The woman who’s become a viral sensation for her powerful testimony at the sentencing of convicted rapist and former Stanford student Brock Turner has an Oscar nominee to thank for sharing her powerful statement to the world.
“This is another watershed moment, just like the Gaga moment at the Oscars,” Amy Ziering, producer of the harrowing 2015 campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground,” told TheWrap. “We’re seeing another survivor empowerment anthem get that global attention.”
Ziering herself had a hand in spreading the unnamed survivor’s account. Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who was seated in the courtroom where the survivor read her 12-page survivor impact statement aloud, immediately texted the filmmaker. “I was completely stunned, and then we worked to get it out,” Ziering said.
So Zeiring forwarded the woman’s powerful testimony to press contacts she’d made while promoting “The Hunting Ground,” including BuzzFeed, whose story last Friday quickly went viral.
On Monday, the survivor’s account got even more attention when CNN anchor Ashley Banfield read it nearly in full on air — a dramatic and highly unusual move for an evening news program.
“It’s been fantastic that the public is responding to the letter that the survivor wrote — in a way that the judge didn’t,” Ziering said. “Though the jury did, they convicted him, the judge was not apparently moved.”
Turner, 20, was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault and faced up to 14 years in prison for a January 2015 incident in which he was discovered attacking the survivor, who was unconscious, behind a Dumpster after a campus party. But Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to just six months, noting the “severe impact” a longer sentence would have on a young man who once had Olympic ambitions in swimming.
Dauber is currently spearheading a movement to have Persky removed from the bench. In the meantime, Ziering said the letter itself is a cultural moment similar to the one created when
“The groundwork that was laid by ‘The Invisible War,’ ‘The Hunting Ground,’ the Lady Gaga song, the student movement — those things all combined into this perfect storm where the public was finally ready to hear and respond appropriately,” Ziering said. “The shift we’re seeing in the media is on perpetrators, not on victims.”
“The Invisible War” is a 2012 documentary feature Ziering produced about sexual assault in the U.S. military that received an Oscar nomination.
While Ziering acknowledges “everyone under the sun” has written to the survivor, who detailed a traumatic experience in collecting evidence for her rape kit and a painful year living under the emotional weight of the attack.
As someone intimate with this kind of violence on college campuses, Ziering hopes the dialogue inspires real action, not just watershed TV moments.
“This is a major public blow to Stanford, so I hope this convinces universities to really, really, really make changes that are meaningful … they’re all wealthy, they have the money,” she said. “It’s about allocating resources to the right place.”
Ziering said mental health counselors are inundated with sexual assault victims on nationwide campuses, and colleges could starts addressing this crisis head on by employing dedicated therapists for survivors.
“Also, be curious! Ask questions, universities should be studying how to best independently investigate and adjudicate these incidents … people don’t need to go through this and the numbers they currently are,” said Ziering.