This face has been plastered across news and social media platforms all week: Brock Turner, rapist.
His face makes me cringe — less because it belongs to him, and more because it reminds me of a face I encountered 15-some-odd years ago.
I haven’t talked openly about this man until recently. In fact, for most of my adult life, I have hoped that my memories of him — and of that horrible day — would stay hidden in the dark closets of my mind, never to resurface, never to punish me with the deeply-embedded shame that accompanies an act this horrendous. But as I’ve watched news cycles and newsfeeds flood with images of Brock Turner, and seen everyone from pastors to parents to presidents posit solutions to ending the prevalence of rape in our culture, I’ve also seen my box of memories grow legs and saunter timidly into the light, beckoning me to re-examine a velvet green couch, brown blankets hung over windows, a Snoop Dog video playing in the background, yellow counters and dirty linoleum, his thumb pressed into my arm and his left knee digging into my thigh — all of his weight bearing down to keep me from moving — the shock — almost breathlessness — I felt when despite my cries of “No, wait!,” an uninvited intruder forced himself into my body.
The full force of shame and humiliation, wrapped up in dust-covered boxes, hidden carefully in my mind so that I would never have to revisit a moment I wish had never happened in the first place.
But my memories, as vomit-inducing as they are, have become increasingly important because in all of the solutions that people have proposed, there’s one I haven’t yet heard. And for me, it’s become one of the most important.
We have collectively cried for Brock Turner to earn the sentence that his entitled, monstrous acts warrant. We have sat down with daughters and students, wishing we could empower them with a message of hope and self-care, but instead warning them to avoid alcohol and short skirts just in case they might accidentally provoke the boy/monster-next-door. We have petitioned for the judge to be removed from the bench, and for his father to stop excusing these “20 minutes of action.” Some folks have even (wrongly) prayed that Brock would face in prison the same acts he inflicted on his brave victim. And while I might join my voice with those who demand that justice be swift and righteous, I would also raise my voice in hope for something more.
The reason — or at least one of the reasons — that rape culture persists, I think, is because collectively, we’ve never truly grasped how much we’ve lost by giving in to social pressures that have created a culture where human beings are reduced to nothing more than body parts with jobs to do and norms to fit. And in my opinion, fights are futile if not fueled with true understanding of what exactly we are fighting against.
And so I wish that, before we grab our pitchforks, we could take a moment to look around — to really look at what we’ve lost — and to weep. To mourn the real monsters in our midst and the remembered monsters under our beds. To weep for the parents who feel so fearfully out of control that no choice exists but to teach their daughters to hide their bodies in order to avoid being touched or ravaged. To weep for what so many boys will lose because they have yet to realize that breasts are functional far more than they are sexual. To cry with the little girls who can’t tell anyone that their uncle/friend/neighbor/father touched them uncomfortably. To grieve the innocence they lost, the “first” experiences that they will never have because someone decided to take them. To comfort young men who believe their “manhood” has been compromised by that one moment when she touched or he intruded.
To acknowledge the secret lives that so many victims — like me — hide in memory closets, afraid of what their stories might mean to who they are and who they wish they could be. And to acknowledge what all of us lose when those stories aren’t — or can’t be — lived as they were intended to be.
Yes, I recognize that mourning and grief are not end points; in fact, I would echo the assertion that they are pointless if not followed by action. But I maintain that action without understanding can be as harmful as understanding without action. Men and women like me — those of us who have to find the courage to feel our way through dark memories, facing the reality that exploring those memories might lead to intense pain and humanization — need you to look at our grief intently; to truly see what happened, what was taken, what was lost; to sit with us in our grief and weep for the life we can’t seem to find anymore; to acknowledge how dehumanizing sexual assault really is; and to ultimately reaffirm that innately, we’re worth more — that we’re enough.
So today, before you re-post a meme or join a twitter rant, quiet your heart and mind for a moment to really consider what it is you’re fighting against: the dehumanization of people created by God for wholeness, connection, and health. Consider what fighting against injustice, sexual and otherwise, might truly mean: the empowerment of all people to walk in safety, regardless of drink or clothing choice; the opportunity to parent our children as whole, human beings whose worth in their eyes and in the eyes of others has nothing to do with what they look like or what others believe they are entitled to.
The fight against rape culture starts with grief, and as scary and vulnerable as that place may be, it is also the starting point to freedom and recovery for countless victims, here and beyond.
Won’t you join me there?