It has been nearly three years since Stanford swimmer Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Now, the site where the assault took place has been transformed into a memorial to honor the survivor and serve the community.
While Turner was convicted of three counts of sexual assault in March 2016, he was sentenced to six months in prison, of which he served only three. During the sentencing, the survivor — known simply as "Emily Doe" — shared a letter that went viral. In it, she described her struggle to reclaim her identity: "That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster, while you are the All-American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake."
Today, the dumpster that Doe was assaulted behind is gone. Instead, it is a garden and memorial, marked by benches and a fountain. The site was proposed by Michele Landis Dauber, a professor of law and sociology at Stanford who was a family friend of the survivor. "I felt that the dumpster had become a symbol of campus rape and that to leave the space without interpretation would invite fear and confusion on the part of vulnerable students," Dauber told The Huffington Post, noting that the new space "invites a response that centers on the experience of the survivor and allows students to grapple with those events in a meaningful way.”
In the near future, there will also be a plaque at the memorial, inscribed with a portion of Doe's powerful letter.
Back in October, Dauber told The Stanford Daily that she hoped the location of the memorial — right behind the fraternity house that hosted the party Doe attended on the night of the assault — would remind students about the "power of bystander intervention," and create a sense that the Stanford community is "promising to do better."
In recent weeks, a string of allegations against a number of figures in the entertainment industry — notably producer Harvey Weinstein — have empowered women and men to speak publicly about being harassed, sharing their stories on social media. Just as Doe's jarring account resonated with survivors of sexual assault around the world, so too have celebrities' stories of dealing with harassment from powerful figures like Weinstein. (In a statement to The New York Times following the first round of allegations, the producer wrote, "I appreciate the way I've behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it." He has also firmly denied any claims of nonconsensual sex.)
For some, the resounding cries of #MeToo are a reminder that, like Weinstein, Turner occupies a place of privilege that many believe ultimately had a hand in how his case was treated.
Throughout his trial, Turner was backed by individuals who fiercely defended him, regardless of the charges. His father even penned a letter expressing remorse that his son faced consequences for his actions, writing that jail would be "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."
While many remain indignant that Turner did not face a harsher sentence for the crime he committed, his case has, nevertheless, changed the way that campuses think about sexual assault. At the end of September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills that strengthen punishment for offenders like Turner. And this fall, students who were assigned Introduction to Criminal Justice: Systems, Diversity, and Change 2nd Edition found that the author had included Turner as a textbook definition of rape. Turner, who pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him, said during the trial that, "My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back."
The individuals who have faced sexual assault and harassment will never fully reclaim what was taken from them. But thanks to those who spoke frankly about their experiences, more individuals may now feel emboldened to do the same. And when Stanford students pass by the memorial behind the school's Kappa Alpha fraternity house, they may now think differently about these issues.