September 25, 2019
By Rebecca Liu
Long known as ‘Emily Doe’, the survivor in the Brock Turner sexual assault case tells her powerful story, and offers hope
It could have been an entirely different story, one so ordinary in its violent diminishment of a woman. The script is well-worn. An assault at a student party; a disorienting walk through hospital clinics and police stations; panic attacks; a forensic examination of your character. How much did you drink? Why did you go to that party? Did you have a stable relationship with your boyfriend? You react by receding further into yourself. Perhaps you drop the charges; perhaps the judge is lenient. Your assailant soon gets on with his life, free to walk the halls of power. Trust the system, you were told.
But sometimes there are facts that bring you closer to something resembling justice. For a 22-year-old recent university graduate known to the world as “Emily Doe”, there were a few. Fact: Brock Turner, the man who assaults her behind a fraternity house skip in January 2015, is a Stanford University student and swimmer. Spiralling media attention in what is deemed the “Stanford swimmer case” means her rape forensic evidence kit receives expedited processing, thus avoiding, she later relates, the fate of a hundred others collecting dust in a slow-moving backlog. Fact: there are two witnesses to the assault, male graduate students who happen to be cycling past. They chase Turner away, and testify in Doe’s favour. Fact: after Turner is found guilty on three felony counts in March 2016, Doe, now 23, writes a powerful 7,000-word letter addressed to her attacker that she reads aloud at his sentencing. It is published on BuzzFeed in June and goes viral, receiving 15m views within a week.
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