Esmé Patterson’s decadal musical career sprang from Colorado’s mountains when she co-founded Denver’s beloved indie-folk ensemble Paper Bird. After four acclaimed albums and perpetual touring, Patterson set a new course. In 2012, she wove local talents, including Nathaniel Rateliff, into her first powerful, ethereal solo release All Princes, I. Her 2014 release, Woman to Woman, rounded out previously one-dimensional females from popular songs to the praise of The New York Times, The Guardian and others. “Dearly Departed,” her hit collaboration with Shakey Graves, led to millions of streams, sold out shows nationwide, as well as performances on Conan and The Late Show With David Letterman. Patterson’s newest record, We Were Wild, was released on June 10, 2016.
(Photo credit: Daniel Topete)
My name is Esmé Patterson. I’m a musician and I don’t often speak publicly, in prose, about my personal politics, but a recent situation has impelled me to act and to speak up.
I have been reading about the Stanford rapist, Brock Turner. If you haven’t heard, here’s a short recap: a nineteen-year-old student, at Stanford University on a swimming scholarship, sexually assaulted a young woman and was sentenced to six months in county jail. Men who have committed similar crimes have been handed down much more severe sentences. He has yet to admit any fault other than being drunk. His father and friends have publicly defended him.
This story struck me deeply as a woman and as a survivor of sexual assault. The victim of the Stanford rapist has chosen not to identify herself publicly, not to put her name to her story, and I feel that her choice somehow makes this case even more poignant: she is every woman. This brave woman is inside all of us, and we are all this vulnerable.
The part of her story that moved me most was the way that she chose to focus on the people involved who acted with love and without hesitation: the two Swedish bicyclists. These young men were riding by, saw her being assaulted, tackled her assailant, held him down and called the police. She said in her letter to her rapist that she drew two pictures of bicycles and put them over her bed to remind her of the good in people in a time when that was hard to remember.
Having been through similar experiences in my life, I know that learning to trust again, learning to see the good in people, the good in the world, can be a very tough road, and I respect this woman’s courage with all my heart. That’s why I’ve decided to show solidarity with her by wearing the emblem of the two bicycles at all of my shows on my upcoming tour. I feel that the best ways for our local and global communities to heal from sexual assault (because it hurts all of us, not just the victim) are to encourage personal responsibility by punishing cowardly, violent, amoral actions, and by celebrating brave, kind, thoughtful actions.
Our laws are made to protect and reflect us, the citizens of this democratic nation, and we have the right and the responsibility to express dissent when we feel that justice has not been served. I feel, and have read the opinions of many others who agree, that the ruling on this case seems tainted by the prejudice of a patriarchal system that protects men before it protects women. Well, white men, anyhow. I believe there is no grey area of culpability for a rape victim. If someone sexually penetrates another person without their consent, they have committed rape and should receive at least the minimum mandatory sentence. It’s that simple.
Through discussing this publicly, I hope people will become aware of their rights and the power that we all have to change our system together if we feel it doesn’t reflect the values that we have as a society, and I sure as hell hope that the ruling on the Stanford rape case does not reflect the values of our society; I hope we’re better than that. I hope that protecting victims is more important to us than this.
The other side of this coin for me is fueled by love, by the spirit of the two bicycles. I feel it is important to remember that there are no “good” or “bad” people, that we all have goodness and badness inside of us and we make choices. When we look at someone like Brock Turner and say, “He’s a monster,” we remove his humanity, making him an “other,” and this excuses us from admitting that he is a human, just like us, and we must all be held responsible for our actions. To me, the symbol of the two bicycles is the symbol of a choice — of the right choice: to defend women, to act with kindness and without hesitation when you feel something is wrong and someone is being hurt.
You may ask, “Why talk about this? It has nothing to do with making music, with releasing an album,” etc. Well, I believe that people working together is one of the most powerful forces we have to change and celebrate our world. I believe that with the right to artistic freedom comes the responsibility to use your voice to do good in the world, and with the opportunity that I have to play to rooms full of people every night comes the responsibility to try to heal and help when I can.
So many of us have been sexually assaulted (if you haven’t, I’m sorry to say that I’m sure you love someone who has), and we can’t go around making other people’s choices for them, but we can stand together and celebrate the courage of survivors of sexual assault, and the courage of people who fight specifically and generally to protect women’s bodies and women’s rights. We can challenge our legislators and demand justice. We can cry together and laugh together and celebrate the heroes among us, in all of us, and in doing so I hope we realize that we all have that light, that spark of goodness within us, and can choose to help each other and heal each other and act with love and respect toward one another.