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.
Laura 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