In less than a week, the name Brock Turner has not only become linked with rape, but also inextricably tied to a moving 13-page statement delivered by his victim at the former Stanford athlete’s sentencing hearing. Millions have poured over the unnamed woman’s words describing the trauma of being raped by Turner while unconscious behind a dumpster on campus in January 2015—and waking up in the hospital with just her bruised body to piece together what had happened. So many of us recognize how easily we could have been her.
After combing the internet for similar stories, it became apparent how rare it actually is for a survivor to exercise her right to address her abuser. However, we were able to collect five powerful examples from the last five years in which women stood up in court and directly addressed their abuser (or abusers). Together, their stories paint a powerful portrait of resilience—and offer a complex look at the toll sexual assault takes on survivors' lives.
While the names of rape victims are sealed from the public record, an individual can choose to release her name. It’s rare for victims to do this, but some, like Heidi Damon, decide to share their names to show that they are not living in fear.
In 2009, Damon, then 38, was attacked in a Tampa, Florida parking lot by 16-year-old Javon Cooper. After being convicted two years later, Damon stood up in front of her attacker and read a prepared statement, which began like this:
I just want to tell you—and I want you to look at me when I address you—I woke up ecstatic today, happier than ever. You know why? Because I'm alive. I'm alive, alive, alive. I lived to tell the truth. I will not address you by your birth name. See, you're already ashamed. You can't even look at me. I will not address you by your birth name but what I feel you should be called—guilty, guilty, guilty. You may have hurt me, but what doesn't kill me makes me stronger. You have not broken my spirit. You have not changed my belief in God. If anything, you've strengthened both. I am not a victim. I am the victor, the stronger and the winner. You picked the wrong woman on Aug. 19, 2009. When you attacked me, my will to live is much too great. And my love for life is way too strong. And my desire to be all that I can be cannot ever be broken by you or anyone.
In 2003, William Vincent Brown raped and murdered two women and raped and nearly killed a third in Baltimore’s Leakin Park (best known as the scene of the crime described on the first season of podcast Serial.) The third unnamed woman miraculously survived—despite almost losing both of her ears—and when Brown was finally caught and convicted, the woman read aloud a chilling message before the court:
I can't do nothing but think about him. I was in therapy, and they said when a person is an abuser, once upon a time maybe they was abused. But he did that…That day you were taking me to Leakin Park, I saw something. It was like the devil was jumping in and out of your body, like you were fighting something…I just want you to know, I'm not afraid of you. I'm not scared of you. I'm not even angry at you no more. I'm just praying for you.
When 16-year-old Savannah Dietrich attended a party in August 2011, she never imagined it would end in sexual assault—and very public embarrassment. Will Frey and Austin Zehnder, both 16, were lacrosse players from an exclusive Louisville, Kentucky, Catholic school, and when Dietrich was unconscious from drinking, they took turns sexually assaulting her and photographing their abuse.
Frey and Zehnder were convicted of felony sexual abuse in 2012, but as minors, their names were not released. Dietrich, however, could not keep silent, and took to Twitter to release their names. At their sentencing, she read a statement confronting her abusive peers, part of which included this:
You should know sexually assaulting an unconscious victim, taking a picture of it and disseminating it is wrong. My conclusion is you knew it was wrong, but did you care? No. Instead you violated me and both of you said it was funny. Tell me, who thought it was funny? Who laughed at you? Who thought it was so funny and why didn't anyone tell me about the joke?
One afternoon in 2003, Gilbert Trejo attacked and raped then 32-year-old Jane Piper in a Los Angeles grocery store parking lot. For nearly a decade after, the case went cold, Trejo walked free, and Piper, an actress and standup comedian, tried her best to move on with life. She moved to Canada in late 2011—and less than a year later, in early 2012, she got a call from the LAPD saying that thanks to DNA from her rape kit, Trejo was caught after being brought in for a minor offense.
Trejo pled guilty to Piper’s rape, and at his 2014 sentencing hearing, not only did Piper publicly reveal her identity, but she invited press cameras into the courtroom to capture her very personal message to her rapist. “I had no interest in hiding from it at all,” Piper told me in a phone conversation today.
Her speech was even more remarkable because of how directly she spoke to her rapist. “I wanted to see him as a human being and I wanted to understand where he went wrong and why,” she explained. “I wanted to make him speak to me and tell me why. And I still do.”
Below are some excerpts of the court transcript, provided to me by Piper. She plans on sharing the full transcript soon on her website, inspired by the Stanford survivor’s “incredibly powerful” and “amazing” statement:
Before I go into detail about what your beating and raping me did to my life and did to me, I do want to thank you for taking responsibility for what you did. It means a lot to me that you have pleaded guilty and you’ve taken responsibility for your actions and you’ve admitted what you did and I thank you for that…
I’ll never be the woman I was before you raped me because you killed her, in a sense. I felt her die that day. Something in my spirit died, but something also stuck around and has been fighting. Slowly, but surely, I’m becoming me again. You know, a new me, but I’m becoming me, and I’m becoming whole again…
You destroyed my life. There were literally times where I was just a ball, a puddle on the floor. I couldn’t manage. I couldn’t keep it together. I was just so dysfunctional as a human being because I didn’t understand why someone has taken everything away from me. I didn’t understand. And I’m the kind of person that need to make sense of things, as you can probably tell by the things that I’m saying to you now. But I could not make sense of it then. I couldn’t. Nothing made sense.
But I’ve come back, and I’m a stronger person now, and I acknowledge that you did these disgusting things to me for whatever reason, and i forgive you. Human being to human being, I forgive you.
Scott Braeden Belcher was convicted of raping an unnamed women at Dulwich College, a school in London, in 2013. Belcher denied the rape for almost 18 months, reportedly leaving the woman feeling “victimized” and “blamed” for what happened to her. At a court hearing to discuss the 20-year-old’s sentence, the woman read her survivor impact statement aloud, providing an example of strength in the face of terrible anguish:
It is unacceptable for you to believe and act with power and control over women. It is every woman’s right to make their own decisions, but you thought you were entitled to what you wanted and you put your needs above mine. You took away my power and control to inflict sexual violence on me. Because of your actions you have to sit there, but, I am able to stand here. Your actions have taken away my freedom to live my life in a carefree way and now you face the risk of losing your own freedom through those same actions.
Marisa Kabas is a Sex + Life reporter based in New York City. She loves baseball, bunnies and bagels.