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A California jury found swimming star Brock Allen Turner guilty of three felony charges of sexual assault this March, but last week a judge sentenced him to a mere six months of jail time and probation. In a statement she read aloud to Turner at the sentencing, the survivor outlined why she thought the ruling was too lenient and condemned a culture that prevents boys from ever being held accountable for this type of crime. BuzzFeed subsequently published her statements and the case has dominated social media.
The ad also takes on the work of criticizing the popular empathy exercise well-meaning people often employ during cases like this: “What would you do if she were your mother? Your sister?” Dunham’s ad makes the nuanced point that that path of logic omits the survivor’s own personhood. It sidebars the fact that no person—any person—deserves to be sexually assaulted, regardless of what their utility is to other people.
According to Dunham and her co-stars, even if a woman is not someone’s mother, sister, or teacher, “she is someone.” And in a cultural environment where things like the Turner ruling are still commonplace, it’s an important distinction to make.
Christine Friar is a writer and editor in New York who focuses on streaming entertainment and internet culture. Her work has appeared in the Awl, the Fader, New York Magazine, Paper Magazine, Vogue, Elle, and more.