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On Brock Turner, Drinking and Rape Culture

I was never a girl’s girl, whatever that means. Growing up, I didn’t relate to my peers much. Occasional girlfriends were the exception instead of the rule. I preferred spending time with “the guys,” as I felt more like myself with them. Girls tended to judge me for my unruly hair, weird fashion sense and my large breasts. I never knew what they were saying behind my back. With guys, they made constant comments about my boobs. They were blatant and predictable, and there was an unspoken understanding that I would just take their teasing and understand that they meant no harm.

My best friend throughout high school was a guy. I was close to several boys in my senior year, but Dom (not his real name) was my closest support. We told each other everything. There were times when I wondered if we could be more than friends, but it never really took off. I was the first person he told when he lost his virginity. When I went off to college a few hours away, we hugged and promised to keep up. Every visit home we hung out just as we always had.

When I came home on summer break after my Freshman year in college, he’d gotten a job as a Nursing Aide in the same clinic my mother worked at. He suggested I apply, and I quickly got a job there, too. We were put on the night shift together. He lived in an apartment a couple of blocks away, so sometimes when we got out at 7 am, we just went to his house to crash. One day, we shared a bed. The next day we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We spent the summer together, happy. When it came time to go back to school, I wanted to go back to being friends, but somehow I never had the guts to break up with him. A few weeks into the new school year, I started seeing someone else. My mom is the one who told Dom it was over. It’s not my proudest moment. He was fine, though, and said he just wanted me to be happy.

I dropped out of school that October and I was living with my mom looking for a new job. One night in November Dom came over to hang out with my brother and me. He brought a case of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Up to that point, I hadn’t ever really drank before. But my mom was there, and it was fine, so I had a few bottles. With no tolerance, I was drunk very quickly. My mom and brother went to bed at some point, and I remember saying that I was tired and needed to sleep. He took me upstairs to my room and tucked me up in my bed. I told him I was sorry for how things had ended, and that I regretted not telling him about my new boyfriend myself. He said it was fine. All was well. I rolled over and went to sleep.

When I woke up later, I felt weird. I was still in my bed, under the covers, but I had that very specific feeling of… I don’t know the word – openness, maybe – that only comes after sex. I ran my hands over my body and found that I was not wearing anything below the waist. I panicked for a moment and then rolled over to look across my room. Dom was there, playing on my computer. “Hey, sleepy head,” he smiled. He looked a little weird. A bit shifty.

“Did you… ” I couldn’t finish my sentence. “Did we…” again I swallowed my words.

His head drooped down a little, and he didn’t look at me. He started rambling. “I just figured… I mean, you were giving me all the signals… You seemed like you were enjoying it, so I just…”

I had tears in my eyes. This was my best friend. This was my own home. My mother was asleep a few doors away. My little brother was in the room next to mine.

I didn’t say a word. I just went down and took a shower, shame washing over me. I cried until there was nothing left. When I came out, he was waiting in the living room. “I think you should go,” I said. He stuttered and stammered, and I saw a flash of fear in his eyes. He quickly left, making sure to grab the rest of the booze.

I couldn’t process what had happened. I went back to my room and closed the door. I went to the computer, and a message popped up from my boyfriend, five hours ahead in the UK.

IS EVERYTHING OKAY?

I didn’t know what to say. He said he just got a weird feeling that something was wrong, and he wanted to check on me.

I THINK I’VE BEEN RAPED.

His reaction was… not what I expected. I thought he’d be angry at Dom. I thought he’d ask questions and try to help. I thought he’d give me comfort. Instead, the phone rang, and he immediately started screaming at me. He was furious. He was furious at Dom, but he was hugely angry at me, as well. He first accused me of lying to him or cheating on him. I tried to calm him down so I could talk to him about it properly, but he was too angry. It was my fault for drinking. It was my fault for letting him into my house, into my room. He was an ex-boyfriend – I shouldn’t have even been around him.

I cried and begged him to please calm down. Instead, he insisted I go and wake up my mother and have her take me to the hospital immediately. I told him I didn’t want anyone to know, and he screamed again, saying if I didn’t wake her up, he’d call her himself. He insinuated that if I wasn’t willing to do it, it would force him to think I was lying to him about it.

I meekly promised I would go wake her up and tell her. But he wouldn’t let me off the phone. He wanted to listen to me wake her up and tell her. He had to be sure.

Feeling nothing but shame and humiliation, I slowly walked to my mother’s bedroom and stood outside her door. I’d just suffered the worst betrayal of my life, and now I was being forced to do something else I didn’t want to do. I hadn’t even had time to process or understand what had happened, and I felt robbed of any power over the situation.

I took a breath and went in to see my mom. She woke up immediately, “What’s wrong?” she asked. I began crying hysterically and told her what had happened. “That son of a bitch!” she yelled.

As she got up and made ready to take me to the hospital, I got back on the phone with my boyfriend. He was crying by this point, upset at what was happening. He was finally showing some concern for me. He made me promise to call him when I got home.

Once at the hospital, I was looked over, tested and photographed. There wasn’t much to see. I had already showered away any evidence, and when an officer came to take a statement, he made it clear that my past sexual relationship with Dom would mean that it was unlikely anything would happen. At that point, I chose not to press charges. I simply wanted to go home.

