A survivor's bravery and a nation -- finally -- ready to listen

June 9, 2016, 11:47 PM

— -- On Monday, CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield spent 20 minutes reading the 7,000-word letter a 23-year-old survivor read to the man who sexually assaulted her, Brock Turner, in court on the day he was sentenced. Her words are a waterfall of sadness and strength, generous despite a harrowing night and ensuing legal process.

"You don't know me, but you've been inside me, and that's why we're here today," she started. Read the rest of it here.

It's hard to imagine a reading like that taking place on live television five years ago, but we've all had quite an education on campus sexual assault since then. Between the documentary "The Hunting Ground" -- in which brave women and men discuss being raped -- and more than 100 letters filed with the Department of Education alleging mishandled assault cases and Title IX violations at American universities, we've become familiar with the way victims can be mistreated or ignored.

Turner and his insultingly low six-month sentence might have slipped under the radar not so long ago.

In this country, our judicial system doesn't seem designed to punish perpetrators of sexual assault ( just look at the statistics). Prosecutors like to bring cases to juries that they can win, and rape cases are rarely easy. Men and women who are attacked are made to relive the moment of victimization, and then often receive the blame.

And yet, a jury of 12 people convicted Turner, who was apprehended by two cyclists who witnessed the assault and chased Turner when he fled.

In sentencing Turner to six months in jail, Judge Aaron Persky -- coincidentally a former lacrosse player at Stanford -- said, "A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him ... I think he will not be a danger to others."

Turner's conviction and light sentence -- and the judge's reasoning behind that light sentence -- might not have reached current levels of outrage were it not for the release Sunday of the letter that Turner's father sent to the judge. In it, he said his son's lack of appetite and other non-jail effects were already a "steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action."

Dan Turner used the word "action," when the correct term is "sexual assault."

The statements from Brock Turner, his father and Persky read as though they live in a world where an athlete's transgressions shouldn't extinguish his bright future. In that world, there's no real remedy for the damage done, so why disadvantage a promising young man?

The survivor, noting Brock Turner's lack of accountability in the statement he made before sentencing, wrote, "If you are hoping that one of my organs will implode from anger and I will die, I'm almost there. You are very close. This is not a story of another drunk college hook­up with poor decision making. Assault is not an accident. Somehow, you still don't get it."

There was a time in this country when the stigma of sexual assault was its own silencer, when marriage prospects and social stature would have withered had anyone known. It's was the perfect trap.

But a show of support for the survivor in Turner's case puts the blame squarely where it belongs: on the person who perpetrated the crime.

"We are witnessing and living through a historic shift in the national conversation about sexual assault," Kirby Dick, "The Hunting Ground" director, said in an email. "... The combined effort of activists, survivors, media, films and the current administration has helped the country become much more sensitive to the experiences of sexual assault survivors."

Turner was undone not by a sentence, but by words. His father's words, dripping with privilege, and the powerful words from the woman who endured his attack and lived to tell her own story.

We are listening to her.