Like most of the internet-watching world I've been following the Brock Turner case since Emily Doe's powerful victim impact statement went viral. So much so that I literally can't open facebook or twitter - which clearly as a gen y procrastinator I do a lot - without reading another angle on the subject. It's addictive and click-baity and relevant all at the same time - a potent force of algorithmic news genius. It's got to the point where I think I've read almost every take on what this case might mean for the victim, Brock Turner, sexual assault survivors, the American Judiciary system, national conversation about rape, women in general, buzzfeed and the entire cast of Girls.
Not to trivialize the subject - but the reality is, everyone has had their say and Brock Turner, rightly or wrongly, has now had trial by 7,000,000 (or more accurately: trial by social media) as what feels like the whole internet-using world weighs in. It feels like the amount of content produced about this particular case is overwhelming and I wonder at what point, if at all, that undermines the original purpose of Emily Doe writing, and then agreeing to share, her statement.
Do the power of her words wane and lose their poignancy under the pressure of public scrutiny? At what point does the agency of her voice get trampled on by the millions of people wondering who she is and talking about her, including me. Don't you think it would be a bit a little intimidating? Can you imagine how many journalists are trying to pressure her into giving an exclusive? I am going to put money on the fact that one of the most googled terms regarding the case is something along the lines of 'what is the name of the victim in the Brock Turner case'.
As ridiculous as the comparison sounds, I've had a few moments in the limelight and, on speaking up about something that was important to me, I know that even the positive reaction from that was overwhelming. I'm not really trying to compare this situation to my experience of speaking out about being knocked on the head by some ignorant douchebags at the rugby, but as someone who has had a lot of people talking about me online and offline and for what felt like weeks, I know that the experience can really affect your mental health in an ongoing capacity. It took me a long time to get over my self-doubt and to be comfortable with the fact that everyone had something to say about me. The exposure was really hard to handle and when I spoke out, I wasn't in any way prepared for the internet's response. And that is nothing compared to the content generated by Emily's statement.
And as for Brock himself, to plays devils advocate for a second here, at what point does the demonising of him by those same millions of people become a legitimate concern for his welfare? Does this help the case to address campus rape? I'm in no way condoning his actions and particularly not the ignorant response of his father, but I wonder at what point is it all too much? Does media exposure at any point undermine or outweigh existing structures of justice? Just a question.
Yes, her words are strong and courageous and needed and poignant and I was utterly moved reading the entire statement. It is one of the most well composed pieces of writing I've ever seen and I can't emphasise how moved I was in reading it. But I just hesitate a little when I think of how much exposure issues can now get thanks to the speed and volume of global communication made possible by the internet. And part of me wonders what was in it for Buzzfeed. It's great that the statement has been so well received, but as Kelly Stout from Gawker wrote, the whole story was also gold in terms of content - the stuff that ratings are made of and hence dollars. So the media outlets that fuel the commentary, are they really interested in Emily Doe's feelings, or are they seeing the monetary value of keeping a story like this going?
I don't know, I just think it's so easy to be arm chair critics, to write your thoughts on the internet, to have an opinion and it's just as easy to forget that we are being critics to real people with real feelings. One of the stories I read about this case was that it was so unusual because instead of rape cases being talked about in numbers and statistics, it had a story and characters to flesh it out. This makes it relatable. Yes, but I'd argue that on the flipside, in having characters to discuss we somehow end up in the same place as using numbers and statistics: The people become figures, less human and more tool, to illustrate a point. They lose their relatability and we lose a little of our humanity when we hash and rehash, discuss and share something so personal to the point where we forget that we are discussing lives. Not characters.
And I'm no better, since here I am discussing this case in order to prove my point. Makes you think though, doesn't it.