This is going to sound ridiculous, but Brock Turner, the sexual assailant who was just released after serving an outrageously short sentence, may be our means to finally drive a stake through the heart of rape culture.
I know how this sounds. How could a rape case ever yield anything positive? Hear me out.
I'll bet you've seen Brock Turner's face on your social media feed, and you may well have angrily passed it on. You've probably seen footage of Turner strolling out to freedom and comfort, and felt that he doesn't deserve it. You've probably been saddened and outraged that he was punished with only 90 days, half of his sentence and a tiny fraction of the possible 14 years prescribed for the crime, due to "good behavior."
A rapist - good behavior. Unbelievable.
And I'm willing to bet you have been stunned by the widely-reported comments of Brock Turner's own father, saying his son shouldn't be punished for "20 minutes of action" (his pathetic description of violating a helpless young woman behind a dumpster.)
You're mad. Saying so to anyone who will listen.
If there is good to be had from a tragedy, there it is.
Somehow, one case has found a place in our national consciousness. We can't ignore it, now.
You're no longer going to meekly accept judges that treat rape as a prank, and juries that turn rapists loose because of what a victim was wearing, what they were drinking, or their dating history.
Brock Turner may have only gotten three months. But the rape culture - which has lawyers uttering lines like the one used in a case at the Buena Vista County Courthouse not so long ago: "No doesn't always mean no," just got the societal death sentence.
The judge who gave Brock Turner his lenient jail stay, out of concern that it might have a negative effect on his lifestyle, will no longer hear criminal cases. Not good enough - he should be thrown off the bench.
The media is also being called to task, and rightly so. Stories on the sexual assault allegation even listed Turner's swimming times, as if that is somehow more important than his criminal actions.
As for Brock Turner, I suspect that life on the outside will be far harsher than it was in a protective cell. His face is everywhere. Ninety days isn't going to be any deterrent to sexual abuse by others, but oh, those millions of angry meme postings will be.
The sex offender registry will ensure that people always know Brock Turner's crime and his whereabouts - and karma is likely to have its day.
The terrible thing he did has directly spawned a new bill in his state to outlaw anyone convicted of rape from being sentenced to only probation. It spawned a social movement against rape culture that has already resulted in events held in cities around the world, and collected over 1.3 million signatures demanding justice.
The case is being discussed right now in classrooms on nearly every campus in the country. On some, efforts to better protect students may result, and perhaps more awareness will result in students being less likely to put themselves in vulnerable situations.
Maybe even parents will take an extra moment to talk to their younger children early about how other people should be treated and respected.
Finally, a "Shout Your Rape" online storytelling movement is trending as a means for women to publicly talk about sexual assault without fear or shame.
All that should make us hopeful for a future with less violence - and no tolerance for sexual abuse.
But don't thank Brock Turner. For all the babble about what a good kid and a good athlete he is, repeated endlessly in shoddy reporting, he's a rapist. Progress is despite of people like him, not because of them.
Remember, anything positive here is happening because of a young woman who had the courage to face a justice system that all too often treats a victim as the criminal.
In the local case we referred to, a BVU female student had to sit in a courtroom with her accused sexual assailant, see her bloodstained clothing held up in a plastic bag, hear a lawyer imply that it was okay to push her into sex because she had consumed alcohol and must surely have wanted it, and then see the athlete whose attorney admitted she told him "no" go unpunished, whooping and hollering his joy in the hallway outside the courtroom.
A woman or a girl who puts themselves through this doesn't do it for vengeance or even their own safety - they do it in hopes of protecting someone else from suffering as they have. And that's courage.
Brock Turner's expensive lawyers seemed to do all they could to re-victimize the woman. They asked inane things - what color her sweater was, and how she goes to the bathroom, anything to discredit, distract, trip up. They wanted details of her love life, tried to make her out an alcoholic.
We saw this in our local case too, and in efforts by some colleges to address rape only with alcohol policies.
It's as if drinking is to blame for rape, not the rapist.
Brock Turner's victim endured. And she made a statement that should destroy rape culture forever. I warn you that it is graphic, but it is real and vital. (Search "Letter to rapist" at buzzfeed.com.)
The courage of those victims who step forward (and of those like the two bicyclists who saw Brock Turner assaulting the unconscious girl and stepped in), make all the difference.
An estimated 75,000 women and girls are raped every year in America - it's probably much higher, many of the crimes surely go unreported. One in every five women attending college say they have been sexually violated in some way (National Crime Victimization Survey) - and yet, 91 percent of colleges blindly claim zero sexual assaults on annual reports.
In only 3-18 percent of rapes does a perpetrator ever do any jail time (Department of Justice).
If you're mad about Brock Turner, you should know there are many like him, free. Some will do it again.
In the victim's statement in court, she concluded by addressing others who may be facing what she has:
"As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, 'Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.' Although I can't save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can't be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you."
We should all be with them. Society, the justice system and a judge failed this young woman, and we can't change that. But even if it took an advantaged sexual assailant walking away in 90 days to awaken us, what really matters now is that we're mad. Mad means we care. And if we're mad enough, we will demand better.