This month, a woman who was sexually assaulted while unconscious by Stanford University student Brock Turner read a powerful letter to him during his sentencing hearing in a California courtroom.
Judge Aaron Persky then handed Turner six months in county jail — he's likely only to serve three — even though he faced a maximum of 14 years and prosecutors recommended six years. Persky said a longer sentence in prison would "severely impact" Turner's life.
The letter quickly went viral, drawing a heartfelt response from millions worldwide, including a long letter from Vice President Joe Biden. People protested at Stanford's graduation and more than a million have signed petitions to get Judge Persky removed from the bench.
Many survivors of sexual assault who read the Stanford letter began writing their own. Some wrote in response to the author, known as Emily Doe, thanking her for spreading awareness and helping people understand what they have been through. Others wrote a version of her letter to the men who raped them. Many had never spoken publicly about their experiences before this.
Below are 19 letters and poems written by survivors of rape and sexual assault from all over the U.S. Some women asked to be anonymous or use their first name only. Some letters have been edited for length.
Some of these letters contain graphic depictions of sexual assault and its effects.
Alicia Arman, 24
Emily Doe’s letter sparked, in me, a profoundly personal call to action. What she wrote I could have written, and I think that’s why the response from Judge Persky and the legal establishment feels so intensely personal to me.
Six months — all I’m worth is six months?
I’m going to law school this fall, and now I have a pair of eyes to stare into in case I forget who I’m fighting against. After reading the letter, I picked up my law books and got to work.
Because guess what: One day I’ll have Judge Aaron Persky’s job, and I’ll do it right. And it’s not just me: soon all of us Emily Does will come right up behind him, take his job, and remake the system into the one it should have been all along.
So get ready, Brock Turners and Aaron Perskys of the world. #IAmEmilyDoe and I am not afraid.
Lauren Allen, 17, Washington State
I am currently a senior in high school and will be graduating in just a few short days. The summer after my sophomore year I was raped by a fellow student I was dating.
In the past I have tried again and again to write a letter to my rapist explaining what he did wrong but I was never able to convey what I wanted. Brock Turner’s victim made me feel like I wasn’t alone, like there were people out there like me who were painted as liars and whores, in even the most subtle of ways, but that no matter what, that isn’t true. Victims are not liars or whores or cruel women trying to ruin a good kid’s life. The victim’s letter to Turner was the epitome of what I wish I could have said to my rapist.
The strength Turner’s victim has shown gives me hope that one day I could be as strong as her.
Brock Turner reminds me of my own rapist. He took responsibility for the wrong things. My rapist sent me an apology about six months after the rape but never apologized for anything in particular, just told me he was sorry about “what happened.” He never said what it was that “happened.” If he knew what he had done and genuinely wanted to apologize he would have apologized for what he did, not what happened. I never reported my rape because of cases like the Stanford case where perpetrators are let off the hook and seen as more important than victims.
When I was just 16 I had to deal with the horror of being a sexual assault victim, the doubt of my own life events by myself and others, the decision whether to “forever change,” aka hold responsibility to, my rapist, and admit to myself that I was raped. My life was permanently damaged by a kid that was too old not to know what he was doing was wrong, just like Brock Turner.
When Judge Persky claimed that Turner’s future didn’t deserve to have a severe impact like that of his victim’s, he told every victim with an assailant who is apparently a good person, that they are worth less than their assailant. That they are inherently a bad person for being assaulted.
Brock Turner’s victim represents all victims who have been questioned, blamed and shamed for what happened to them. She represents the victims who were told their assailants were good people and wouldn’t have done something so horrific. She represents all victims whose memories were doubted, whose assailants claimed they liked it, who were seen as less important than their assailant.
Lauren Allen is on the advisory board of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, an organization which aims to end sexual assault in K-12 schools.
Nina C., 24, California
I didn't know I was raped at first, I thought I had set myself up for it. He was the bartender where I worked and we shamelessly flirted for months. I thought he was cute, he was smart, we would joke, he was a breathe of fresh air.
The 'breathe of fresh air' knocked the wind out of me when he shoved me against the wall behind the restaurant. He told me that it was what I wanted and, concussed and confused, I convinced myself that I had asked for it. The next day, he told me we both drank too much and should never talk about it again.
