This week, the Internet exploded with outrage over the case of Brock Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer and convicted rapist who will serve a mere three months in county jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.
Turner's exceptionally lenient sentence was coupled with a series of deeply troubling letters from his family and friends, as well as two powerful messages from his victim that highlight the horrific consequences of the assault. The case has sparked a public conversation about rape culture — and yet there are still a lot of people who are on Turner's side.
Liz Ruddy, a 22-year-old production assistant who lives in Los Angeles, has something to say to those people. In a searing poem she posted on Facebook on Tuesday, Ruddy describes a conversation she had with a (male) colleague about the Turner case, in which he pressed her to consider that Turner might not have assaulted his victim, if only the young woman "had just been more responsible."
"The interaction that inspired the poem was with a coworker with whom I normally get along well," Ruddy said in an email to Mic on Friday. "That's part of the reason I was so shocked and angry. I hate that we live in a society where even well-intentioned people are influenced by this dangerous point of view, where it's acceptable for them to casually bring it up in an office setting."
Ruddy's response to her colleague, "An Open Letter to the Guy at Work," also serves as a response to all Turner apologists, and weaves the case into a larger narrative about rape culture in everyday life — from street harassment to slut-shaming school dress codes to loopholes in rape laws. It has since been shared more than 8,000 times.
Ruddy's piece claps back at the notion that survivors should be held responsible for being sexually assaulted under any circumstances, regardless of what they wore or how much they drank. It also offers a sharp take on the many different, seemingly benign ways a victim-blaming mentality seeps into the way we think about and adjudicate sexual assault — and how that process affects people differently.
"I don't need everyone to agree with me, as long as they read and take the time to consider another point of view — a point of view, I might point out, that is still limited to a very entitled existence," Ruddy said. "As a middle-class white woman living in America, I'm part of one of the most privileged groups of women in the world, and yet still living in constant fear. What does that tell you about those even less fortunate than I?"
That's something everyone — especially Turner's defenders, or anyone who's ever hinted that a survivor might be culpable for being raped, or suggested sexual assault is the responsibility of anyone but the assailant — can chew over, starting by reading Ruddy's poem. But, she added, we shouldn't stop there.
"People have been calling my poem a 'mic drop,' which is so flattering, but I'd rather pass it on to the next person, to the next unheard voice," Ruddy said. "Let's not let this be the end of the conversation, but rather, the beginning."
Read Ruddy's poem in full below:
It's a Monday morning and we're making small-talk,
Jun. 10, 2016, 2:08 p.m.: This story has been updated.