Dear Stanford rape victim:
I've been thinking about you a lot this week. Today marks the one-year anniversary of Huffington Post Highline's publication of The Lost Girls, the story of my rape by the manager of my former band, The Runaways. Like you, I was unable to remember much of what happened to me. Like you, I had witnesses. And like you, I made headlines with my story.
In the days after the story broke, I had more support than I've ever had in my life. People I didn't know wrote to thank me and to share their own stories of assault and abuse. I was invited to appear on television and radio and to speak at conferences.
But the world moves on to other stories and we're left to deal with the fallout alone. That's when the real battle begins. Rape is the gift that keeps on taking.
So when you have your bad days -- which you will -- I hope you will take stock of where we were a year ago and be encouraged by where we might be this time next year. Please don't ever question whether you did the right thing. It might feel today like you relived the worst night of your life for nothing. But a year from now, when you look back and see how far we've come, you'll know you had something to do with it. You'll still wish the rape had never happened. But you'll be glad you spoke up.
When my story broke last July, huge numbers of people were still calling the four dozen or so Cosby accusers liars. They called me a liar, too, despite confirmation of my story by half a dozen witnesses.
As late as last August, the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde was telling us that rape victims need to "take responsibility" for what happens to them. I agree, we do need to take responsibility -- just not for getting raped.
We need to take responsibility to ensure that we don't slip back into shame and widespread victim blaming. When I go back and read the social media comments that followed my story, I am shocked at how ugly otherwise decent people can be. I am in awe of the courage it took for you to pursue a criminal conviction of your rapist. I am moved by your willingness to let the world know how you felt about the sentence with such raw and brutal honesty. I am encouraged by how many people understood that what happened to you was not your fault.
A year ago I never could have imagined that the world would react with shock and anger at a six-month sentence for a convicted rapist. But now hundreds of thousands have people have demanded the resignation of the judge that handed down the sentence. Even better, a jury believed you.
And who would have thought a year ago that we'd remember this year's Oscars not for the awards or the gowns, but for Lady Gaga's powerful rendition of "Til It Happens to You"? Or that so many of us would take the "It's on Us" pledge to prevent sexual assault when Vice President Joe Biden asked us to? Gaga and Biden made us understand that rape doesn't just affect the victims. It impacts our friends, our co-workers, our sisters, mothers, sons and daughters. It is something that cheapens and devastates all of us.
If I've learned one thing in the past year, however, it's how much it hurts when people take the rapist's side. Not just judges, but people who've never met you. As awful as the victim blaming is, however, it doesn't mean they're necessarily bad people. Making excuses for rape needs to stop, but it won't happen until we understand that we blame victims precisely because rape is such an awful crime. It makes us feel helpless. It shatters our notions of a just world in which karma is hard at work.
So we make excuses for rapists. The accused was talented, or good-looking, or successful or rich. He didn't need to rape anyone to get laid. And what about her? She went to a frat party. She got drunk. She was dressed provocatively. She was looking for attention. She didn't fight back.
Or maybe we can't find anything she did wrong, but what the hell... we didn't really like her anyway. She was ugly, she was fat, she was old, she was weird, she was stupid -- whatever. She was a know-it-all bitch that couldn't really play bass. And now we feel better -- or at least not quite so bad.
In a world of terrorist attacks and natural disasters, it can be easy to dismiss sexual assault as a personal tragedy that pales in comparison to the bigger stories of the day. But isn't a big part of our beef with terrorists that they threaten our way of life? Isn't it the point that we should have the right to go where we want to, dressed how we want, have a drink if we want to, and feel safe while doing it? What is a rapist but a terrorist with a specific target? And what greater weapon for fighting back is there than my voice?
So in the end, I'm glad I spoke up. Not for myself -- I was honestly happier when I didn't think about it -- but because I can see that it's made a difference. We haven't fallen back into our old complacency. We're taking action in our collective outrage. And thanks to people like you, the next time some privileged little boy gets caught with his pants down, a judge will have to think long and hard before letting him off with a hand slap. Perhaps the next woman won't have to express twenty pages of anger and humiliation in order to achieve a sense of justice. Even better -- maybe the next girl won't get raped at all.