I identify with her, her letter, and her resounding message. The culture we live in steers us away from the crime itself by covering up the issue. Her words brought up emotions that I had ignored for a very long time. I was silenced because I couldn't face the professional repercussions that would follow my accusations. The victim of Brock Turner's rape is the bravest woman and I applaud her for her courage.
She gave victimized women a voice of hope after we have been silenced in the society that enables these horrendous crimes.
Chloe Allred, 25, Laguna Beach, California
To my rapist:
You tried to, but didn't steal my freedom. You thought your desire was more important than my humanity. The way you touched me made me repulsed by my own body. It haunted me, in my classes, with my friends, at night. Your lies and actions made parts of my life and friendships crumble, and for that, I hate you.
I had friends leave me and family members blame me for what you did, but I will not take on what should be your guilt. Despite you, I know love. I know what real desire is. I know what consent looks, feels, and sounds like. I love my body, despite you. The law wasn't able to label you a sex offender, but you and I both know you are.
Yes, I still sometimes wish I could break your legs with my tennis racket, but when I really think about it, I don't want to hurt you. It wouldn't solve anything. It wouldn't undo what you did to me. It wouldn't make what you did to me okay. I want you to learn. I want you to admit to what you did, apologize, change yourself, and never do it again. I don't know where you are or what you're doing with your life, but I hope you never chose to and will never choose to rape again.
Jacqueline Lin, 21
Please picture the woman's face and take the very first image that forms in your mind. What do you see? Is she white? Is she pretty? Is she fragile? Let's take a moment. If she is a combination of those things, you might be imagining the "perfect" victim — the only viable victim. I cannot help but think that if the public had known who she was, it would have picked her apart based on her history, her race, her age, her education, her family, and her identity. Found something to justify this injustice.
I am so grateful for the woman's decision to remain anonymous. She has given survivors everywhere a voice by simply identifying as a woman. She has united the public in their anger and in their desire for a change. She is truly a beacon for us all.
"Brock Turners" happen not only in court, but even more frequently during university investigations of sexual assault. Rapists are set free and victims are gagged under immense threat of lawsuits. My rapist at Stanford was an RA on his way to attaining a medical degree. I fear for those he has control over, but I cannot say anything. I can only scream.
Madeline, 19, Redmond, Washington
Reading this story so many details resonate with me. I never got a court case, the police decided to drop my case before ever talking to my assailant, so I will never have a chance to read a letter like this to him.
He will never feel any consequences for violating me, but now over a year and a half after my assault I’m still in counseling and undergoing treatment for anxiety stemming directly from his actions.
Over the weeks and months following my assault I lost friends, got into arguments with my family, was put under investigation by my university, and suddenly felt the culture I had grown up in recoil in disgust from me. I felt like because I had done everything “right,” I was expected to “stay strong,” and no one understood or had sympathy for why I would have emotional issues in the aftermath.
I had to laugh it off, make up sarcastic jokes about it with my friends, just to prove to everyone how normal and unaffected I was to try and maintain the friendships I could.
I know all too well the devastating effects of sexual assault described in her letter, and I can’t even begin to comprehend how hard recovery must be from her experiences.
But, I worry that people are only interested in this because of the wealth of details. Bringing my own story forward to the media I found people flock to the details, they care more about who touched you and where and how and when and what you were wearing than they do about the fact that you’re a person who was violated.
Are survivors only worthy of sympathy if they hand over a full crime report?
Hetty Weinstein, Florida and Maya Weinstein, 22, Washington D.C. — Mother & Daughter
We are beyond thankful to the woman who shared her voice through her honest and powerful letter. Because of her, a new national conversation has begun. She is changing the culture of this country. Men and women who previously did not pay attention to the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses are now speaking out and fighting for the rights of survivors.
Hetty: They tried to destroy your soul. They took my daughter away. Everything was a fight. I have you back now. But it was a long a difficult journey I wish we all did not have to take. I am proud of you.
Maya: As a survivor, I understand that she would want to give all of this up to have her life back. There are days that all I want to do is fight, share my story, and lift others up. There are days that I want to stay in bed and cry. Days when I would give up every opportunity for activism to go back to October 29, 2012 and pass by the fraternity house on the way home, instead of stopping inside.
Now, it is the responsibility of every single individual to learn from Emily Doe’s words. It is on all of us to act compassionately and to treat each other as humans. Because, man or woman or other, we are all human. We should never view each other as anything less.
