter to the victim.
What’s the common thread in the reaction letters? They don’t take action to fix the obvious wrong. The country decried the sentence and sympathizes with the victim, but it’s time to move beyond emotion and take action. Really, what does a 500-word letter do? We can only write about our feelings for so long, and, including myself, we need to make moves to ensure that not only are convicted rapists charged fairly, but also work toward preventing them in the first place and change the rhetoric that comes along with it.
The other day I got into an argument with a friend because she said the victim shouldn’t have been drunk enough to put herself in that predicament (i.e. behind a dumpster basically naked, not of her own accord). Enraged, I explained the victim’s state of intoxication shouldn’t be relevant, especially if the same is not done for the rapist in question. She continued to say that, as young people, we need to be aware of our surroundings. And while I agree that this world sucks, and unfortunately we do need to look out for the creeps who want to take advantage of our bodies, that doesn’t account for or discredit the rapist’s actions.
So instead of wallowing in the fact that yes, this world sucks right now, we should start at square one and try to improve what we have rather than complain and fight about it. In his letter, Biden said, “I am filled with furious anger—both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth.” Moving forward, we should take action to repair the wrongs done, own up to our actions, accept punishment and use our resources to improve the conditions that already exist—kind of like how Texas Republican senator Ted Poe wants to appeal the conviction. Magical, isn’t it, how two people with opposing political ideologies can agree that something needs to change?
And if they can put their differences aside, then so can you. If you’re reading this, you’re probably in college, so start there.
Dreaming of becoming a world-recognized journalist? Cover sexual assault stories fairly and ethically, no matter the people involved. If you want to go into politics, start learning the laws that seem to fail the victim and figure out how to reform them. Aspiring teachers need to teach students from a young age to respect each other. No matter your chosen profession, you can make a small contribution to the larger picture that doesn’t look so pretty right now, but can improve over time with a collective effort.
So maybe it will take some time, but good things don’t come at the snap of a finger. For now, you can sign petitions and take individual action to do your part. Join the campaign to get Judge Aaron Persky recalled. Look out for each other when you do go to parties and speak up if something doesn’t look right on the other end of the room. Personally, I’d rather my friends call me the “mom” of the group rather than keep my mouth shut and not look out for them. And most importantly, look out for yourself. Until we change this world, consider yourself stuck with it, heavy key chains and all.