Calling Emily Doe

Posted by Fe Bongolan


What is it to lose your body? The statement by Emily Doe, the Stanford rape victim, went viral as Uranus and Eris approached their conjunction in Aries. Fe Bongolan examines the broken justice system for rape cases, and the political, social and legal machinery determined to keep women silent.

Thursday night June 9, the day of the conjunction of Uranus and Eris in Aries, our theater company The Medea Project — Theater for Incarcerated Women — met for our weekly check in. I brought with me copies of Emily Doe’s statement to her rapist, which was published June 3 on Buzzfeed. As an exercise, each of us took turns reading it, paragraph by paragraph.

The majority of our company are HIV-positive, ex-offenders and recovering addicts. Our company provides a place for women to tell their stories as a means to explore how trauma got them on the path to disease and addiction.

We work with UC San Francisco’s HIV Women’s Clinic, which has done ground-breaking research confirming early trauma as a consistent marker for HIV infection later on in life for young women. The women of our company are survivors of some form of trauma — incest, child abuse, neglect, domestic violence and rape — which has played a part in disowning themselves.

As a dramaturg it is my job not only to help our company get their words right but to help them know what they’re talking about: to feel the words on the page as their own. When we started reading Doe’s statement Thursday night, the delivery of the relentless urgency for truth in Doe’s words did not rise through our voices until we got to this sentence: “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.” Our director Rhodessa Jones had us read those words as a group. Twice.

What is it to lose your body? Cassandra, a member of our company wrote something similar, recounting her own rape as a 12-year old child. She said that because of the rape, throughout her life, “I could feel my body and myself, and they were not the same.”

Like Doe, the dominion over her body was stolen. For Doe, at the moment of her rape, while unconscious. For Cassandra and the group, by circumstances of living while poor, black/of color and female in America. We all exist under the political, social and legal machinery that keeps us silent: the Daddy culture. Hell, if you look at all the ways state legislatures are finding to regard miscarriage as murder, you can see how far male power and privilege is trying to grope all of us using legislation. Daddy culture on steroids.

It’s hard to erase the kind of trauma Doe experienced and described. Millions of women around the planet carry a wound that is something similar or worse inside. She will have that the rest of her life, dealing with that deep in her cell memory like we do ours, which we attempt to explore. As women united under one roof at one table, we were in solidarity, our voices reading Emily Doe’s story, telling it as if it was our own — because it is. Emily Doe is part of our circle.

Ours is an anger so often triggered by unequal justice in prosecuting rape that most of us have gone numb. Justice for rape victims is not a given. A woman’s motives regarding consent in cases of her rape are always questioned. You’re to blame for someone raping you by your dress, your sexual history, your blood alcohol level, your hair, your makeup, your music selection and your proximity. Justice for women of color who are victims of rape and assault is rarer than dragon eggs. It happens, but the sightings are too infrequent to believe it truly exists.

The last time it did, it took the testimony of thirteen victims of Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw to convict him, sentencing him to 263 years in prison. Before he was caught, Holtzclaw raped 36 women — all poor and African-American — over a six-month period. He relied on their silence. He used the ‘power card’ of his badge and their race to pull them over on a traffic stop, subdue them and rape them. The abuse of power, privilege and authority there was clear cut.

Doe’s rapist, Brock Turner, was a white athlete and member of a fraternity in a prestigious university, Stanford, situated in the privileged and predominately white community of Palo Alto, California. Even when found guilty of all three rape counts by the jury, Turner’s privilege was clear cut. Trial judge Aaron Persky — a former athlete reputed for his leniency presiding over rape cases involving athletes — said, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”

The judge’s response was the ‘old boy’s club’, echoing words from Brock’s father pleading against the ruination of a young man’s life for “twenty-minutes of action.” Brock’s mother wrote a tearful letter detailing the young man’s character from childhood, echoing disbelief that such a good child could be capable of such violence. His father mourned Brock’s loss of appetite for a good steak, as if to eclipse the fact he treated a young woman’s body as a piece of meat. Turner’s parents and his defense team played the ‘privilege card’ after losing, and Judge Persky bought it.

