The Stanford sexual assault case earlier this year created an uproar across the country over the assailant's meager three-month sentence, thanks in large part to the voice of his victim, anonymous "Emily Doe." Doe, who wrote a powerful victim impact statement that went completely viral and bolstered the national dialogue to include the victim's perspective, is speaking out once again as one of Glamour's Women of the Year. In her powerful new essay, the inspiring young woman shared how she coped with Brock Turner's sentence and her sudden media attention, commenting on her unique experience as a victim and overnight role model.
Like many victims, Doe was not cared for by the criminal justice system, which showed more leniency toward her assailant than compassion toward her. Despite her powerful victim impact statement, Turner was sentenced to only six months in jail for three felony counts. "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," wrote Doe, commenting on the helplessness that institutional sexism creates in those it affects.
However, when Doe allowed BuzzFeed to publish the statement she read in court, she began attracting support from all over the world, reminding her of why she had chosen to take a stand and how her case may still bring about some good. "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," Doe wrote.
Her next message of support, from Vice President Joe Biden, counteracted the institutional discrimination that she experienced in the court system and powerfully demonstrated that at least part of the system was on her side.
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.
It's not surprising that Doe recognized how public support helped her though her difficult time, since so many women have spoken out about the inverse. Harassment from individuals and media outlets after a sexual assault is often said to be a complete re-victimization, that the aftermath is nearly as bad as, if not worse than, the assault itself. In this way, Doe was incredibly lucky. Because her unambiguous case commanded national attention at a moment when the national attitude toward sexual assault is becoming more understanding and compassionate, she was seen as a victim who deserved justice and support. It may have been totally different if she wasn't "a best case scenario."
Doe's essay brings to mind a utopian world where every victim is treated with this much love and respect. Imagine how victims' lives would be better if, instead of being met with stigma and shame, they were supported and believed. A full third of rape survivors contemplate suicide and 13 percent attempt to take their own lives. Doe demands her audience to consider how that might be different if people went out of their way to show their support for victims, at the very least. She also probes readers to consider why she had to go through that pain and humiliation in the first place.
What's most incredible about Doe is that she has been largely able to dictate her experience. She chose to allow BuzzFeed to publish her victim's statement, she chose to speak out again in this most recent essay, and she chose to remain anonymous and only share what she wants. That choice and personal power counteracts the injustice she encountered in the court system, and restoring that sense of autonomy and self-determination is key when it comes to caring for victims. Not every victim will make national headlines or receive letters from the vice president, but Doe's essay reminds people that every victim needs extraordinary support and care.