My little brother had loved Dom. He thought of him as his own big brother, and when he found out what happened, he was livid. He messaged Dom demanding an explanation. Dom began defending himself.

YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR SISTER IS LIKE, MAN! SHE WAS ALL OVER ME. I GOT CONFUSED.

My brother wasn’t having it. He spelled it out.

SHE WAS ASLEEP, DUDE! WHAT YOU DID WAS RAPE!

Dom was clearly freaking out. He admitted that he knew it was rape, but that he hadn’t MEANT to do it. He said he’d broken every bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade when he got home. It was the alcohol. He had made a bad decision because of alcohol. He wasn’t a bad guy. He had just done a stupid thing.

No one in my family has spoken to Dom since that night. Mutual friends admit they heard about what happened. One of my closest guy friends made it clear where he stood. “I’m so sorry this happened, Katie. But… you know… Dom’s my friend. He’s not a bad guy. But I gotta stand with my bro.”  Another told me I was being “too sensitive.” He said, “You screwed him loads of times. Why are you making this such a big deal?”

My boyfriend (and eventual ex-husband) would bring it up during any fight for years afterward. He’d get angry with me and accuse me of cheating on him. “I bet you weren’t even really raped. You just wanted to get laid. Why else would you be hanging out with your ex after we got together?”  He’d also bring it up whenever I was drinking (which rarely happened). He’d try to catch me out. He’d smile and say, “It’s no big deal… I just want to know the truth… did Dom REALLY rape you, or did you just make that up to cover your cheating?”

I used to have nightmares every night. I still have them occasionally 15 years later. I used to go into a deep depression whenever November rolled around. Eight years after it happened, I tried to commit suicide because I was still so messed up from everything that had happened. I still tense up when I hear someone casually mention rape (it happens way more often than you’d think).

Now I am a mother to three little boys. I spend most of my waking hours trying to mold them into the best men that they can be, giving them instruction about what is right and what is wrong. I am very careful to teach them about the need for consent. We speak frankly about bodies and they know that it is not okay to touch anyone without permission. Sometimes I catch myself saying, “Give me a kiss,” and I stop and change it to something less demanding. “May I have a kiss?” gives them control of the situation. If they say no, I am tempted to give a fake pout, but again I have to stop myself. Guilting someone into doing something they don’t want to do is awful, and I don’t want to teach them that power of persuasion.

There is no handbook on how to teach boys to be good men. Rapists know right from wrong. They understand their actions, whether they admit it or not. It takes a very specific kind of disregard for your fellow humans and an incredible sense of entitlement to force yourself on another human being without explicit consent. But boys learn by example. Society still accepts rape with a “boys will be boys” mentality. Victimized women are too often told that they are to blame. Short skirts, flirty attitudes, reputations and drinking are not invitations for molestation, yet they are so often pointed to as valid reasons for sexual harassment.

When a rape victim speaks out, she is torn apart. Race, socio-economic status and background are offered up to the court of public opinion, and often we are beaten before we even start. We look for clues as to why it happened. But we don’t look at the man. He’s just a silly boy, after all, who made a mistake. But the woman – what was she wearing? What was she saying to him? Was she promiscuous? Was she poor? Was she uneducated? Was she drunk? Was she giving off certain signals? She should know better. It is up to her to protect herself.

And here’s the rub – I see stories like Brock Turner, who knowingly raped a woman behind a dumpster, and I can’t think of him as a monster. While he deserves to be punished (indeed much more than he has been), I have to admit that he is another kind of victim. He was clearly not taught the idea of permission. He seems to have lived a golden life where he was always a star, given kudos and pats on the back instead of being educated about morality. Many star athletes are given special treatment in school and in society. Their antics are forgiven because they are “just blowing off steam.” We see it every day in the media – Steubenville High School, where a victim of gang rape was sent death threats by community members angry that she was endangering the football team, a BYU student who was kicked out of school because she was raped after taking drugs, a Pennsylvania woman who was blamed for her own rape by a violent sexual predator inside of a prison in 2014.

Brock Turner, like so many other young men, has been part of a rape-culture society that sees women as the problem. He’s like my toddler son who sees a tray of cookies on the counter. He knows it’s wrong to take it, but he is sure he won’t possibly get caught, so he takes the chance. The difference between my son and Brock Turner is that my three year old feels remorse when he is seen. He apologizes. He accepts his time-out, even though he wishes it were shorter. And he promises he will never steal a cookie again.

Turner’s own father drives the point home in his tone-deaf Plea for Lenience letter, which fails to acknowledge not only the victim, but the actual act of rape itself. He suggests the entire problem is with binge-drinking and sexual promiscuity, and he offers up his son as the perfect spokesperson to educate young people on the dangers inherent within. Make no mistake – binge drinking does not make you a rapist. Choosing to have sex with a non-consenting human makes you a rapist. Binge drinking does not make you forget what is right and what is wrong. Binge drinking simply lowers your inhibitions so that you no longer care.

The fact of the matter is that we need to make some big changes as a society. We need to educate our boys, making it clear in everything they see and hear that they do NOT have dominion over women. We need to educate our girls to stand up for themselves, accept and expect respect and to value themselves every single day. We need to have harsher penalties for rapists, and we need to enforce those penalties every single time. We need to believe in women.

We need to believe women.

The lasting repercussions from rape are tragic. It doesn’t have to be a brutal or bloody assault to ruin someone’s life.

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