This Woman's Powerful Poem About Brock Turner and Rape Culture Is Going Viral

This Woman's Powerful Poem About Brock Turner and Rape Culture Is Going Viral

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, 
like,
"How was your weekend?"
"You see that fire out in Calabasas?" 
"It's been so cloudy lately."
"So how about that rape letter?"

Yeah, you saw I'd posted about it "like seven times." 
Yeah, I tell you it makes me angry. 
Angrier than usual. 
(You know, because this is usual.)

"Listen," you say, and you pause,
like, "I'm trying to figure out how to phrase this."
That's when I pull out the thick skin, 
the kind women always keep tied around their waists
like an extra flannel shirt,
ready to throw on before meetings or rape trials,
or walking down the street,
or making small-talk at the office,
like, 
I'll try my best not to get offended by what you say,
because I know how offensive it is 
to have my own opinion.

"People are saying that it's 100% his fault and 0% her fault..."
You say, hesitantly,
the way women are taught to speak,
afraid of their own mouths.
"And I agree...
BUT—
DON'T YOU ALSO AGREE
THAT THIS WHOLE THING
COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED
IF SHE HAD JUST BEEN 
MORE
RESPONSIBLE."

I stare at you in disbelief for a moment, 
sick to my stomach, 
like, stranger groping my ass in a crowded train
kind of sick to my stomach,
just as unable to respond, 
to discern bile from protest
bubbling in my throat,
wanting to explain,
like, hey,
JUST SO YOU KNOW,
you don't need to play devil's advocate—
he's already got one,
and he's good enough to get him off
with only six months.

But I knew that any response of mine 
would be sharp
like, car keys between knuckles sharp,
and so instead
I did the only 
responsible
thing I could do in that situation.

I walked away.
But I should've remembered
that my retreating back 
is a fucking invitation,
because as I did so,
you felt the need to add insult to injury,
like, turning away wasn't enough of an indication
that this subject was too painful
for me to deal with right now,
like, I wasn't allowed to walk away 
without your permission.
So you got in one last word, like,
"Seriously! Just think about it!"

Think about it.

Like I don't.

Like I have the fucking privilege
of not thinking about it.

Like I don't think about it
when I go for a run after work
and instead of using a timer,
my personal best is just 
running faster than anyone who's following me.

Like I don't think about it
when I leave the headphones at home
on my way to pick up milk,
because I need to hear if anyone's coming up behind me
and it's already hard to make it out
over the soundtrack of my someday interrogation
like, 
Don't you know you live in K-town? 
Why would you walk alone after dark? 
What did you think was going to happen?

Like I don't think about it 
when I pick an outfit from my closet
and look at it like a piece of evidence, 
like, 
if I get raped when I'm wearing this tonight,
how guilty would it make me?
Like maybe they should mark it on the tag, 
60% cotton, 40% her fault.

Like I don't think about it 
when strangers offer to buy me a beer.
Like this is fucking Wonderland
and that bottle says
"drink me" 
and my miniskirt says
"rape me," 
like we're all just making bad choices, 
and the fact that I'm shrinking
into nothing
is just a nasty side-effect
of this toxic culture
to which we both fell victim.

Like I don't fucking think about it
when my little sister sends me photos
that she wants to put on Facebook, 
for my APPROVAL.
To make sure they're appropriate.
To make sure they're safe.
To imagine them under a headline
about how she got raped behind a dumpster,
like, does this profile picture test well
with the jury of Buzzfeed commenters? 
I wonder if they'll use his mug shot or his yearbook photo.
I wonder what his swimming times are.

"Just think about it," you tell me.
Just think about it?

Like I don't think about it when boys like you
say shit like,
"But don't you also agree
that this whole thing 
could have been avoided
if she had just been more
responsible."

Like I don't constantly think about
how I live in a world
where women are held responsible for the actions of men.
Like I didn't learn that in middle school
when girls were sent home 
for wearing tank tops with straps
thinner than two fingers.
Like it wasn't made clear 
every time they called us 
"daughters, sisters, mothers"
that we only exist in relation to men,
that we are merely extensions of them,
so of course,
naturally,
we should be more responsible, 
so as not to let them rape us
and ruin their own life 
with the same two fingers
they once used to measure our straps.

Like I don't think about it. 
Like I can choose not to think about it.
Like I wasn't up all fucking night thinking about it.

But it's almost 5am,
and I need to sleep before tomorrow,
so I have the energy to smile at the men on the street,
so they don't have to ask me to.
But first, I need to make sure
that I'm being perfectly clear—
like, "no means no" clear,
like, "an intoxicated person cannot consent" clear,
like, "an unconscious person cannot consent" clear,
like, "sex without consent is not sex, it's rape" clear,
like, "guilty on three counts of sexual assault" clear.

(I'm sorry, am I not being clear?)

Here, let me keep it simple.

NO.

I do NOT fucking agree.

Seriously.

Think about it.

Jun. 10, 2016, 2:08 p.m.: This story has been updated.