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Brock Turner, The Theater Teacher And Me

So, a few words (okay, maybe more than a few) on Brock Turner, rape, privilege, recovery, and our justice system.

Brock Turner, in case you live under a rock, was a rising swimming star at Stanford who chose to sexually violate a young woman, run away when he was interrupted, and then steadfastly refuse to accept any responsibility for his actions.

His victim was incredibly brave. She woke up in a hospital to discover she'd been sexually assaulted behind a dumpster after going to a party with her sister. She chose to prosecute her rapist. She suffered and continues to suffer from intense psychological torment.

When the newspapers initially reported her rape, they included mention of Turner's swimming times, because he was a big man on campus and she was just some woman whose life was torn to shreds. Poor Brock. Swimming career over. Kicked out of Stanford. An ugly label to live with.

Brock's father is very sad that his son has had to go through this ordeal. While the victim was vilified by his defense lawyers in court because she had too much to drink at a party, Brock wasn't enjoying his steak the way he used to. Brock's father is shocked that his son has to pay any kind of consequences for "twenty minutes of action." Never mind the fact those twenty minutes destroyed someone else's life. Never mind Brock's twenty minutes took place while she was unconscious on the ground. Never mind the fact your father-of-the-year card gets revoked because you're almost as vile as the rapist son you raised, Mr. Turner. That's right, by dismissing Brock's crimes as hijinks, you've shown the world you're part of the reason he turned out to be a misogynistic criminal.

Brock Turner's crime was so horrific that when he was interrupted by two exchange students who chased him down, tackled him, called the police, then went back to help his victim, one of the men was found sobbing and vomiting over what had been done to the woman. Brock Turner is a monster.

But the judge who presided over his case felt the recommended sentence of 14 years in prison wouldn't do Brock any good. Never mind the little bit of peace of mind his victim might have felt from the sentence. Forget any sense of vindication she and her family might be entitled to. The judge is sure Brock will never do something like this again. So he sentenced him to six months in county jail, with the possibility of release after three months if he behaves himself.

The victim released a bombshell of a Victim's Impact Statement directed at Brock and the court. It is heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching, painful, sickening. And it is true. It is her truth. She was brave enough not only to go to court and relive her rape repeatedly in front of strangers, be vilified for doing something we have all done in our adult lives - had too much to drink - hear the judge essentially dismiss her pain, and still put her words into the world. She is so strong. It is estimated that 75-98 percent of rapes go unreported. She spoke her experience to the world, and gave voice to every victim who has lived with their rape in silent agony.

I was almost one of those people. This is not something I have chosen to share with the world at large. I don't post about it on Facebook. I didn't say anything about it all to anyone for years. My family found me a difficult, sullen teen with a bad attitude but didn't know why. I begged to be sent away to private boarding school, but they thought it was because I was just a bit of a misfit in my tiny public school. I had never been much of a conformist, and the teen years are particularly hard for non-conformists.

What they didn't know, because I didn't tell them, was that I was being raped two to four times a week for two years by my extracurricular theater teacher. I was expected to put out for him on a regular basis and not tell because, he told me, I would lose all my friends and no one would believe me. And, because I was 15 years old when it started, and he was almost 40, I believed him. I was scrawny, my face was prone to breakouts, my clothes were not particularly fashionable, my hair was always a disaster, so why would any man want to rape me?

As time passed and I got older, I discovered that I was not the only girl in my theater group who had been or who was being molested, groomed to be a victim, or raped by this man. My best friend at the time was, unbeknownst to me, another victim. Many years later, in our late twenties, we came up with a list of at least seven girls we knew were sexually violated by him. We had five additional "maybes" we were never able to confirm. When I was 17, he called me to his home so he could do it again. I went, but I gathered every bit of courage I could muster and told him "no." I told him if he ever touched me again, I would kill him. He was shocked and angry, so he did what he was so good at. He turned on his vile smile, batted his eyes at me, and said "I could have AIDS, you know." I stared at him for a second, then turned my back and walked out. It took me a year to find the courage to get tested. He didn't have AIDS. I didn't have AIDS. It was just another way for him to get into my head and tear my sanity apart.

I had a much better last year of high school without being subjected to his physical touch, and I managed to push aside a lot of the internal agony I'd learned to live with. I still didn't tell. Why didn't I tell? Oh God, I wish I'd told. I wish I'd told so no other girls experienced what I did. I wish I'd told so I could have gotten help. I wish I'd told so my severe PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder were never misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. I wish I'd told so my family could have helped me heal. But it was somehow easier not to. It was easier for me to pretend I was tough. I moved to Chicago for college and in my first week there I bought Doc Martens and a biker jacket and I hung out with the cool misfits in the smoking lounge. I got decent grades, I smoked a pack a day, I made friends. I rarely came home, and when I did, I avoided a lot of my old friends.

My last year in college, a professor who had become a good friend and who had a lot of experience with what we then always called "survivors" of sexual abuse (a term I now loathe, but stick a pin in that - I'll come back to it) asked me point blank if I was one of them. He was the first person I told. He was enormously compassionate and sympathetic. He found me a counselor - the first of many. I still never told my family. I felt like the world's hugest disappointment to them. I felt like they would never understand how I could allow something like that to happen to me.

I finished school, and, much to my dismay, had to move back to my hometown for my first "real" job as a journalist. I lived with my parents, I worked, I hung out with a few co-workers, and I kept to myself. It was a great job and I was good at it - enough so that I won awards and had a lot of followers. I couldn't stay at it. I couldn't stay in that place. I couldn't drive through that city and not see things that reminded me of the cold grey February light filtering through the blinds as this short, fat, hairy troll of a man pushed himself inside me.

I moved to Florida without so much as a job offer. I found a job in Tampa as a technical writer after a month or two and moved in with my sister and her husband. I fell in love with a guy I'd met in a chat room a year or so before, and we began a long-distance relationship between Charleston, South Carolina and Tampa. I attempted to carry on with my life, but I was in a constant state of near-collapse. And finally, unexpectedly, the other shoe dropped.

I was at work one day when I received a call from my mother. She was puzzled and concerned because she'd just gotten off the phone with the police in Pennsylvania, and they were looking for me. My parents' address was my last known residence. She'd gotten the officer's name and number and thought I should call him back. Had I done something wrong? What was going on? I couldn't answer her. Part of me knew, but another part was in denial. I was 23 years old. The statute of limitations at that time had run out, so even if I wanted to accuse my rapist, nothing could be done. And I'd kept my secret very well.

The "officer" was a detective. He was kind and calm. My name had come up in conjunction with a case he was investigating. The case involved a young woman who had repeatedly been raped by a theater teacher. He'd given her STDs. She had decided to come forward and press charges. They were looking for other potential victims and she thought it was possible I'd been one. They were having trouble getting any of his students, current and former, to talk. Would I be willing to talk with him?

It was like a dam burst. My heart exploded in my chest. My psyche was shattered. I managed to choke out that yes, I had been a victim too. I explained I was at work and asked if I could call him back. The tears I'd been storing up for close to a decade decided to come. I went to my boss's office and told her I had to leave for the day. I briefly explained why. She was horrified and sent me home. I was never able to return to that job. The years of stifling my pain and self-loathing were just beginning to take their toll. I went home sobbing and explained the phone call to my sister. She was baffled. She understood I was upset that he'd raped this girl, but how did it affect me? I choked out the hardest sentence I'd ever said. "He did it to me first."

My sister and her husband are to be commended for recognizing that I was profoundly broken. I don't remember everything, but I believe my sister called my parents and told them. Together, they did what they thought was best and sent me to a healing seminar at Kanuga, an Episcopal retreat center in the mountains of Western North Carolina. My boyfriend came from South Carolina to see me. Charleston has a medical school - the Medical University of South Carolina - and MUSC has a Crime Victims' Center. We agreed it would be best if I moved in with him and sought help there.

Shortly after moving, I was asked by the detective to write my own Victim's Impact Statement. My teacher was denying everything, some of the families of his students were supporting him (including his attorney, who represented him pro bono), and while I was not able to travel to testify, they believed the letter would make a difference. So I detailed every excruciating moment that was etched in my brain and I sent it off. My rapist (and the rapist of so many other young girls - as young as 12) pleaded no contest. He was sentenced to time served, given probation, and released back into the community. It was an outrage.

Of course, this man was a serial child molester, and within a year his own sister, with whom he lived, turned him in after finding a shrine he'd built to one of his victims in his closet, as well as detailed maps showing how he could get to her where she was at the time in college. He spent another six years in prison where I was told he was not a model prisoner and did not make himself popular. Judge me if you like, but I got some modicum of satisfaction knowing the shoe was on the other foot.

Every time I move, I update my information with the Pennsylvania Office of the Victim Advocate. I rely on them to let me know if he hasn't done his mandatory reporting. He is a registered sex offender for life. He cannot go near a school or a playground. He cannot teach children.

But what about the victims? I mentioned earlier that I hate the term "survivor." It was meant to empower, but to me, it takes away from what happened to us. You survive an accident or a disease. Rape is neither of these things.

Rape alters everything about your life. Twenty-five years after I was first raped, I don't think about it every minute anymore. I still have some symptoms of PTSD and anxiety, but my Borderline Personality Disorder is considered cured after several years of DBT - Dialectical Behavioral Therapy - which teaches trauma victims how to properly process what's happened to them and learn that the the world is not black and white, but full of shades of grey. DBT is, as far as I know, the only treatment proven to cure BPD for some. It did for me. But I'm still a victim, because I was still victimized by the man who raped me over and over again. That will never change or go away. I've been hospitalized three times in my life for suicidal ideation (no attempts). I've been medicated to the gills. Those things are in the past thanks to my DBT therapist.

I am an intelligent and talented woman who has a significant amount of difficulty keeping track of bills, working a standard desk job, remembering to mail things out in a timely manner. All these little things I attribute to the actual physical changes my brain underwent as a result of being raped. Trauma causes brain chemistry to change. The damage doesn't go away. I live a very functional life, despite that. I am close to my family. I have had wonderful, significant relationships with men. I have had my share of crummy ones too, but I think that's normal. I don't have a lot of friends, but the ones I have are great and funny and loyal. I even like (good) sex. But I am not the person I would have been if I had not been raped. That person ceased to exist the moment he broke my trust and penetrated me. I don't know who she was. I don't know who she would have been. But she is not me. My name is M.L. Van Valkenburgh and convicted sex offender John O'Brien Rafferty raped me.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Paula:

You have empowered all of us who have suffered abuse and rapem and endure PTSD from the experience. Thank you for your candid article. We will all heal eventually with help from our community and family. Thank you, sincerely.

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You can find additional comments on the Beachwood Facebook page and ML's Facebook page here and here.



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Posted on June 13, 2016


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