For three charges of sexual assault the maximum sentence for anyone other than Brock Turner would have been 14 years. If the assailant wasn’t white and in the wrong state or county, it would have easily been double. Instead, Turner was sentenced to six months in jail with three years probation and will reportedly serve only three months of the light six-month sentence, with lifetime registry as a sex offender and attendance of a sex offender management program. He is expected to be released Sept. 2.

With the judge’s lenient sentence, Brock’s fraternity and family upbringing, his light sentence represents young white males gone bad yet sanctioned socially, culturally and legally, even with an actual guilty verdict by jury. No responsibility for the young woman’s life he ruined. Instead his social privileges and standing suffered. It was also reported that Turner had even texted pictures of Doe’s breasts to his friends in a group chat before he assaulted her. Those pictures, Brock’s trophy shots, were in police custody, but it’s unclear as to whether they made it to court.

Doe was correct in assessing her position as a woman whose alcohol consumption led her to passing out, making her a “wounded deer” and easy prey. She took full responsibility for that. When you look at the police photos of Brock’s face, you have to wonder: what was he feeling that a few drinks gave him license to unleash? Was it peer pressure for scoring a hook-up his freshman year at a fraternity? What did his parents do or not do in teaching Brock to understand the value of a woman’s consent? Or did they teach him that only certain people deserve his consideration and respect?

The questions don’t begin and end with Brock, his parents or the court. They start. The system of punishment for crimes of sexual assault in our state and the judicial system are ripe for review. Amazing this is happening while Uranus, the planet that shakes things up, is teamed up with Eris, which Eric writes is “the castaway aspect of the feminine: the one who is not invited to ‘the party’,” in the sign of Aries: the fighter leading the way around the wheel of the zodiac.

(UPDATED) This Wednesday, Santa Clara Congresswoman Jackie Speier will be reading Emily Doe’s statement on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Beginning to end, it will take about an hour to read through.

I wish our company was there to help her read it. I hope some of you who can get C-Span watch it. Emily Doe’s rape was sanctioned all the way from the back of a dumpster to a courtroom in Santa Clara, CA. We women — poor, young, of color or not, here in the U.S. and around the world should know this story all too well — symbolically as well as actually.


Curious about what the epic Uranus-Eris conjunction means for you? Intrigued by the dance of Neptune and Chiron in Pisces? In our exciting new class with Eric Francis, The Astrology of Now, your questions will receive thoughtful and insightful answers — and you’ll have lots of fun in the process. You may sign up here.

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Fe Bongolan

About Fe Bongolan

Planet Waves writer Fe Bongolan lives in Oakland, California. Her column, "Fe-911," has been featured on Planet Waves since 2008. As an actor and dramaturge, Fe is a core member of Cultural Odyssey's "The Medea Project -- Theater for Incarcerated Women," producing work that empowers the voices of all women in trouble, from ex-offenders, women with HIV-AIDS, to young girls and women at risk. A Planet Waves fan from almost the beginning of Eric's astrology career, Fe is a public sector employee who describes herself as a "mystical public servant." When it comes to art, culture and politics, she loves reading between the lines.

9 thoughts on “Calling Emily Doe

  1. aWord

    All white mails are not privileged, but this one’s parents fought for him to have the “right” to behave as he did (according to some reports, the mother pleaded for her son in part by stating that they were not as affluent as they appeared and struggled financially in order to send him to Stanford–as if this makes it all better). Somewhere in there, is the idea that they purchased privilege for their son, a license to be immoral, and to not pay for it when the piper played; privilege being a pre-paid debt of some kind.
    The rape culture school of thought applies in many ways; there are “friends” of my daughter who propose that if she had not gone to take photos for her class (in what should have been a perfectly safe environment) she would not have become victim to a predator. We have many disguises for our need to destroy… (list of destruction here)….stepping off soapbox now; Thanks, Fe. Poignant, important read.

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author

      Thanks, a word.

