As I stood in the shower this morning I wondered how many beads of water were falling across my shoulders. I then wondered how many tears have fallen in my office due to the violence experienced from twenty minutes of action. It was impossible to count the number of water droplets that touched my skin. Just as it is impossible to count the number of tears that have fallen in my office as I help victims of violent assault.
Recently, an affluent college male from Stanford University named Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious female behind a dumpster. In a decision that can only be described as shocking, this sexual predator was only given a six month sentence for his crime by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky. As evidenced by the overwhelming public outcry to the judge’s decision, most people agree this punishment does not fit the crime.
The father of this young predator wrote a letter to the judge, under which he described this violent assault as “twenty minutes of action.” As a man and a father I understand this person’s desire to want to protect his son, but as a human being I find his response deplorable. I wonder if this father would feel the same if his child were female and she was the victim in this case.
As a clinical mental health counselor and trauma specialist I spend a great deal of time helping women pull their lives back together after twenty minutes of violent action. In example, I currently have one client who is near retirement age and finally has summoned the courage to work through a sexual trauma that has haunted by for well over fifty years. Unfortunately, her emotional struggle is not the exception to the rule. Instead, it is the rule. While the physical wounds of a sexual attack will heal quickly, the invisible wounds of a sexual trauma can last a lifetime – unless properly treated.
Sexual trauma often has very serious psychological, emotional and physical effects on the survivor. It can lead to post-traumatic stress, depression, substance abuse/dependence, lowered self-esteem, weight loss, problematic sleeping and even suicidal ideation. The cost to society is much, much higher when we consider the social impact of the deep psychological wounds from twenty minutes of action: impact on the family, visits to urgent care or the emergency room, avoidance of the traumatic memory, counseling, medications…etc.
All citizens regardless of their gender, color, age, religion, height, weight or any other difference one can think of should have the right to feel safe and protected by the leaders of our communities. As a society we have come thousands of miles in fight for women’s rights, but it’s clear that we have thousands of miles to go. Until the leaders of our communities truly understand the enduring psychological impact of crimes such as this on victims, unjust and lenient decisions will continue to be handed out; thereby, allowing others to commit similar crimes in the future – just because they can based on their faulty perceptions of power.