Danielle Gerg, 35, Louisville, Kentucky
I’ve been silent about what happened in my freshman year of college and only told a very few. I could never compare what happened to this girl to my experience, but her standing up makes me realize that I should talk about it.
I too was drunk. A guy that I knew through friends had constantly hit on me. I was 18, he was 22-24. He was nice, but I had told him I wasn't interested many times. I thought it was my fault because I would flirt back "to keep the peace," but that's where I had always drawn the line. I was not attracted to him.
One night while partying at a friends house and I was very intoxicated, the friend whose house I was at told me to sleep in his bed and he would sleep on his couch. But then the other guy that I had turned down multiple times decides to come in the room where I was drunk and passed out.
I woke up to us having sex. I was freaked out but didn't move. I never consciously told him yes but I was drunk and couldn't remember if I did. I laid there until he was done. I never pressed charges and only spoke of this to a few people until now. This happens more than people ever realize.
This happened 17 years ago. I now question myself as a strong female, why did it take me until today to speak up? I give this girl all the praise I can.
Madeline Wilson, 22, Colorado
Reading Emily Doe's letter, I was both terrified and heartened. Terrified because I thought that when my own rapist hired private investigators to interrogate my friends and coworkers and expert witnesses continually insisted that my accusations had ruined his dream of becoming a surgeon, that he was the exception.
To learn that this, in fact, is the way our country functions, chilled me to the bone.
But I am heartened by Emily Doe's tireless and graceful advocacy. As a young college woman whose sexual assault has also been the subject of news, I can feel the exhaustion between the lines of her letter.
I've learned this year — as I'm sure Emily has as well — that there is strength in exhaustion. There is change in fighting so hard that you don't have time to breathe and your insides feel like they're tearing apart. There is power in being so dehumanized that you have to remind the world that you're still a human each day.
In her statement, Emily says to girls everywhere fighting, growing, learning and recovering, "I am with you" as she stands up against sexual violence and fights rape culture one sentence at a time.
I echo back to her, "I am with you.”
Jessica B., 24, Washington D.C.
I honestly couldn’t finish the letter. I started reading it, and noticed how precise, and how spot-on accurate her words were. I couldn’t believe how raw... I had to stop reading it. It was too overwhelming.
Honestly, my first reaction was happy. He got some time! Well done! He’ll be punished. My case didn’t even go to trial. The policeman didn’t believe me. My friends didn’t believe me. My parents didn’t believe me.
Now I’m seeing the case all over social media, and everyone is sharing it and complaining that our rape culture needs to change. Duh it needs to change. You are just now realizing it? You couldn’t realize that with me? It takes the freaking vice president to make an announcement that this shouldn’t be tolerated?
It’s hard for me to see it. It’s hard for me to understand why this case is a big deal. I want to believe that it is a big deal, but when I read her letter, all I feel is sadness and self loathing. I hate feeling envious of another survivor.
I can completely relate to her feelings and I’m so glad she’s getting positive, public, support, but I feel sad that it didn’t turn out well for me. I feel sad that I lost friendships with so many sorority sisters, because a fraternity boy raped me. I don’t like thinking about my college years. It’s ok though. I graduated a year ago. I’m not there anymore.
I feel guilty for feeling this way, but I can’t help it. I will be OK in a few days. But for now, I’m just going to keep my mouth shut and try to stay focused on how far I’ve come and my positive recovery — just until it doesn’t hurt to see the article on someone’s news feed anymore. It will be OK.
Jasmin Friedman-Enriquez, 24, Pennsylvania
Emily Doe captured what I have lived through every single day of my life for the past seven years when she said, "I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party.”
Just because the physical assault is over doesn't mean my life is back to normal. What I experienced haunts every corner and crevice of my brain.
Being drunk doesn't mean my story doesn't matter. It doesn't mean I don't matter.
Every morning I have to remind myself that I am more. I am someone. I am worthy of love and life and being believed.
Fabiana Diaz, 22, Ann Arbor, Michigan
I read the letter slowly word for word. I had to take a few pauses in between,her words were so piercing and familiar that I instantly had flashbacks to my own experience.
This letter IS powerful. I could not believe what I was seeing, everyone was talking about it, and more importantly they were believing her.
This letter moved people to believe in someone despite knowing what she looked like, how old she was, her name, because it doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter if you drink, it doesn't matter what you wear, it doesn't matter because she is someone and that should be enough. She has the whole entire world at her side and, while the justice system failed her, we cannot and should not.
