It was around 10 on a Wednesday morning when I first heard the news of the Stanford rape conviction — a highly publicized sexual-assault case that ended as unfavorably for the victim as one could imagine.
“Have you read this?” an intern for Project Consent, the organization I founded at 17 with the goal of changing the culture of sexual assault around the world, asked after sending me a link to the letter Emily Doe, the anonymous survivor, had written in the wake of the verdict. My inbox soon flooded with similar messages. Have you seen this? What are your thoughts? What does Project Consent think?
I clicked the link to Emily Doe’s 1,800-word statement. My heart beat rapidly as I read her words — her raw, powerful explanations of the events of that night and the continuing, unbelievable pain she’s had to endure since her assault. I pored over her words, again and again, until her sentences rooted themselves in my head. My heart broke in ways that I didn’t think were possible anymore.
“We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering,” she wrote. “Your damage was concrete: stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal: unseen, I carry it with me.”
Her letter, though eloquent and breathtaking, was difficult to digest. But her truth needed to be shared. I imagined this young woman stomaching her own pain out of the hope that doing so would push the world to change, to do better, to avenge her by fixing all the ways we have failed. I thought about the bravery it must have taken for her to relive the worst moments of her life.
Women like Emily Doe are the reason that Project Consent exists — for her, for me, for everyone who has ever suffered injustice due to another person's actions. Project Consent is a network that aims to support survivors and raise awareness about sexual assault. Our mission is to give a voice to those who have been assaulted and to change the culture of rape around the world.
When I started Project Consent, I didn’t realize how quickly waking up every morning to another story of trauma and injustice would age me, how quickly my faith in the world would diminish when I realized that there are monsters in every state, city, and school. How even in spite of small victories, there are massive changes left to achieve. It’s a seemingly impossible battle, but one that we continue to fight because the alternative — defeat, complacency, acceptance — is unfathomable.
So the truth is that I wish I had been shocked to learn about the Stanford case. I wish I believed that this case was an abnormality. But while what happened at Stanford was undoubtedly an abominable act of violence, it is unfortunately not unique. As sure as the days will pass and the seasons will change, there will be another Brock Allen Turner, and many more behind him. It’s the fear and dread that knowledge brings that drives Project Consent’s work.
On our best days, Project Consent receives praise and gratitude for helping victims find their voice. They thank us for giving them strength — even though we always remind them that they’ve been strong all along. If we’re lucky, we’ll get updates on their progress, their recovery, and the ways they’ve reclaimed their lives. I hold those messages close to my heart; they’re reminders that no matter how awful the world can be, there is still immense hope and power in humankind.
But on our worst days, staffers are plagued by helplessness. We hear dozens of stories of crude everyday violence. Our hearts bleed for the 14-year-old girl in Arkansas who is too afraid to tell her parents what happened to her, for the 27-year-old man in Toronto who is unable to find an inclusive survivor-support system, for the countless victims who have endured the trauma of losing their agency at someone else’s hands — just like the anonymous Stanford survivor.
We could spend a lifetime debating what went wrong (and will continue to go wrong) with this case and others. But for now, I want to address Emily Doe — not as a journalist, not as a director, not under the pretense of someone who knows her personally, but just as a woman who plans to spend the rest of my life fighting alongside her for some form of justice in an unjust world.
Emily Doe, I am so incredibly sorry for the indescribable pain that you’ve had to endure. I’m sorry that you live in a society that continues to fail you time and time again, that you were put in the position of defending yourself against the man who committed this crime. “Sorry” is a painfully inadequate word to offer you, and I’m so ashamed that it's the only thing I can give. I’m sorry all the work that advocates do is still not enough to turn back time and prevent men like Brock Allen Turner from acting like he did.
In your letter, you say you hope to be a lighthouse of strength for all those who have been in your position. You are. Just as you say that all survivors are untouchable, beautiful, and unquestionably important, so are you. Words are inadequate to describe the pride I have for you, and nothing anyone says can diminish the impact your words have had on thousands of people everywhere. Your bravery is the kind that people spend their entire lives trying to find, and it’s so devastating that an act of cruelty created the circumstances to make you show that.
I want all the best for you. I want you to enjoy life to the fullest, to spend the rest of your years knowing that you did everything possible to become a pillar of endurance in an impossible world. You are the reason why people like myself, like Emma Sulkowicz, like countless others who fight endlessly for a better world do what we do. It’s people like you who inspire us to do better, because people like you deserve better.
Thank you for being the lighthouse in the dark, for shining so brightly despite devastating adversity, and for showing us that someday all of this will make sense. On behalf of myself, all of us at Project Consent, and numerous others: We stand behind you, just as you’ve stood behind us.
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