Joe Biden’s letter to the rape victim who is not named is a milestone on the road to justice.
Today I promise you there are thousands of women lost in a story that begins “When I was raped …”
Some of us relive the story in silence, some of us howl, in fury, in fear, in the knowing that the nightmare isn’t over. Some cry aloud, some swallow the sound, and some spill their anguish onto the page and the screen.
Listen for a moment to that chorus. Thousands of women. A chorus of voices, “When I was raped …”
Listen too, to the men who have loved those women. Who have reached out to touch a shoulder or snuggle close in the middle of the night and then had to remind themselves one more time out of times beyond counting, that she isn’t flinching away from them, but from the memory of being touched.
And to the men who raised these women, who feared this very thing as they watched their daughters bloom from the little kid into a woman-child and had to admit that the time would come when they would not be able to protect her. So they told her to never walk down the street alone, to never drink too much or laugh too loud, or show too much skin. Not because that would excuse the men who had been taught that rape was nothing but “20 minutes of action” but because maybe it would keep those men from noticing her. Men who may never know that their worst fears have come true because their daughters, having heard over and over that walking alone, drinking too much, laughing too loud, and showing too much skin attracts men who commit rape are afraid that they were, actually, “asking for it” and will swallow their story in shame and fear rather than calling it what it is—an inexcusable crime.
And let us not ignore the men who are also reliving a story that begins “When I was raped …” Most of them never have, and never will, tell that story to anyone except themselves. Because if they were raped by a man they are afraid they will be thought weak, and if they were raped by a woman they are afraid that there is something wrong with them that they did not want it or enjoy it. They stand silent in the wings, but are no less a part of the chorus.
Into this chorus comes a letter from Vice President Joe Biden to the “Stanford sexual assault survivor.” Sent to BuzzFeed News yesterday, the open letter begins:
I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul.
He goes on to say that these words, read in court by the survivor to the convicted rapist who had just been sentenced to only 6 months in jail as opposed to the maximum possible sentence of 14 years in prison, should be required reading for men and women of all ages.
And indeed they should. Perhaps not for the reasons that Joe Biden intended.
Joe Biden speaks of a “global chorus of supporters” but there is another chorus that needs to be heard, so long as there is one voice telling a story that begins with, “When I was raped …”
Because, while there are still a horrifying number of people who would rather blame the victim than admit that they, or anyone they know, could easily become one of the voices in chorus of “When I was raped …” many of us need to read this victim’s statement to remember that we did not ask for it, we did not deserve it, we were, in fact, the victim of a crime.
The rapist’s father has referred to this crime as “20 minutes of action.” But this wasn’t “20 minutes of action,” it was a crime.
You see, if a person, regardless of gender, is in any way incapacitated and someone, regardless of gender, takes their wallet, their purse, their cell phone, their watch, we call it what it is—robbery, a crime.
If a person, regardless of gender, is in any way incapacitated and someone, regardless of gender, beats them up, leaves them with bruises, cuts, or broken bones, we call it what it is—assault, a crime.
If a person, regardless of gender, is in any way incapacitated and someone, regardless of gender, kills them, leaving them lifeless without breath or heartbeat, we call it what it is—murder, a crime.
So why then, if a person, regardless of gender, is in any way incapacitated and someone, regardless of gender, performs a sexual act on them do we call it anything but what it is—rape, a crime?
If you have a story that begins with “When I was raped …” remember this; it doesn’t matter whether you were drunk, underage, drugged, asleep, threatened into silence, or guilted into agreement. It doesn’t matter if the rapist is a stranger or your spouse, whether you’ve had sex with them before or have never exchanged a hello. It doesn’t matter whether you were fully clothed or completely naked. A sexual act performed on an unconsenting person is rape, it is a crime, it is never “20 minutes of action” and it is never justified. There is no excuse, there are no mitigating circumstances.
Joe Biden’s letter went on to say:
I do not know your name — but I know that a lot of people failed you that terrible January night and in the months that followed.
We, as a society have failed not only this woman whose name we do not know, we have failed everyone with a story that begins, “When I was raped …” As much as anyone else, we have failed ourselves. But more and more of us are becoming determined not to fail any longer. From the White House to the Frat House to the houses on any block in any town, more and more of us are condemning the crime that is rape. We are condemning those who rape and those, like this rapist’s father and supporters, who condone it.
And those who condone it are part of the failure we as a society have to answer for. I remember, and many of you do too, when those voices would have been in the majority, when most people would have, with varying degrees of sympathy and disgust, agreed that she “got what she had coming to her.”
Those voices don’t only fail the victims, they fail the rapists as well—they breed and foster the idea that sex with a woman is only “20 minutes of action,” and that a person can act in such a way as to deserve to be the victim of a crime. We don’t have to hate the rapist, or his father, hate only breeds more hate. But we do have to change the culture that bred them. The survivor’s statement to her rapist, and Joe Biden’s response to her, have the potential to become milestones on the road to that cultural change.
The Vice President of the United States has made a powerful prediction, and set an irreversible precedent when he wrote these words:
You will never be defined by what the defendant’s father callously termed “20 minutes of action.”
His son will be.
I join your global chorus of supporters, because we can never say enough to survivors: I believe you. It is not your fault.
What you endured is never, never, never, NEVER a woman’s fault.
And while the justice system has spoken in your particular case, the nation is not satisfied.
No, the nation is not satisfied. The chorus survivors and supporters are not satisfied. But we are, at last, being heard. Indeed, this brave, determined woman may not be named, but her voice has the power to change the story for all of us. In the statement she read to her rapist in court she said:
You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.
We know that feeling, all of us who have a story that begins, “When I was raped …” Except for “until today.” And that is what these words, seared on all of our souls, have the power to change. We can all have that day when our voices are heard, when we are no longer howling, or silent, but are strong, clear, articulate, and heard.
Joe Biden said to her:
I do not know your name — but I see your unconquerable spirit.
And today I say this to all of you, to everyone who, like me, has at least one story that begins with “When I was raped …”
I do not know your names. But I see your unconquerable spirit. And I join with you in this chorus that says, “When I was raped it was a crime, it was not my fault, and I am not worth less for having been a victim. In fact, I am worth more because I have survived.”
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