The Brock Turner rape case is a stew of victim blaming, misogyny, and privilege.
Last Thursday, convicted rapist Brock Turner arrived in a Santa Clara County court to receive his sentence: six months in county jail, likely to be reduced to three after good behavior. Most reasonable people do not agree that the sentence fits the crime (three counts of felony sexual assault carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in state prison, and the prosecution had asked for six). But this is just the tip of the iceberg in an incredibly horrific rape case that highlights, at every step of the way, why rape culture is alive and well in the United States.
Here are 10 reasons why this case is even more awful than it looks at first glance.
1) The media
The media in general tends to struggle with reporting rape cases, especially during the trial phase, for liability reasons. That’s why you see headlines like “had sex with” or “alleged rapist.” Once someone is convicted, though, you’d think we could dispense with the fig leaves, but you’d be wrong.
Take this headline from the Washington Post:
She’s a “rape victim,” he’s a “former Stanford swimmer.” Not a rapist. A “former Stanford swimmer.” She’s defined by the horrible crime he perpetrated, and he’s defined by his social status. The Post is far from the only offender when it comes to media outlets that refuse to call Brock Turner a rapist.
2) That victim statement
It’s well worth reading the victim’s 12-page Victim Impact Statement, though it also makes for extremely difficult reading. In it, she goes into graphic detail about her experience, describing the immediate aftermath of the rape and her terror at realizing that she had no memory of the incident that had hospital personnel and police officers swarming around her. She also discussed the agony she’s been living with over the ensuing months, including anxiety, depression, and stress so extreme that she ultimately quit her job.
The line that really kills me: “You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself.”
3) He’s still blaming the victim
The victim has repeatedly said that she would like him to apologize for raping her, which is a pretty reasonable request. Instead of offering apology, he’s repeatedly doubled down on blaming her for his decision to rape her. In court, and elsewhere, he’s said that he wants to start a program teaching college students about the dangers of binge drinking.
He’s turning this into a narrative where she was drinking and consented, and thus she’sto blame if she later decided it was rape. Keep in mind that the witnesses who intervened in her rape, Lars Peter Jonsson and Carl Frederik Arndt, did so because she appeared to be completely unconscious and non-responsive.
4) California has a “yes means yes” law designed to target campus sexual assault, and yet…
It passed a little over a year before this rape took place. During that year, California high schools and colleges like Stanford had numerous opportunities to do outreach and education to inform rapists like Brock Turner that they need to obtain explicit, affirmative consent from people they would like to have sex with. Being unconscious and unable to say “no” does not equate to affirmative consent.
Senators Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), California Senate president pro tempore, and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) coauthored the bill, and here’s what they had to say about it:
California has created a standard that requires affirmative consent — affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity — throughout the encounter, removing ambiguity for both parties. The law protects both partners by ensuring a mutual understanding. A person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol cannot give consent. And California colleges are being held more accountable for prevention, evaluation and a consistent protocol surrounding sexual assault.
5) Nearly half of college athletes say they’ve coerced their partners into sexual activity
Just days before Turner was sentenced, a new study indicated that college athletes are much more likely to commit sexual assaults than non-athletes, due to disparities in “rape myth acceptance.” Over half of the athletes surveyed admitted to coercive behavior, compared to a little more than a third of non-athletes.
The study found that both recreational and intercollegiate athletes were much more likely to believe in rape myths, including the belief that intoxication doesn’t interfere with consent. This isn’t the first study to come up with similar findings, and numerous organizations have recommended outreach and education for college athletes for this very reason.
6) This exists
The second Google result for Brock Turner as of yesterday afternoon was this Facebook page, touting “Brock Turner for 2016 Olympics.”
They’re busily smearing the victim and insisting that Turner should get a break because he’s just doing what any rambunctious college athlete would do. Here’s an update from February: “The rape charges against Brock have been dropped. Score one for the good guys! He’s still being tried for some minor stuff that actually happens all the time at parties, so its defiantly [sic] nothing to worry about.”
Incidentally, presidents cannot pardon people for state criminal offenses, and USA Swimming has indicated that while Turner’s membership has lapsed, making it impossible to sanction him, he would be considered ineligible for membership in the future. Because USA swimming, unlike Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, thinks that there should be consequences for raping people.
7) He was a “good guy”
Speaking of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, in justifying Turner’s sentence, he claimed to consider how “remorseful” Turner was, along with weighing his “character” and “lack of criminal history.” Despite hearing the victim eloquently and painfully articulate what she’s feeling, the judge apparently thought that testimony like a comment from a friend that he didn’t seem like that kind of guy meant more in the sentencing process.
He also commented that Turner likely won’t ever apologize to his victim, but he doesn’t seem very concerned by it.
This kind of “not that kind of man” narrative is why so many men get away with rape. And the notion that privileged white guys going to top schools are inherently of good character is why people like Turner are so rarely held accountable for sex crimes.
8) 23 percent of college women report that they have been sexually assaulted
Of those who didn’t report (as in, in 72 to 95 percent of cases), over two thirds of them stated that they didn’t bother because they thought no one would do anything. This particular case was somewhat unique because it went directly to the police after witnesses intervened.
Had the case been reported to Stanford, it might have turned out very differently, particularly because college athletes enjoy a highly privileged social status and their schools will go to great lengths to protect them.
Take the Jameis Winston rape case, for example, which was bungled from start to finish. One reason why? His status as a star athlete, and the school’s desire to protect him along with its reputation. They valued him over justice for his accuser.
9) Judge Persky is up for reelection
But because he’s running unopposed, Santa Clara County voters don’t have an opportunity to vote him off the bench, since he’s not even appearing on the ballot. This case really illustrates why it’s so important to learn about local officials like judges, because you’re empowered to decide when it’s time for them to be taken out of office.
No matter where you live, you can’t cast a vote against Judge Persky, but you can play a role in other downticket races on your ballot.
10) His father’s letter — the latest development — is beyond awful
Dan A. Turner wrote a brief statement in defense of his son. His comments serve both as an appalling illustration of rape culture, and an explanation for why his son is such a terrible person.
After hearing that his son’s victim is experiencing acute psychological issues, he wants us to know that his son’s life has gotten so very difficult because he was accused of rape. He can’t even enjoy steak anymore!
It wasn’t enough to make this all about his son’s pain, though. Oh no. He referred to the rape as “20 minutes of action.”
20 minutes of action.
Let that sink in. He’s arguing that his son’s life has been completely ruined because he raped someone and got caught, and he’s referring to the rape in an incredibly crude, frat-boyish way that clearly indicates he’s firmly on the side of “she was asking for it.”
Like his son, he’s also doubling down on the victim blaming: “Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.”
It wasn’t rape, according to Dan A. Turner. It was just “sexual promiscuity.”