*It started with a simple sentence: “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.” Maybe you read the powerful words—part of a “victim’s impact statement” the young woman who’d been sexually assaulted at Stanford University had prepared to read to her attacker in court. The facts of the case were harrowing: On January 18, 2015, after a party, “Emily Doe,” as she came to be called, had been sexually assaulted by freshman Brock Turner as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster; two men passing by on bicycles saw the crime and tackled Turner as he ran away.
But it was Doe’s take-no-prisoners telling of what happened afterward—the relentless victim-blaming; the favoring of Turner, a student athlete—that changed the conversation about sexual assault forever. “Future reference, if you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence,” she wrote to Turner. And this: “I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party…while you are the All American swimmer at a top university…I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt.… You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
After Turner was convicted last spring, the judge sentenced him to just six months, saying anything more would have “a severe impact on him.” But Doe’s words circled the globe. Within four days her statement had been viewed 11 million times; it was read aloud on CNN and the floor of Congress. Rape hotlines experienced surges in both calls and offers of volunteer help. And importantly, California closed the loophole that had allowed lighter sentences in cases where the victim is unconscious or severely intoxicated. We all know the statistics: One out of every six females will have someone rape her—or attempt to. Doe sent those women a message: I am with you. Glamour is honored to name Emily Doe a Woman of the Year; here, for the first time, she tells what happened next. —Cindi Leive
From the beginning, I was told I was a best case scenario.
I had forensic evidence, sober unbiased witnesses, a slurred voice mail, police at the scene. I had everything, and I was still told it was not a slam dunk. I thought, if this is what having it good looks like, what other hells are survivors living? I’m barely getting through this but I am being told I’m the lucky one, some sort of VIP. It was like being checked into a hotel room for a year with stained sheets, rancid water, and a bucket with an attendant saying, No this is great! Most rooms don’t even have a bucket.
After the trial I was relieved thinking the hardest part was over, and all that was left was the sentencing. I was excited to finally be given a chance to read my statement and declare, I am here. I am not that floppy thing you found behind the garbage, speaking melted words. I am here, I can stand upright, I can speak clearly, I’ve been listening and am painfully aware of all the hurt you’ve been trying to justify.
I yelled half of my statement. So when it was quickly announced that he’d be receiving six months, I was struck silent. Immediately I felt embarrassed for trying, for being led to believe I had any influence. The violation of my body and my being added up to a few months out of his summer. The judge would release him back to his life, back to the 40 people who had written him letters from Ohio. I began to panic; I thought, this can’t be the best case scenario. If this case was meant to set the bar, the bar had been set on the floor.
The morning after the sentencing, my phone screen was stacked with texts and I turned it over saying, not today, on this day I deserve to sleep. My phone kept ringing and I learned that BuzzFeed was waiting for my permission to publish my court statement in full. As soon as it was posted, I remember thinking, what have I done, making myself exposed and vulnerable again. I texted my sister when it hit 20,000 views, thinking that was it, the comments were actually quite nice, and I closed my computer.
I started getting e-mails forwarded to me from Botswana to Ireland to India. I received watercolor paintings of lighthouses and bicycle earrings. A woman who plucked a picture of her young daughter from the inside of her cubicle wrote, This is who you’re saving.
When I received an e-mail that Joe Biden had written me a letter I was sitting in my pajamas eating some cantaloupe. You are a warrior. I looked around my room, who is he talking to. You have a steel spine, I touched my spine. I printed his letter out and ran around the house flapping it in the air.
There was, of course, the wee sprinkle of trolls. Some photos of me leaked and someone said, “She’s not pretty enough to have been raped.” In response I say, damn I wish the world could see me. I wish you could see my big, beautiful head and huge eyes. Perhaps now you are at home imagining me looking like some sort of bloated owl. That’s all right.
When Ashleigh Banfield read my letter on the news I sat stunned watching her speak my words, imagining them being spoken on every television set in the nation. Watching women and men at Gracie Mansion, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, girls in their rooms, gathered together to read each segment, holding my words in their voices. My body seemed too small to hold what I felt.
In the very beginning of it all in 2015, one comment managed to lodge harmfully inside me: Sad. I hope my daughter never ends up like her.
I absorbed that statement. Ends up. As if we end somewhere, as if what was done to me marked the completion of my story. Instead of being a role model to be looked up to, I was a sad example to learn from, a story that caused you to shield your daughter’s eyes and shake your heads with pity. But when my letter was published, no one turned away. No one said I’d rather not look, it’s too much, or too sad. Everyone pushed through the hard parts, saw me fully to the end, and embraced every feeling.
If you think the answer is that women need to be more sober, more civil, more upright, that girls must be better at exercising fear, must wear more layers with eyes open wider, we will go nowhere. When Judge Aaron Persky mutes the word justice, when Brock Turner serves one month for every felony, we go nowhere. When we all make it a priority to avoid harming or violating another human being, and when we hold accountable those who do, when the campaign to recall this judge declares that survivors deserve better, then we are going somewhere.
So now to the one who said, I hope my daughter never ends up like her, I am learning to say, I hope you end up like me, meaning, I hope you end up like me strong. I hope you end up like me proud of who I’m becoming. I hope you don’t “end up,” I hope you keep going. And I hope you grow up knowing that the world will no longer stand for this. Victims are not victims, not some fragile, sorrowful aftermath. Victims are survivors, and survivors are going to be doing a hell of a lot more than surviving.
“Emily Doe” has chosen to remain anonymous.