In honor of Women’s History Month, we present 31 Days of Revolutionary Women; a series of daily essays by local authors documenting, honoring and celebrating powerful women who inspire us in South Seattle and beyond.
Editor’s Note: Today’s entry in the Revolutionary Women series, unlike previous essays, focuses on an anonymous woman, the survivor in a rape case, whose identity remains unknown for her own protection and healing.
Her assailant, Brock Turner, a white Stanford student and competitive swimmer, was sentenced to only 6 months in county jail – of which he served just three – because the judge feared a longer sentence might have “a severe impact” on his promising future. The survivor in this case wrote a powerful victim impact statement, which she read directly to Turner at his sentencing, and later chose to publish.
Though we do not know her name or her face, this powerful young woman – whom Joe Biden called “a warrior with a solid steel spine” – has inspired strength, wholeness and transformation among many women, including today’s author.
Trigger Warning: this article contains references to sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to some.
by Danica Bornstein
When my mother, as a young teen, said she’d been groped on the subway, my grandmother said, “You’re making that up. Stop being conceited.”
Raising me, my mother never alleged that violence didn’t happen, but she did pretend it was comical and harmless. She cheerfully told me that a man had blocked her path and shouted, “Your shirt is a liar! It looks like you have titties in there, but there’s no titties in there!” Then she forced out a loud, “Ha!” suggesting that a stranger’s critique of her intimate, personal body is the type of good-natured hijinks a woman can expect to enjoy in this world.
The way I imagine it is this: each generation carries the next as far as they can go. Then the next generation travels a little farther down that road, into new territory that couldn’t be imagined before. My mother gave a little better than was given to her, and I’m thankful for that. But there is a lot of road still to travel.
I have survived multiple rapes and sexual assaults, but almost never reported them. I don’t know why I chose to report it when I was assaulted at a frat party my sophomore year. The Dean could have been a man, but it matters to me – a little bit – that she was a woman. She sensed weakness; I knew what had happened was wrong, but I was riddled with shame and doubt. Why did I get so drunk at the shittiest possible frat? Why didn’t I leave earlier in the night when someone offered me a ride?
“It seems like you’re under a lot of stress,” the Dean responded. “Maybe take a hot bath.”
I made it through the semester, but barely. I maintained a rigorous routine of showering every few hours and rotated who I drank with so no one noticed that I drank every day. I was furious, but my fury had no path to travel. I saw no actions to take, so my rage ricocheted through my body, burning me from inside. At my earliest opportunity, I took a leave of absence and got the fuck out.
It is difficult to convey simultaneously both halves of the truth about rape: the depth of the damage and the indestructible persistence of the survivor’s self. Rape seeks to make a person into a non-person, yet it always fails. At the same time, it does irrevocable, lasting harm. Both are true.
I have never doubted that I am a person. Unlike previous generations, I never said the violence wasn’t real, and I never pretended it was harmless. But I could not imagine ways to face and challenge the powers that moved against my sovereignty. I got farther down the road, but not that far.
The anonymous survivor in the Stanford rape case – who wrote a powerful and detailed victim impact statement, which she read directly to her attacker and later published – embodies this truth so vividly: that rape is violent and outrageous and damaging, and that it still fails to destroy. An object did not write this letter. A powerful human person wrote this letter, and she is unflinching about the harm she has sustained.
Lastly you said, “I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.”
A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect… Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.
She is my teacher. She didn’t let this truth burn inside her like a fever. She spoke these words to the man who raped her, to the court who thought his swimming career was of greater concern than her own body, and to the world. She is a wonder.
I dislike when older people complain about millennials. The young women I know – almost without exception – are fierce, hardworking powerhouses who are doing their best to heal the shit sandwich of a world that we have handed them. I see young women at the front of the struggle for black life and dignity, and at Standing Rock, and in the fight for sexual and reproductive justice. I see them on the front lines of everything. They will take us places we can’t even imagine yet, and our job is to support them but get out of their way.
I work as a counselor with young women. I wish it was rare that I sit with them in the days after they wake up, hurting or disoriented, and realize they’ve been raped; it is not that rare. I tell them, It is wrong what that person did. Your body is still yours and it’s still whole. It always has been, and it always will be.
If I play any role at all in helping them down a stretch of road, I want to help them get as far as they can. I am determined to do better than the Dean did for me, but I’m limited by own imagination. These powerful young women see things I can’t. Where I see a locked door, they see the light under the door, a key, an axe, a window. They will outrun me, and I will follow.
And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you… 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. Thank you.
Originally from Brooklyn NY, Danica Bornstein has lived in Seattle since 1996 and in Columbia City since 2001. She is good at feeding people, singing when others are not around, picking up heavy things, and running very slowly for long distances. She has a super modern family and a very sweet crew of loved ones. She works as a counselor and somatic healer.
Featured image by Eliaichi Kimaro