Following the comments of Utah Judge Thomas Low regarding a convicted rapist being a "good man who made a mistake" I sent this letter. It was the first time I wrote about some of my experiences.
I must confess that my stomach drops a little bit as I write the honorific “Judge” in front of your name. But I was raised to be polite and respectful so I will use it when addressing you and hope that it serves the dual purpose of reminding you of your very important obligation.
Like many, I was furious when I read about the comments you made during the sentencing of Keith Vallejo. I have personal experienced with rape culture. I am a sexual assault and rape survivor. Since you clearly have no understanding of what that truly means, I would like to enlighten you.
Each violation I experienced was inflicted upon me by someone I cared about and trusted. It wasn’t a dark alley at knife point by a perpetrator in a ski mask. It was a close friend. It was someone I was dating. It was my girlfriend. Unlike the survivors who came forward in the case you presided over, I didn’t have the courage to speak out to law enforcement about what had happened to me. At first, it was because I had been programmed by our culture and society to think it was my fault somehow.
The first time I was sexually assaulted, I was 18 years old. It was 20 years ago, but I remember the movie that we were watching. I remember the feel of his body crushing the breath out of mine. I remember the gap in his teeth. I had my first panic attack shortly after. I’ve suffered from them ever since. The next time I was victimized was 8 years ago. I was at a friend’s house. We were both going through a divorce and we were both drinking. I don’t hold liquor particularly well, so I was passed out after a few shots. I didn’t know he had raped me until the next morning. He had to take out my tampon to do it. When I questioned him about it, he laughed about how “out of it” I was. He laughed. I sat in my manager’s office and cried the next day. I didn’t mean to tell her, but it all came tumbling out. She was horrified and encouraged me to press charges. I never did. After all, I had been drinking so I knew I would be blamed by law enforcement or that they would just see me as a drunken whore. “Good girls” don’t drink, right? Less than a year ago, my girlfriend raped me. And that was the worst one of all. She knew about my past. She knew about these violations that haunted me. That made me nervous. That changed the way I value myself. But she didn’t stop when I begged her to stop. When I told her she was hurting me. Because she wanted what she wanted. Again, my trust and my body were violated. And I can honestly say I hope you never know what that feels like. Because it is horrific. And it doesn’t matter how much time passes. I’m still scared. It doesn’t matter how much therapy I receive or how many prayers I cry out to my gods. I can’t feel totally safe. I have to work hard to keep going. Some days are better than others and there are days I am happy. But it’s always there. That fear. That shame. The helplessness and heartache. Always. And it sometimes catches me out of nowhere.
I don’t wish this on anyone. It is a life sentence. I have a 10 year old daughter. I worry for her constantly. I have some weird hope that since I experienced this, she won’t have to. I don’t want anyone to endure this ever again. Never. Nobody deserves this. I didn’t deserve this. I’m kind to a fault. I’m generous. I work hard to provide for my little family. I swear like a sailor, but I have an incredibly soft heart. I love my daughter and spending time with her. We love going to Comic Con together and raising money for charities. I love unicorns and poetry and rain storms and the color blue. I love history and movies and dance. And once upon a time, I loved myself.
I understand that people aren’t perfect. People make mistakes. But “mistakes” are things like fender benders or spilling soup down the front of your shirt.
Rape is not a mistake.
Sexual assault is not a mistake.
Praising a convicted rapist and calling him a “good man” is not a mistake.
Not only did you re-victimize Julia Kirby and Vallejo’s other victims, your words re-victimized other rape and sexual assault survivors. You re-victimized me. Rape culture is real. It is pervasive in this state. And you have contributed to it. But you can change that. It isn’t easy for me to share these very painful experiences with you. Some of the people closest to me don’t even know these things. But I’m sharing with you because I have hope that by doing so, you will learn and understand. I hope you will change your perspective. I hope you will try to be better. I hope you will see how damaging your words were. And I hope you will truly work toward making restitution for that damage. Please use all the resources at your disposal to educate yourself about the sexual assault epidemic in this state. Please work to understand what this does to the victims. Please promise me you will take it seriously and do everything in your power to fight it.