by Victoria Barrett
CN: Assault, violence against women
I didn't know he went to jail, until he got out.
I was living in New Mexico then, 1,500 miles away from the sidewalk where I'd been attacked by a street harasser. I got a phone call from a task force studying the state's victim services. They mentioned that he was being released, and asked if anyone from the state of Indiana had called me to say as much. Nobody had called me to say anything.
What happened was I took my friend out drinking for her birthday to all the crowded, popular bars on the campus where we were finishing college. We'd both dropped out and gone back, and were both older than our classmates and bar-going companions, but we went out anyway three or four nights a week after waiting tables across town. That night, we hung out and danced and tried unsuccessfully to get her crush to make out with her until about 2 a.m., then walked to the car.
On the way, four men started following us, doling out the usual, generic street harassment of the time. (This was the late '90s.) The more we ignored them, the more aggressive they got, until one of them started grabbing my ass hard enough to bruise. I warned him twice before I hit him in the face. He was smaller than me, but ferociously strong. The other three men ran fast and far as he lifted me off the ground by my neck and slammed the back of my head repeatedly into a brick wall. I hit so hard my cutesy butterfly-shaped clips fell out of the front of my hair. (Oh, '90s.)
Things moved pretty quickly after that. My very drunk friend ran to (an actual pay) phone and called 911. The man ran to his actual car in the adjacent parking lot. I stood behind his white sedan like some kind of idiot-slash-superhero reading off his license plate for my friend to repeat into the phone. I dodged left and right when he tried to back into me. Then he was gone. There were cops, police reports we filled out by illegible hand — me injured, my friend drunk. There were Polariods at the station of the deep, dark bruises around my neck. There was a phone call from my mother to the police where we learned that the man had been met at his apartment by officers, that he had a prior assault conviction and was on probation, that — I'm paraphrasing the cops here — he was, legally speaking, fucked, as a Black guy who attacked a white girl. (That this made my mother feel good still turns my stomach.) He pleaded no contest and went to jail for 18 months.
I didn't know about the plea deal and the sentence, or anything else past my mother's phone call, until all those months later. I had never been contacted by a victim services representative, or anyone else. And I wasn't scared of him, or of anything, until I knew he was getting out. Was it my fault he'd spent a year and a half of his life incarcerated? Certainly he would think so, wouldn't he? I had healed physically within a month, and emotionally somewhere along the way. But he had gone to jail. Wasn't his life ruined now? Wouldn't he think that was my fault, even if I knew it wasn't?
I don't know his name. I didn't have to talk to lawyers or testify. I don't even remember anything about his appearance except for the surprise of his strength juxtaposed with his size. I know he was Black because the cops made a big deal of saying so, and because my friend, who I would come to realize later is an incurable racist (we are no longer friends), started in that night with the racial slurs, and kept them up each time she told the story. But I couldn't tell you anything about his face, his clothing. I couldn't tell you a thing. My head hit that wall hard.
But I can tell you that if I had gone to jail for a year and a half for beating up a woman whose response to my advances was to hit me, a woman I felt entitled to touch repeatedly, after she'd said no, I would blame that woman. I would be wrong to do so, but I would. And when I got out of jail, I would be good and pissed.
When he got out of jail, that's when I got scared.
My assailant spent six times as many months in jail as Brock Turner, and he didn't rape me. He also didn't have a judge assessing his value to the world favorably, as Brock Turner did. He didn't (as far as I know) have a college athletic scholarship to speak to his promise. He had only his actions and his skin color. Would I have asked for jail time, had I given a victim impact statement? I don't think so. I'd been injured worse by my own family members. But how could he have known that?
So I got scared. For months I wondered if a man I had never properly met and would not recognize was looking for me in the world, blaming me for the months of life he lost. I felt sure he was. This was irrational fear. He probably didn't know my name, either. But recognizing its irrationality didn't help me sleep at night.
Brock Turner is probably not going to have access to the woman he brutalized. He will be followed by cameras, for a while, everywhere he goes (and apparently by unhinged armed protestors, WTF). But that woman doesn't have to be rational to be afraid. As we process our rage, let's take a moment to send her anonymous, enormous spirit all the love we have available to give. If she's anything like I was, she's having a monumentally bad week.
Victoria Barrett's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Glimmer Train, Salon, PANK, and other outlets. She lives and writes in a house full of men and boys (even the pets) and tries not to feel too bad about it.