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.