Earlier today, the cast of the hit HBO series Girls, including Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams, posted a brief yet powerful public service announcement in partnership with Now This, a response to the outcry following the sentencing of Brock Turner, the ex-Stanford swimmer who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster early last year.
The message comes at a turning point amidst the charged political atmosphere surrounding cases of sexual assault, wherein the way these cases are handled is becoming both more public yet more controversial. Many are rightfully furious at the “slap on the wrist” Turner managed to escape with after the trial, receiving a mere six months in a county prison from judge Aaron Persky, who claimed that the impact of even a brief imprisonment would be effective enough to turn the “misguided” former athlete into a good Samaritan, in a sad twist on the controversial and questionably effective “scared straight” solution to juvenile delinquency popularized by the eponymous documentary in the late ‘70s.
But more important than even the concrete ramifications of the grossly mishandled court case are the appallingly biased and highly politicized ways that sexual assault cases are handled when race, gender, socioeconomic status and other irrelevant and uncontrollable aspects of the situation are weighed more heavily than facts and testimonies. In an environment within which loaded questions like “What were you wearing?” and “How much had you been drinking?” have the ability to sway juries more powerfully than eyewitness accounts and encourage us to engage in harmful attitudes of victim-blaming, the necessity of public, outspoken indignation from influential celebrities, politicians and lawmakers is more urgent than ever in the machine that engineers meaningful social change.
The message filmed by Dunham and her co-stars touches on a critical and often overlooked aspect of sexual assault legislation and gender relations: the fact that female survivors are too often reduced to their relationship with a close male figure to incite the empathy and understanding of others. This behavior minimizes the survivor’s individuality and identity, dehumanizing her until she’s merely a product of the tragedy that befell her. “Support, listen, take action,” the four actresses urge, standing barefoot in simple t-shirts and jeans against a spare gray background. “Not because she is someone’s daughter, or someone’s girlfriend, or someone’s sister … but because she is someone.”
Dunham, Kirke, Mamet and Williams recite the deplorable statistics regarding sexual assault in our country with sober thoughtfulness: one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, it will occur in one in four girls before the age of 18, and 80 percent of the attacks will be perpetrated by someone that the survivor knows. It’s disturbingly common, and it’s reality. “So why is our default reaction as a society to disbelieve, or silence, or shame?” they ask.
Hopefully this moving statement is just the beginning of an outpouring of support for not only the Stanford survivor, but for all of those who have suffered abuse, assault or rape and been silenced, overlooked and ignored. In a society wherein a confirmed rapist can get away with such light charges after committing an egregious offense because of his affluence and athletic promise, we need solidarity and collective outrage more than ever.
Watch the PSA above, read Angel Morton’s powerful feature on what Turner’s case means to her as a rape survivor here and share your thoughts in the comments.