This is a column about the value of six. Actually, it’s about three individual sixes and their respective values.
The first six came after a 23-year-old woman – her name has never been revealed – spoke in court to address the man who raped her last year, who took her out behind the dumpsters and penetrated her with his fingers after she had too much to drink and passed out at a party. He might have gone further, except that he was spotted by two passersby who tackled him when he tried to run.
“You don’t know me,” she told 20-year-old Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, an Olympic hopeful in swimming, “but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”
She spoke of the rape and its aftermath, including the fact that that awful night a year and a half ago has left her sleeping with the lights on “like a five year old.” In her statement (which you can – and should – read at Buzzfeed.com), the woman describes how it felt, after a long and invasive rape exam, to finally be alone with herself in the shower.
“I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”
Turner’s father, Dan, also offered a statement, pleading for leniency for his son. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.”
Turner was facing up to 14 years in prison. Judge Aaron Persky gave him the aforementioned six.
As in, months.
A harsher sentence “would have a severe impact on him,” explained the judge.
Persky’s compassion for the rapist – and lack thereof for the victim – has detonated social media like a bomb. People are furious. They are weeping. They are calling Turner a “monster.” At this writing, a petition at Change.org demanding Persky’s recall stands north of 900,000 signatures.
Which brings us to the second six.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says that one woman in every six has been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. It’s an awesome, awful number. Think about it in terms of women you know. Think about Bonnie, Kadijah, Heather, Consuela, Sarah and Kim.
One, two, three, four, five …
Maybe she’s never told you about it, so maybe you think it didn’t – couldn’t – have happened, not to one of your six. But the numbers are what the numbers are. Maryum, Stephanie, Yumiko, Keshia, Laurie … and Pam. One, two, three, four, five …and six.
It’s not a big number. You were counting past it in kindergarten.
For an American woman, it’s a measure of the danger she faces from predatory men who consider her body to be their right. It is the difference between self-confidence and fear.
For Turner’s victim, it is a measure of the value the justice system placed on her trauma – and on her. It is the difference between the free woman she was and the frightened one she has become.
For Turner, it is the fraction of his life he’s been ordered to pay for the arrogant violation of another person’s self. It is the difference between spring and fall.
And here’s the final six: According to RAINN, only six in every thousand perpetrators of sexual assault end up in prison.
If you are a woman, or a man who cares about women, you ought to seethe and then do whatever you can to fix a culture that makes possible a Brock Turner – and an Aaron Persky.
Because, either way you look at it, the value of six is small – too small for safety, too small for solace.
And way too small for justice.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist. Email him at email@example.com.