Anonymous Woman Prompts New Rape Law in California

November 26, 2016

Months after her letter to Stanford varsity swimmer Brock Turner went viral with millions of views and social media shares—including recognition by the U.S. Congress, “Emily Doe” has been named one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year.”

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the anonymous now-23-year-old survivor of a sexual assault that took place on Stanford University’s California campus in 2015 was thrust into the international spotlight this summer when the statement she prepared to read to her attacker in court was published. Her message generated more than 11 million views in less than a week.

After a college party in January 2015, “Emily Doe,” as she’s been named, was sexually assaulted by Stanford student Brock Turner as she lay unconscious in an alley. Two men on bicycles witnesses the crime as they road by and tackled Turner as he fled. However, as Glamour told the story, “…it was Doe’s take-no-prisoners telling of what happened afterward – the relentless victim-blaming; the favoring of Turner, a student athlete – that changed the conversation about sexual assault forever.”

The attention received by Doe’s letter, in addition to the public shock resulting from Turner’s short six-month sentence, showed greater awareness and a backlash for the court’s handling of sexual assault cases. Turner’s sentence—thought to be extremely lenient by many—caused California lawmakers to craft a new definition of rape for the state’s statutes. In addition, Doe’s statement also generated greater discussion among many on the subject of sexual assault.

“Her letter was so eloquent and it was so poignant and it characterized, in such an articulate way, what so many victims and survivors go through,” says Jennifer Marsh, vice president for special projects at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

“And the idea that she stood up in court in front of her accuser and read this narrative of her experience in her own words was so powerful, I think that it crossed that line from just having other victims and survivors relate to it, but it spoke to everyone,” she continued. “And I think that that is what really made it a catalyst, something that really engaged people in a whole new way.”

The publicity surrounding the case prompted an attempt to have Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky recalled and a planned protest during Stanford’s commencement ceremonies, showing the outrage with the sentence and an outpouring of support for Emily Doe.

Many legal scholars are asking for a change in the justice system so that sexual assault victims aren’t punished. To that end, the California legislature passed a new law in September that requires those found guilty of sexual assault whose victims are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to give consent for sex to serve time in prison.

Emily Doe’s statement also had influence beyond California, with many coming forward to seek help for sexual assault. After publication of Doe’s letter on Buzzfeed, RAINN saw an increase in hotline usage and disclosure from victims. Further calls came in after her letter was read on CNN, in Congress, and when Turner was sentenced. Some RAINN callers expressed gratitude that Doe gave them “the feeling that they were not alone.”

Emily Doe’s anonymity, who in her letter detailed the feelings she experienced through every stage of her assault and the aftermath, may have been a major reason why her letter resonated so strongly with so many people, said Leigh Gilmore, a visiting professor of women’s and gender studies at Wellesley College.

“She sounded both like herself, and, powerfully, through her decision to remain – thus far – anonymous, she sounded like every woman,” Dr. Gilmore wrote for The Conversation in June. “One of the most important outcomes of the current public attention,” she added, “is that we see how a new voice can disrupt the recycling of … the same old story.”

The new law and the strong convictions of Emily Doe show that victims will be heard.

At the Cifarelli Law Firm, we make it our mission to hold the perpetrators of child abuse accountable for their heinous actions. The compensation we have been able to obtain for our young victims will never replace what was lost, but it will help pave the road to recovery.

Call us today to arrange for a free consultation to discuss your situation with a professional and compassionate Cifarelli Law attorney at (949) 502-8600.

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