To me she's not known as the Stanford rape victim or survivor, to me she has a name: hero. I stand with you and all survivors.
Jasmin Friedman-Enriquez founder of Only With Consent
Hailey Rial and her mother
Hailey: Less than a month after college started, I had my body stolen from me. In September of my freshman year at India University I was raped at a frat party recruiting event.
Since then, I have come to terms with what happened; not only with the assault but with the repeated victimization of me through the school, who didn't handle my case correctly.
When I heard about the Stanford case, I was appalled. How could someone be sentenced to just 6 months for taking away a piece of another human being? When talking to my therapist, we compared being assaulted to losing a life: you will never get that part of yourself back.
What Brock Turner did was disgusting. What he and his father don't know is how big of an impact this assault has on the survivor— and she is just that, a survivor. Not a victim. A survivor. However, I am amazed at the survivor. She did what others find so difficult to do and that is to report it. I wasn't lucky enough to have the prosecutor press charges against my rapist. Only a small fraction of rapists are prosecuted, and an even smaller fraction are actually punished.
I stand with the survivor of Brock Turner's horrendous crime. I am proud of her. What she has done will change the lives of all survivors and victims (who lost their lives too soon), and it already has opened the world's eyes to the problem this WORLD — not country — but WORLD, has with sexual assault and rape.
To the survivor: You are brave!
To Brock Turner and his father: You are clueless.
I am the mother of a survivor. My daughter has to live with what happened to her every single day for the rest of her life. She was violated against her will. Imagine what that can do to any young woman, away from home and with very few friends. It changed the perspective of what she thought college was all about.
As for me, I will forever be scarred from this. I ask myself many times why I wasn't there to protect her; what could I have done to change the outcome. She knows that I will always be here for her to vent to, to be a shoulder to cry on or just to talk to. I want to keep her positive, happy and make her laugh. I am here to help her deal with this pain anyway that I can!
As I read the letter from the father of the Stanford rapist, I am appalled. This is not a one sided story. His son violated a woman! His son was found guilty of THREE felonies. All he is worried about is what his son may never have the chance of experiencing. What about what this woman will go through the rest of her life?!
We should not feel any sympathy for this young man. He needs to serve his very small sentence and then prove to society how he is sorry for this crime!
I, too, stand with the survivor, much like I stand with my own survivor.
Sofie Karasek, 22, Berkeley, California
It's important to remember, though, that most sexual assault cases don't have witnesses. Without the Swedish bicyclists, it is unlikely that her perpetrator would have been convicted -- let alone that we would be talking about it. Rarely is a survivor taken at their word.
We must believe survivors. When your friend, child, or sibling tells you that they "think something bad happened" last night, validate them. Say, "It's not your fault. I believe you. You are not alone." Respect their choices whether to seek counseling or to report, and respect their decision not to do so if that's what feels right to them.
Rape is a 100% preventable crime, and when survivors are believed, it becomes less socially acceptable to commit it.
Sofie Karasek is the co-founder of End Rape On Campus
Faith Ferber, 21, Washington D.C.
We live in a society with a broken system, a system that invalidates our trauma and fails to properly punish perpetrators of sexual violence.
We live in a society where we have to redefine our own justice. Brock Turner will never understand the gravity of his actions nor will he suffer consequences even close to what he deserves. In this way, justice has not been served.
But you wrote a letter. A powerful, moving, deeply honest letter that has resonated with millions of people. We stand with you, infuriated by everything that has happened and the larger issues it represents.
We stand with you, dedicated to ending sexual violence and rape culture. For survivors and advocates everywhere, you have validated our pain and our passion. The impact you have had and will continue to have is justice. Thank you.
Myra Crimmel, 24, California
The representative from Judicial Affairs, refused my request for a no contact order. She informed me that the allegations were too extreme and threatened the safety of other University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) students.
Two months later they found him responsible. He could have admitted his fault and accepted the two quarter suspension, UCSB’s “punishment” for rape.
Instead, the woman told me to “let this go” because my actions resulted in the perpetrator having to “delay his education for seven months, that’s a long time,” she said.
He was allowed back after three months. He never had to admit his fault, his lawyers did a good job negotiating while he took classes for two quarters.
