Sunday Reflections: What Should I Tell My Daughters? An open letter to Judge Aaron Persky
Judge Aaron Persky,
I have two daughters. This fall, one of them will start the 8th grade. It was while I was in the 8th grade that I was repeatedly molested by someone I knew and trusted. My goal this year is not to help her get straight As or learn a second language, it is to get her through this year without the same things happening to her that happened to me. I want my daughter to finish the 8th grade without the emotional scars that I carry at the hands of a man who sexually violated me and changed the course of my future, which he had no right to do.
But even if we make it safely through this year, she will not be out of the woods. 1 in 4 girls are the victims of sexual violence by the time they are 18 years old. This means that I have to work hard during the next 5 years to get her to the age of 18 without being a victim of sexual violence. It’s exhausting work trying to keep our daughters safe, knowing that in reality, the only real thing that will keep them safe is that the men in their lives will choose not to rape them.
But even then, she is still not safe. She is a smart kid. She wants to go to college, possibly to be a physical therapist or a political aide. I will have to send her to college with the knowledge that even there, as she is simply trying to learn and grow so that she can help others, she has a 1 in 4 chance of being a victim of sexual violence. 1 in 4.
Being the parent of a teenage daughter is terrifying.
It has been 30 years since I myself was a victim of sexual violence. I am mostly okay at this point, though many things can trigger me in an instant. Reading a book. Watching a movie. If my husband touches me in a certain way. Hearing that a judge like you once again sentenced someone who was found guilty of three felony counts of sexual violence and rape with a slap on the wrist in the form of a 6 month sentence of which he may serve 3 months. It’s triggering to hear people like you blame the victim of a crime, to hear you express concern over the rapist instead of the victim of rape.
I was in the 9th grade when I told someone what had happened to me. The cops came and talked to me. And then nothing. Nothing at all happened. I had to leave my childhood home and friends to create a safe space for myself. I had to cut off members of my family to keep myself safe. But I would never feel safe again.
If I am in a space waiting for an elevator and those elevator doors open and there is a man or men on the elevator, I don’t get on it. I don’t park in parking garages. I don’t walk places, even in broad daylight (I’m sorry environment). 30 years later and I actively work daily to try and keep myself safe. You never truly get over what happened to you. You survive it, you may even thrive, but it remaps your brain.
Becase the truth is, we can’t keep ourselves safe. Not really. If someone is bound and determined to rape us, they will.
Another truth is, it’s not our responsibility to keep ourselves safe. It’s your responsibility not to rape me. It was Brock Turner’s responsibility not to rape someone. The only thing that can really keep our daughters safe is if the men that they encounter make the choice not to rape them. That is the only thing that prevents rape.
Many people are blaming this instance on drinking, party and hookup culture, etc. But that is not where the blame lies. The blame lies solely with Brock Turner. A majority of men who drink or get drunk never rape anyone. Because they are not rapists. They are not entitled, privileged men who won’t take no for answer, who will get violent when rejected, who will take advantage of a unconscious human being. They are not the type of men who objectify and dehumanize women. Brock Turner was and is. And based on your sentencing, I have to assume that you are as well.
I was in my 30s when I had my first glass of wine. I had been married for more than 10 years. I was a mother. I was at a BBQ and Bible study with my church fellowship group. Do you know what happened? I drank that one glass of wine and fell asleep within 10 minutes on the couch. The men around me were also drinking. Do you know what they did? They pulled a blanket over me. When I woke up about 20 minutes later, they teased me. They mocked me. But they did not rape me. They could have, but they didn’t. Because they were not rapists. They valued and respected women. They valued and respected me. (And no it was not because they were Christian men, sexual violence occurs just as much in the church as it does anywhere else.)
My daughter, like most teens, spends time every day reading on the Internet. What should I tell her when she reads that a man dragged an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster and raped her? What should I tell her when she reads that the only reason he stopped was because he was interrupted by two passersby who were concerned about what they saw? What do I tell her when she reads that this young man was only sentenced to 6 months in prison? What do I tell her when she asks why you cared more about his comfort and safety then that of the young woman whom he raped?
My daughters are growing up in a world where they are constantly told that they have less value then men, and they are told that the only things that matter are the ways in which they look and that they sexually satisfy the needs of the men around them. You had an opportunity to send my daughters and the culture that they are growing up in a different message. You had an opportunity to send the boys and men in my life an important message about the value of girls. But you failed them. You failed us all. And more importantly, you put them once again in danger. That’s right, your actions put my daughters in danger. And I can’t forgive you for that. You had an opportunity to help keep them safe and to send a different message to the men who rape our daughters, but you didn’t. You have actively put my daughters and all of our daughters in the path of harm by the men like Brock Turner who will rape our daughters and tell them that it was somehow their fault and that the lives of boys matters more than the lives of girls. You sent a message that reinforces rape culture.
You did not just fail Brock Turner’s victim, and make no mistake you did in fact fail her, but you have failed all victims of sexual violence. You failed 8th grade me. You failed my 14-year-old friend who was raped in her neighbor’s garage. You failed my neighbor who was touched by the father across the street. You failed our daughters, our sisters, our aunts, our mothers, our co-workers, our friends. You failed us all. And you put us all directly in the path of harm when you failed us. You, sir, are part of the problem.
Please Note: I am aware that men are the victims of sexual violence and that women are sometimes the perpetrators and view that as an equally horrific crime. This letter, however, is about male on female sexual violence.
Filed under: #SVYALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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