My Biggest Fear Is Getting Raped at Stanford

My Biggest Fear Is Getting Raped at Stanford

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu


Because one in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. 

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Wander the vaunted halls of Stanford University and you’ll feel like you’re trodding on manicured grounds fit for a king. Mind you, rapists roam here too.

As you might have already ventured, this is not a tribute to the gorgeous, dreamlike campus of Stanford — its 300 days of sunshine nor its neatly tended lawns. During my four years as a bleary-eyed undergraduate, I received a slew of emergency emails and texts from the campuswide crime alerts. Some of them mundane, like petty theft or a small brush fire. But others far more solemn — sexual batteries, sexual assaults and about a handful of other ways to describe rape crimes. Each new notification stung like the lash of a whip. At times, the dizzying nomenclature of charges were as horrifying as the messages were curt: “BE ALERT & PROTECT YOURSELF,” they often signed off in haste.

I don’t remember the day I first heard about Brock Turner. Any emails or articles about the first reports of the rape are now lost in the bottomless black hole of my alumni email account — I graduated in the spring of 2015. But the culture of rape was always lurking. The misogynistic fratboy emails of Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel. The student rape accusations of Palantir’s Joe Lonsdale. Now, Turner and the latest gut-wrenching rape case to shake college campuses. I don’t remember hearing about Turner, because there were so many others like him; the police reports all blend together.

From Stanford to Silicon Valley, it’s all an ol’ boy’s club. I helped my fair share of young women who tipped back one too many drinks — draping their arms around my shoulders and holding their hair back in the bathroom. Because the realities of rape followed not too closely behind. During my first three years at college, a total of 78 sexual assaults were reported — that’s one every two weeks before Turner stalked in the shadows of the Kappa Alpha fraternity, where I used to hang out and danced like a fool with my freshmen friends.

In between studying and working, my four years at Stanford were shaped by overwhelming national attention on campus sexual violence — at Columbia, St. Paul’s, Wesleyan and elsewhere. For my peers and me, college was a swift introduction to the definitions of and distinctions between sex and rape, consent and violation. Not much has changed since my freshman-year orientation, when the only primer was a student skit on rape and an online quiz to make sure we all paid attention. “It takes more than an online course that takes an hour,” a wide-eyed freshman shared with me last week on a visit to my alma mater. In the brief year since I took off my cap and gown, another frat — Sigma Alpha Epsilon, aka Sexual Assault Expected, as we called it — was suspended due to sexual misconduct. And a bevy of reporters was now waving down students as they powered through final exams and the last few days of the school year amid the media circus.

I couldn’t even finish reading Emily Doe’s letter about how Turner pushed her down, fingered her and dry-humped her limp body in dark, excruciating detail. I was sobbing by page three, reading her letter alone in the dark on a Friday evening, well after it blew up on my newsfeed by friends but long before it hit national headlines by the rest of the world. The difference between the campus rapes of yesteryear and today’s case is the beauty and fortitude she used to articulate my worst nightmare and biggest fear — getting raped. It’s every woman’s fear, being violated over and over and watching helplessly, if she’s still conscious. That same fear hangs heavy in the air at Stanford today.

This rape hits painfully close to home — not just because I am so familiar with the house and bed of pine needles where it happened, but because the Stanford circle is smaller than you might think. My friends had classes with Turner. My boyfriend knew one of the heroic bikers who caught Turner as his former teaching assistant in an engineering class. Judge Aaron Persky — who sentenced Turner to only six months in jail — was a shining Stanford alum and a former classmate of one of my colleagues at OZY.

Turner’s father read an already notorious letter to Judge Persky requesting probation instead of prison for his son’s crime, arguing that “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve.” Turner has yet to face the music or the growing chorus of public outrage. He hasn’t even apologized to his victim — and it’s unlikely he ever will.

But the more uncomfortable truth is, when Turner gets out of jail in a few months, he’ll be fine — privilege is on his side. He’s a Stanford boy, after all.