Like many of you, I’ve been reading the daily articles about the Brock Turner rape case. And like many of you, I have strong feelings about Emily Doe’s rape and the fallout. Here’s what is churning in my gut… Compassion for Emily Doe’s pain. Disgust over Turner’s senseless act of sexual violence. Deep angst toward his apparent ignorance of the real issue—his reprehensible rape of a woman—and his lack of repentance for his crimes. Anger at Turner’s attorney for victim blaming during the trail. Outrage at Judge Persky’s sentencing and rationale. Helplessness that we live in a world so selfish and broken that any person would rape another.
All of these emotions leave me feeling very raw and weary. A small part of me wishes that Emily’s story didn’t affect me. I wish I could ignore this whole atrocity, turn away from the news, and protect myself from these terrible feelings; but I can’t. Thankfully, the larger part of my heart doesn’t want to turn away because Emily’s story is important and personal to me.
I live and work three miles from Stanford University. I may have passed Emily in Trader Joe’s. I may have steered my car around Brock Turner as he cycled to class on campus. These young people are my neighbors. Palo Alto is the community where I minister.
These events also feel personal because I worked with college students for six years. The things I witnessed among developing adults motivated me to understand abuse and to later become an abuse educator and victim’s advocate. When I was a hospital chaplain, I met with a few rape victims just hours after they were assaulted. As a pastor, I’ve supported many women who have been raped, molested, and abused in other ways. Reading Emily Doe’s story makes me recall a hundred other stories that I hold in the shadowy recesses of my heart.
Even though I haven’t experienced the pain of rape myself, the people and stories I’ve encountered in my career have ravaged my emotions. Supervisors advised me to keep an emotional distance in these situations. I really tried in the early years, but then I began to wonder—is there a way to remain impervious when a woman sits next to you and shakes as she recalls the most terrifying hours of her life? Now, I don’t think it’s possible to be fully human in those moments and remain emotionally detached. Not when you’ve heard a victim’s story, held her hand, seen her wounds, and shared her pain-filled silences.
I’m human. And when other humans are suffering, I hurt. Emily Doe’s story, and all of the stories that have rippled out from Brock Turner’s act of violence, hurt me. And from the outrage I see across social media, many of you are hurting too.
So what do I do when another horrifying story of injustice rips me open? What do we do with all these wildly raging emotions when we hear a story of such violence being done against a human being—especially when we aren’t directly involved in the situation?
Use them. Use the emotions.
The best advice I can give you is to gather up all of the emotions you feel churning inside you and turn them into fuel. Let the ferocity of your anger and the raised hackles of injustice motivate you to live a transformational life.
Don’t just be a person who seeks to do no harm to others. Be a person who actively looks for ways to protect the vulnerable, someone who steps forward to advocate for victims of all kinds in your sphere of influence—be it big or small. Our impassioned emotions might lead us to protests and rallies, to sign petitions to hold civic leaders accountable, or to volunteer with organizations that are doing their best to spread justice in our communities.
Not all of us will have the opportunity to directly intervene in an act of sexual violence like the Swedish graduate students, but all of us will have opportunities to care for someone who has been abused. In the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes. If you know four girls under the age of 18, at least one of them has experienced abuse. The same is true if you know six boys under 18.
Statistics indicate that all of us know or will know someone who has been abused in some way—sexually, emotionally, verbally, or spiritually. This fact may outrage and sadden us, but we don’t have to stop at feeling. We can allow those feelings to shape the way we interact with others. You may not know whom in your life shares Emily Doe’s story, but someone does. So it’s best to always speak and act with kindness because you never know the wounds people are hiding.
Choose to be a person who approaches people who are hurting. Listen attentively to their stories and do your best to understand their circumstances. Allow their painful experiences to expand and fill your stores of compassion. And if you are healthy and able, you might even sacrifice some of your time and ask how you might help carry their burdens or stand in solidarity with them.
For those of you who are shocked by Emily Doe’s story and don’t know much about sexual assault, allow your shock and horror to motivate you to learn about abuse—what it is, its prevalence, causes, and consequences.
If you are a parent or someone with direct influence over children, think critically about what language, attitudes, actions, and proverbs you pass on. Abuse is a learned behavior. You can be an adult who raises up compassionate, respectful, peacemaking children, the kind of children who grow into adults who jump off their bicycles and intervene when they see someone being raped.
And speaking of those two Swedes, I’m reminded that it’s not just the dark emotions of injustice that can change us and make us transformational, compassionate people. Along with all my anger and outrage over the Stanford rape case, there have also been healthy doses of inspiration. Every moment and movement of bravery and resilience and justice in this case has brought healing tears.
…we both have a choice. We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it head on, I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on…Your life is not over, you have decades of years ahead to rewrite your story. The world is huge, it is so much bigger than Palo Alto and Stanford, and you will make a space for yourself in it where you can be useful and happy…
Emily Doe wrote that in her victim’s statement to the court. She wrote that to her rapist. That she is even able to think about Brock Turner’s future makes me stand in awe. Emily’s statement shows me that rape and violence and pain have not won. They are not the end of her story. Emily has not been extinguished by what Brock Turner did to her. Instead, she is rising up out of her horrifying ordeal, it seems, with her own expanded stores of compassion and understanding.
Maybe I’ll meet Emily Doe one day as I live and work near her. Maybe I won’t. But I’m so thankful that she had the courage to write and share her statement, her story. Emily, you’ve reminded me again of the beauty of the human spirit. You shine with it. Your story reignites my desire to be an advocate and a peacemaker, someone who is as kind to the grumpy woman in line at the grocery story as I am to someone who comes to my office for counseling.
Thank you to Emily Doe, and to all of the Emilys who have shared your stories with me over the years. Your pain has changed me. Your ability to overcome, and seeing you reemerge to life, has taught me how to endure and learn from my own hardships. Because of you, I choose to live in a way that helps others heal and thrive.
Most importantly, thank you to the two men who saved me, who I have yet to meet. I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget.