By sharing her heartbreaking story, “Emily Doe” held up a cultural mirror for us all to see. Every harrowing detail gave us an ugly glimpse of the culture we live and breathe every day. In that mirror, we see the social and institutional norms and practices that enabled her rape, blamed her for it, gave near-impunity to the perpetrator, upheld white male privilege, and characterized Brock Turner as an all-American golden boy who, victimized by party culture, made—to paraphrase hisfather’s letter—a 20-minute mistake.
Many of us are rightly horrified by the actions of Brock, his father and anyone on their “side”—including the judge who handed Turner his minimal six-month sentence. But Emily Doe’s action is the unusual one in this scenario, not theirs. Had it not been Turner, his father and the judge, it would have—and has been—some other Turner, father or judge. And another victim, perhaps a silent one. Our anger and demands for accountability are appropriate. But what happened here, from the crime itself to the expressions of impunity and privilege, are expressions and products of our culture. They will continue to play out until we ourselves change that culture.
So let us not focus exclusively on individual wrong-doers here. Let us instead consider the role that each of us can play in changing public narratives, attitudes, behaviors, practices and even policies that perpetuate these harms. Let us consider how our own actions, large and small, can help build a world in which everyone is treated with full human dignity and respect.
Change is possible and within each of us. When “Emily”—and then BuzzFeed—told her story, she permanently reshaped the public conversation, making the norms that enable this kind of violence impossible to ignore. The students who stopped the attack are role models to each of us. Pastor and father John Pavlovich wrote a moving piece addressed to Brock’s father, inviting some serious tough love: “You love your son and you should. But love him enough to teach him to own the terrible decisions he’s made, to pay the debt to society as prescribed, and then to find a redemptive path to walk, doing the great work in the world that you say he will.”
These actions help shift the norms we live by. One by one, they help create the world we seek: where relationships are respectful; where families, communities and societies live in peace.
As Vice President Joe Biden said in his open letter to Emily: “It’s on all of us.”
We have seen the show-stopping power of Emily Doe and the act of sharing her story. To honor Emily and all survivors with whom she stands, we invite other survivors, family members, bystanders, even perpetrators on the road to redemption to share their stories. We invite you to contribute to Breakthrough’s THE G-WORD, our global storytelling project designed to reveal our commonalities—and spark our individual and collective power for change. Let’s tell a whole new story together.
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