      No, not every white male is privileged, but the family’s defense attorney accessed and used the usual SOP in prosecuting the victim, which is the holy tablet of keeping women in obeisance of The Rules, even with crimes committed upon her, and not free to be herself in the world. Which is the real point of this day and age, and two big planets in movement to awaken castaway women, as they awakened us to Emily Doe.

      I hope you one day soon find peace in justice attained for your daughter, and that we all build a world where women are safe, wherever they choose to be.

  2. Glen Young

    Thanks Ms Fe; been trying to help a now 13 years young girl (eleven years old was when I met her and totally shut down). Child abuse, neglect, and lately domestic violence. Where I believe, she called the police herself. The self hate and rage produce by this child is the Sun in a separating conjunction with Pluto in her 7 house natal chart; (square the Moon), but trine Jupiter in Leo in her 4 house. Her Roots. The Sagittarius Sun is in mutual reception to Jupiter as well. Making the 4 & 7 houses intimately connected. There’s so much more to her astrology, but you already know the stories of our inner city youths, and the monumental struggles they have at such a young age. It’s just incredible.

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author


      Good you’re there now, to keep her on a path to cope, heal and grow from the trauma. She needs all the help she can get to tell her story and keep telling it so that she can begin to see what happened with an open perspective, where she is not to blame. And the shame of it can be an unspeakable experience sometimes — more to cope with than what’s “normal” for a girl her age. I hope you can guide her to support groups that can help her through.

      One of the things we’ve come to recognize with the Medea Project is that the stories told about us need to come from US. Holding on to our truth, even when society immediately puts the blame on us, or the atmosphere and social pressure wants us to take on more responsibility for something that really wasn’t our fault to begin with. The buzz on Emily Doe’s story going viral all the way to Congress is significant. I hope you can share that with her in some way, particularly this passage:

      “To girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamont once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you.”

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author


      I’ve seen it! Love it. In fact we used it once at a performance we did last year. Isn’t it perfectly right on the nexus of what we’re talking about here today on the front page of the PW blog?

  3. Amy Elliott

    From Democracy Now!, June 9:

    Right before sentencing Stanford rapist Brock Allen Turner to six months in county jail, Judge Aaron Persky presided over a domestic violence case, where the abuser was also dealt a light sentence. Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber watched as the victim in that case made a powerful statement to the court and showed photos of her abuse.

    “She had been beaten so badly that she was completely unrecognizable. … the photos were almost impossible to look at,” recalls Dauber, who is leading an effort to recall Persky. “[Her abuser] got like a weekend or two in jail.” Even then, Dauber says, Judge Persky was concerned the man might not be able to make it to work on Monday after his jail term. “We all had to sit there while they tried to communicate with the county jail to make sure that he wouldn’t be super-inconvenienced by having to go to jail for having basically almost beaten this woman to death,” Dauber says.

    1. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author


      With so much commentary in the political and judicial blogs about whether or not Persky should be recalled — so much against because its impossible and that it sets a bad precedent — that this new information makes the picture high-definition widescreen, not “normal” viewing.

      Will look into Dauber’s movement and the recall effort. He just got re-elected for another term over a week ago in the CA primary.

  4. Fe BongolanFe Bongolan Post author

    From San Jose Mercury News:

    PALO ALTO — In a sign of growing problems for the judge who ignited a national controversy by handing a light sentence to a former Stanford athelete convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious intoxicated woman, prosecutors Tuesday got him kicked off another sex case.

    Santa Clara County prosecutors filed the peremptory challenge against Judge Aaron Persky on Tuesday morning, automatically preventing him from presiding over a preliminary hearing for a Kaiser Permanente surgical nurse accused of sexually assaulting a sedated woman.

    The move came the day after Persky took the unusual step of dismissing an unrelated misdemeanor case Monday — in mid-trial. But the controversy first began earlier this month, after Persky sentenced former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a young woman outside a campus frat party, sparing him from a prison sentence sought by prosecutors. The light sentence sparked global outrage and a looming recall threat after the victim’s emotional 12-page impact statement went viral.

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