Like the warrior from the letter, I wrote my narrative and sent an anonymous copy online: another copy with my identity to the Chancellor.
Like the warrior from Stanford, I have the impulse to help others continue. The more injustice we face, the stronger the drive to do something becomes.
The aftermath of sexual violence is what pushes us to band together.
Public opinion, the media, has finally believed in one of us, stood on our side.
Thank you, warrior from the letter, for sharing your story and giving me validation.
Ibis Valdes, 24, Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica
When the victim's viral letter first came out, honestly I was afraid to read it. I was terrified of holding up a mirror to myself, to possibly relieve the lack of agency and shame that defined my personal experience of being molested. But it had the opposite effect.
While it was still jarring and hard to read, it was refreshing to be reminded yet again that my experience is not unique. In fact, she had a beautifully simple way of writing that poignantly reminded everyone, victim and non-victim alike, that neither drugs, nor alcohol, nor choice of clothing is ever to blame.
I was cringing in anticipation of seeing waves of comments and outrage that were going to leave her victim-blamed to pieces. But instead, people everywhere have been praising her vulnerability and bravery, while rightfully angry and disappointed at both her aggressor, his supporters, and our failed justice system.
I could not be more happy to only see this awareness grow and cement itself into our society.
Dear Emily Doe,
A similar thing happened to me years ago: I blacked out after drinking and woke up naked with a vagina so sore and inflamed that it hurt to wipe. I had obviously been penetrated, though I don’t remember anything. I have explained what happened to me to a number of people, and though most are supportive, I have had loved ones dismiss the experience because I “don’t remember” so I can’t be sure “it was really raped.”
I myself thought this initially, and blamed what happened on my own drinking and poor decision-making. In the weeks that followed, my body told me a different story: I felt nauseous constantly, and had to force myself to eat 2 eggs a day. I had insomnia. Every time I began to fall asleep, my body would spasm and jolt me awake, like it was terrified of unconsciousness. I didn’t blame it. I cried incessantly, violently, for hours. I realized that to heal, I needed to trust what my body was telling me—that I had been violated—and to believe, in my heart, that it was not my fault.
I had heard that victims of sexual assault frequently blame themselves, and it seemed so illogical to me. But after this happened, my first reaction was to blame myself, a reaction I still can’t understand. I do think culture is partially to blame: Sexual assaults involving intoxication are dismissed as “grey lines situations.”
My boyfriend recently made a comment about how what happened to me wasn’t “really rape.” Only after graphically describing the physical trauma I experienced and the excruciating aftermath was he able to fully understand and believe that I was raped. I don’t blame him for his ignorance—it took me a long time to believe this. It did demonstrate to me the prevalence of the toxic view that blacked out victims can’t be trusted.
After observing the response to your letter, I have never felt more optimistic about the possibility of a cultural shift in attitudes towards rape. Every time someone like Joe Biden publicly supports you, it feels like they’re supporting me as well. They’re telling me that they care, they believe me, and they don’t think what happened is OK. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for your eloquence and your courage.
Jodie Goodman, 22, Philadelphia
Dear Rapists in Denial,
The boy who raped me doesn’t think he is a rapist either.
He never faced any consequences for his behavior. Because he didn’t deserve that, I’ve said before.
That’s… too much for… for what? For one drunken mistake? For that one time he just misunderstood what I wanted? For my setbacks in school? For the classes I missed? For the drugs and the therapy and the nightmares and the panic attacks and the fact that I still have PTSD? I know better now.
That night, he did not miss a slight hesitation. He didn’t just forget to ask because he was drunk.
The lamp was on.
He looked directly at my face.
I was sobbing.
The lamp was on; his body heaving above me haloed by lamplight.
My body was limp, he said he thought my crying was moaning.
The college believed him.
But I know he could see my face.
I repeat that like a mantra. He could see my face.
When I think I’m overreacting. Maybe blowing things out of proportion; I should just get over it.
He could see my face. Tears streaming down my cheeks, illuminated by the lamp.
And he looked away. Just like you looked away, and just like everyone looks away when they have to confront the toll that our culture of tolerating and excusing rape takes on society.
You’d never hurt anyone.
Well you did.
You’re not that kind of person.
Well you are.
My skin cells die over time; he’s never touched this body.
But my mind is where I live, and I still live like an uninvited guest.
If it doesn’t go away for me, it doesn’t get to go away for you.
And you deserve that.
Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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