Liz Taylor has found her voice after 20 years — a voice strong enough to share with the world that she was raped in a dorm room at the University of Missouri in her freshman year.
She found the courage because she’s angry with Dan Turner, the father of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
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The woman Brock Turner attacked read a 7,000-word statement in court about the “severe impact” the assault had on her, an emotional indictment that went viral when Buzzfeed published the letter in its entirety. (Read it here.)
Emboldened by her words, other rape victims have shared their stories in recent days.
And now Taylor, 37, an account director at Wieden + Kennedy advertising agency in New York, has come forward too.
What happened on the MU campus has changed everything about her life — where she lives, places she goes, how she interacts with people and where she works. (She needs insurance to cover therapy.)
“Brock is now 20 years old. He was born the year I was raped. And I can promise you there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about that night, or adjusted my actions because of it,” Taylor writes to Dan Turner in an essay posted this week on the website Medium. (Click here to read it in its entirety.)
“And my rape was less than 20 minutes. It was maybe five or 10. But its impact has affected every day of the 20 years I’ve lived since.”
With a few altered details, she writes, the story of Brock Turner’s victim “is my story.”
“Change the year to 1996.
“Change my own age to match the attacker’s of 18.
“Change a dumpster in Palo Alto to a dorm room in Columbia, Missouri.”
Taylor writes that she stayed quiet about the attack for months, “mainly out of shock” but also for feeling “guilty for drinking underage.”
“I had come to Mizzou from Texas and only knew one girl at the university before I arrived. Who was I going to tell?”
Only a handful of people in Taylor’s life knew what happened at MU, where the Dallas native graduated in 2000 with a bachelor of journalism degree.
Over the weekend she read the “mind-blowing statement” from the woman she refers to as “Emily Doe,” the woman Brock Turner sexually assaulted.
“Because there are similarities between our stories, it understandably churned a lot of stuff up for me. And I was floored that someone who is only a couple of years out from the actual incident could so eloquently put into words what I know so many people think and feel,” Taylor told the Star in an email.
Then Taylor, like many others, got angry when Dan Turner criticized his son’s sentence, “carrying on about ribeyes and pretzels and twenty minutes and all these other absurdities, I imagined Emily Doe seeing that. And it was this moment where my anger at him and the solidarity I felt with Emily Doe finally trumped my shame,” Taylor said.
“In my head, I wanted to say to Emily Doe, ‘You've said so much for all of us, you don't have to tackle this, too. Let me get this one.’”
In her letter to Dan Turner she wrote: “What pushed me out of hiding with your letter, Mr. Turner, is your role and response as a parent in this situation.”
Months after she was attacked, Taylor told campus police because her assailant allegedly raped another girl. Taylor’s mother happened to be in town that weekend and was with her when she talked to the police.
“It was the officer that told me that being drunk did not mean it was okay for someone to assault me.” Taylor wrote. “But my mother felt otherwise. Like you and your son, she considered this, as you put it, the ‘unfortunate result’ of a binge drinking culture.
“After we left the police station she screamed at me for two straight hours. She yelled at me for drinking, yelled at me for putting myself in that position to begin with, yelled at me for having to spend part of Pi Phi Mom’s Weekend at a police station. And for years afterward, she would only ever refer to my rape as ‘The Incident’ with complete disgust and disdain.
“If you know anything about rape, and it doesn’t appear that you do, the absolute last thing you should ever do is blame the victim. After some time, my mother finally educated herself on sexual assault and continues to apologize for her response as she also works to better understand it. And I have forgiven her, though we are still working through the impact of her words to this day.”
Taylor talked to her mom before she went public “because this her story, too,” she said. “The point of the letter is to address the role of parents in a situation like this, because that's something that's rarely ever discussed.
“People talk about the victim and the perpetrator, but so often in cases of rape and sexual assault, parents play a massive role. They can make things better through their love and support, or exponentially worse through slut-shaming, abandonment, and, in Dan Turner's case, legitimization and diminishment of the crime. (Among other things.)
“My mother, by her own admission, responded horribly to my rape. And we continue to work through that response twenty years after the fact. But to her credit, a few years ago, she finally got educated. She read tons of materials about sexual assault and rape, and I'm so proud of her, because she'll now make a point to say things like ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault’ instead of ‘incident’ or ‘situation.’ And that's huge for other parents to understand.”
Taylor begs Dan Turner to read her letter carefully, especially this: “THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES TO COMMIT A SERIOUS CRIME DOESN’T MAKE ONE BIT OF DIFFERENCE AS TO THE IMPACT.”
Brock needs to understand accountability, Taylor wrote, “but when his own father feels he has been treated unfairly, how is he expected to get that message?”
“So, understand your role in this. Understand what you are legitimizing. Understand your son did something heinous, and just because he doesn’t look like what you imagine a criminal to look like doesn’t mean he’s not a criminal. And know how damaging your words are to his victim and every other victim of rape and sexual assault that had the misfortune of reading your letter.”
Taylor said she has been overwhelmed with the response to her open letter.
“The piece of this I never expected was the overwhelming amounts of calls, texts and e-mails I've received from friends and loved ones with their own stories,” she said.
“People with stories like mine from college days. People who were sexually abused as children. People who were drugged and robbed. People who struggled with drinking and felt they deserved every rape they endured. People who weren't raped but were slut-shamed by their parents for having premarital sex.
“It boggles the mind to think of all the stories around us each and every day that none of us are talking about, when we could be supporting each other instead. It's been heartbreaking, but I've been so honored they've been willing to share their truths because I know speaking your shame to anyone is hugely difficult.
“But it's also the only way our shame loses power. So if I can be one person they tell, and their shame is reduced even just a little, that's invaluable to me.”