“Twenty minutes of action” has haunted me every day for 20 years.
The day the story of the Stanford rape victim’s letter to Brock Turner broke, I was sitting in a courthouse doing jury duty, listening for my name to be called. The waiting-room televisions were all tuned to news shows, and my social-media feeds were full of outrage and petitions for the judge in the case to be recalled. Turner’s father’s letter, saying a prison sentence was too steep a price to pay for “20 minutes of action”, was being splashed all over the media as well. (If you somehow missed that letter, you can read an edited version of it here. It’s much better.)
As it happened, I’d already been thinking about rape that day. When you’ve been raped, the subject is never far from the front of your mind, no matter how long ago the assault happened. For me it’s been more than 20 years, and I still think about it every day, in one way or another. But when I get a jury duty notice in my mailbox, my heart always jumps into my throat, because the first thing I think is: Am I going to have to talk about being raped?
See, when you get called for jury duty, they make you fill out a questionnaire during the voir dire process, and one of the questions they ask is ‘Have you ever been the victim of a crime?’.
The first time I did jury duty was just a year or so after I was assaulted. I never reported my rape to the police, but I’d been through enough individual and group therapy to be able to hold my head high and say “I was raped” when the lawyers asked me to approach the bench and tell them and the judge what sort of crime I’d been the victim of. They looked embarrassed and sent me back to my seat. When it came time to narrow down the potential jurors, I was the first one dismissed.
I was supposed to go back to the waiting area and wait to be called for another case, but instead I walked out of the courthouse, crumpling my summons and tossing it in the trash on my way out. When I got another jury summons soon after, I ignored it.
All these years later, I’d actually been kind of excited for jury duty. I was hoping maybe I’d get to serve on a case, just for a day or two. I thought I might just keep my mouth shut when they asked that question about being the victim of a crime – but I couldn’t. Maybe it was because of the Brock Turner case all over the news that day; I wasn’t going to stay silent and pretend the rape never happened.
So once again, during jury selection, the lawyer for the prosecution asked me what kind of crime I had experienced.
“I was raped in college,” I answered. A murmur rippled through the 20 prospective jurors in the room, and the attorney bowed his head for a moment, then looked up at me.
“I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
“It’s okay. It’s fine,” I said, embarrassed. I shrugged and smiled, trying to put him at ease. Something about his somber face bugged me. I looked around the room. How many of these women had also been victims of sexual assault or domestic violence but would never speak up about it? Most of them, I bet. It made me angry.
That’s just one way being raped messes with your head. I look at everyone with suspicion. I secretly suspect every woman has been raped, or at least abused in some way, and is keeping it a secret so they won’t be looked at the same way I am. They’ll be allowed to serve on a jury while I’ll be turned away every time. Maybe my being dismissed from that selection process had nothing to do with me saying I’d been raped – but how would I know?
Brock Turner’s life may never be the same because of what he did during those “20 minutes of action”. I hope it isn’t, because his victim’s definitely never will be. And never getting picked to serve on a jury is the least of it.
Like me, she will likely spend years in therapy. Maybe she’ll constantly question herself, wondering if everything is always her fault. Wondering if anyone can hear her. She might have trouble staying present during sex, even when she loves and trusts her partner with her whole heart. She might be suspicious of everyone and worry she’s a bad judge of character.
And every time anything about rape or sexual assault is on the news, she’ll flash back to what happened to her… forever.
Comment: What past life experience continues to haunt you to this day?