In the autumn of 1986, my best friend and I, who were high school freshman attended the annual homecoming dance. The night started out as any other of this kind in our small town school, meeting up with friends, comparing outfits, discussing music and who else we might see that evening.
About an hour in, my friend, whom I shall refer to as Marie, was asked to go for a walk by a senior, whom I shall refer to as Brad. She was quite keen as Brad was popular, attractive and a successful athlete. We were both quite excited at the prospect that he might take the opportunity, once alone, to ask her out on a date.
How naïve we were.
Over an hour passed before I saw her again and I was beginning to ask mutual friends and acquaintances if they had seen her in the venue. I was getting nervous as were supposed to share a ride home together with my Mom, who would be arriving shortly.
I waited by one of the exits. A few minutes later, she entered from the direction of the football field and approached me, still wearing the black and white paisley jacket that I had loaned her that night. She locked eyes with me and grabbed my arm, digging her fingernails in so deep that it left marks. She began to cry hysterically and I quickly pulled her into the bathroom before the ever-judging gaze of our classmates fell upon her. When I stepped behind her, I saw that her entire backside was covered with near freezing soaking wet mud. It was in her hair, on her neck, all over her clothes and on her shoes. To be honest, I don’t remember what she said to me in detail, other than that she begged me not to tell anyone, especially her parents, who were staunch Catholics. It was obvious that something physical had happened between her and Brad she feared punishment for pre-marital sexual activity. I tried to comfort her and promised her that I wouldn’t say anything. Something I regret more than anything in my life to this day.
We rode in the back of my mother’s car in silence and upon arriving at my house, my mother, who did not notice the mud in the dark country night, went into the house. Marie and I sat in the car for over 2 hours while she recounted every detail of what had transpired between her and Brad that evening. It started out innocently enough, with them walking out to the sports fields, chatting and eventually holding hands. Then he kissed her. Her first kiss, which she recounted as any girl of 14 would. There was shyness and wonder and romance in her voice. Her tone changed as she described how he grabbed her and pushed her to the ground, pulled down her jeans and forced his fingers inside her. She told me about how he explained everything he was doing to her as he did it because she was so much younger than him and she needed to learn. Then he raped her, blew his nose into the grass by holding one nostril shut with his dirty fingers that had been inside her, and walked her back to the edge of the football field so that no one would see them returning together.
When she was finished, I took Marie inside, and washed her in the kitchen sink. The bathroom was too close to my mother’s room and I didn’t want to wake her. I gently wiped her neck and removed the dead grass and mud from her hair. I cleaned her back and discovered scrapes and bruises under the dirt. I made her a snack and tucked her into the guest bed next to mine. She kept asking me not to say anything. I never did. Instead, I watched her gradually grow into self-destructive person, instead of the successful confident woman she had the potential to be.
Years later, when we were both at different colleges, she called me to tell me that Brad had contacted her out of the blue. She confronted him angrily over the phone telling him that he ruined her life, which by now was a life filled with drugs, failed abusive relationships and friendships, deteriorating grades and at least one abortion.
He replied, “I know, I’m sorry. So… do you want to meet up?”
It is this kind of male entitled thinking that brings me around to the Brock Turner case. If the graduate students had not happened up Emily Doe’s assault that night in January 2015, there would be no Brock Turner case. Just as there was no case against Brad because of my own and Marie’s foolish silence and fear.
Brad is on Facebook now. He has daughters. I wonder if he thinks about his brief “actions” from that night 30 years ago when he hugs them. I wonder if breaking our silence in 1986 would have even mattered.
I had hoped that time would have changed things. However, it is clear to me, through the marginalization of Mr. Turner’s “actions” by the male authority figures around him that sadly, it has not. They blame “party culture” and alcohol, and do everything in their power to shift the responsibility everywhere except where it should lie on Brock Turner. Without proper punishment, this young man, who bears a striking resemblance in family background, athletic achievement and even physically, to the Brad in Marie’s story, will likely not learn his lesson. 30 years from now, he will have a great life. While, Emily Doe will struggle with self-esteem and trust issues for many years. The fear of being judged and punished was and still is very real for young women everywhere. Empathy must be taught to all young people. Now. And we, as the adults need to pay attention, and teach them that “actions” have consequences.