“Alabama’s law-enforcement and judicial system failed Brittany Smith in every way,” Talia Winiarsky (11) wrote in letter to the editor of The New Yorker, not knowing that her message was actually going to be included in their February 10th issue.
The opportunity was presented after one night, when, in the midst of her routine of reading before bed, Winiarsky came across a New Yorker article titled “How Far Can Abused Women Go to Protect Themselves,” which analyzed the case of Brittany Smith, a woman who was convicted of murder of a man who raped her.
Winiarsky was so appalled by the content of the article that she emailed a response letter to the author, Elizabeth Flock. Winiarsky’s letter explained how Brittany Smith’s case clearly contradicted the notion of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which she learned was recently ratified by Virginia as the 38th state, allowing it to be potentially considered as an addition to the Constitution. The proposed amendement prohibits the government from denying equal rightsunder the law on account of sex.
Winiarsky had studied the amendment in her AP United States History class, and reading Flock’s article caused her to notice the striking juxtaposition, making her feel as though she were reading about a “different United States altogether,” she wrote. “Even though we say that we passed the ERA and we say we make progress, it isn’t enough to say it.”
The article she responded to provides a detailed account of how Todd Smith, an old friend of Brittany Smith’s and a drug addict, raped her. Later that night, he began to choke her brother and threatened to kill the two of them. Brittany, afraid that her brother would die if she did not act quickly, picked up her brother’s gun and fired three rounds at the attacker after he did not listen to her pleas to let her brother go.
Despite the siblings’ efforts to save Todd, he later passed away, and Brittany was charged with his murder despite copious amounts of self-defense evidence.
Reading the article, Winiarsky was both stunned and frustrated by the ruling. “As a young woman in high-school, I am told that I have more rights than the women who came before me,” she wrote, “Smith’s story, however, and those of countless other women who have not had the opportunity to share theirs, make me think otherwise.” She was especially shocked and angered that law enforcers turned a blind eye to an action so clearly revealed to be self-defense, and that no one believed Brittany when she tried to show the factual evidence, she said. “The sheriff and deputy called the rape a ‘harassment,’ and Brittany had thirty three injuries to her body, yet they still didn’t believe it was a rape,” Winiarsky said. “She was treated as the perpetrator,” Winiarsky wrote in her piece.
Although none of Winiarsky’s letters had ever been published before, Winiarsky often emails the editors of newspapers and magazines after she reads their articles. “I think it is a really good way to get your opinion out there,” she said, knowing that many others read The New Yorker as well. Thus when she sent the response to Flock on her reporting in the article on January 17th, she certainly did not expect to be notified 10 days later that her letter would be published in the magazine. Needless to say, Winiarsky was very excited when she received the email. She was mainly surprised because she didn’t know how responsive the publication would be, and she wasn’t even sure if anyone actually read her response, she said. “I was appreciative that someone actually took the time to read my letter and say that my opinion was expressed well enough to be included in the magazine.”
Winarsky also expressed her awe over being mentioned in a newspaper where several of her favorite writers, such as Jill Lapore, Vinson Cunningham, and Jia Toletino, exhibit their work. “I think that it’s really cool that I can see my name or even just see something that I wrote, next to famous writers whom I admire.”