I don’t want to write about the Stanford rape case. I’ve done everything possible to push it all out of my head, because every single thing I’ve read either makes me cry, or sick to my stomach. I’ve been thinking about what we — all of us — can do to find a positive slant; can we find any lesson or inspiration that will help us do better? With every bit of news, each detail we hear since reading her — I simply cannot stand to call the woman in this case a victim, because with that extraordinary statement, she transformed herself into one of the most powerful people any of us will ever know — words, the surrounding story just seems to get worse. The truth of her speech is such that it’s impossible to add anything; every woman who has ever reported a sexual assault shares her incredulity at the process…the questions, the secondary invasion of authorities and medical personnel, reliving the violation time and again, and if it goes as far as trial, things only get harder. That letter has rightfully been shared around the world over and over, and we must keep her words in circulation so that none of us forgets. It is high time we change the way we treat people who are attacked; accepting the way we question a person who’s suffered an assault as if she is at fault for her drinking, her clothing, her flirting, her state of mind, her party attendance, her aloneness, her certainty, her motive — as if she somehow invited what happened — this can no longer be the option. What should stand out most as the Brock Turner case is discussed is our collective mentality when we address these two people. It has somehow become the standard that everything about the way we conduct ourselves is the woman’s responsibility; drinking excessively means she has, in theory, set herself up to be attacked, while the male’s excessive drinking makes him incapable of responsible behaviour — a “victim of party culture” and peer pressure, and deserving of leniency. This is on us. We have created this society, this culture where even in a time when a woman can become a presidential nominee, she is held to a different standard; where a woman must take every imaginable precaution from the clothing and make-up she wears to every nuance of her conduct to keep from being ogled or attacked, and a man can attack her but be relieved of a mandatory sentence because of his youth and alcohol consumption. (Don’t even get me started on if that attack resulted in a pregnancy; she would be prodded by a large part of the population to keep and raise that child, whether her youth or capabilities allowed for it or not.)
As I said, there is nearly nothing in reading about this case that doesn’t leave me with a giant lump in my throat and feeling sick, not the least of which is Brock Turner’s father’s disgusting comments, not the foolish, illogical and tone deaf statements by Turner’s friends and family. The majority of those supporting a lenient sentence for the convicted rapist would lay blame everywhere but on Brock Turner, and for reasons no one can understand, so did Turner’s female probation officer and elected Judge Aaron Persky, who had discretion to deviate from the 2 year state prison mandatory sentence. According to Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney James Gibbons-Shapiro, that probation officer recommended leniency specifically because of Turner’s “youth, alcohol level, and status as a first-time offender,” and that Turner was remorseful because he understood that the woman he attacked was unable to make an informed decision, and “he had a moral responsibility to act in her best interest, which he failed to do.” But, just in case you’re not feeling ill enough, before he raped a woman, Turner had “exhibited concerning behavior” with other women, and had previously been arrested in 2014 for drinking on campus (he and the group he was with had also run from police, and had to be requested to return to the scene). Additionally, at his sentencing hearing, prosecutors advised the judge that Turner had lied about his drug and alcohol history, and somehow still, Persky handed down that non-sentence.
Finally, if you’ve managed to make it through all this information without feeling utterly ill I apologize for what I’m about to do, and direct you to the entirety of Brock Turner’s own statement to the judge. In it, he blames party culture and college lifestyle, peer pressure, his naiveté, inexperience with alcohol, small town background, looking up to and wanting to emulate his newfound family (swim teammates) — a desire to fit in — being led to the Kappa Alpha party, his swim team caption’s actions, and the woman who he assaulted falling down; he blames all these people and things for the rape he has somehow convinced himself he didn’t commit. Despite that he describes how drunk everyone at this party is, and that they both fell down because she’d “lost her footing” on the sloped ground, that he’s feeling sick to the point where he’s going to throw up — Turner claims he was already walking away when the two Swedish students, Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson went after him — Turner says the sex was consensual. ““We can see that she isn’t moving at all but he is moving a lot.” And then, Turner tries to run away.
Brock Turner’s statement is one of irresponsibility, of someone who has been taught that he and his wants come before all else, that any rules are what he makes of them, and that if anything should ever go wrong, he would never need to do more than feign remorse. He comes from a place of privilege, where kids are on a pedestal from the moment they’re born and if by some magical higher power they should happen to have natural athletic ability, they can ostensibly become gods in their own towns. I see a bit of it in the town where I live now, where from the time little boys can hold a ball, they’re donned in Daddy’s favorite team uniform and groomed for the stars they might become. This isn’t to say that sports are to blame, or that all athletes are privileged, but there can be combinations of parenting and dreams and opportunity that breed a feeling of “untouchable-ness” that have somehow become all too common in our country and especially in the college environment. While we’re spending time teaching our girls to protect and defend themselves, to not do and to not be and to not act — or be perceived — a certain way, we’re still sending out our boys as irresponsible kings.
In Santa Clara County, a group of women are working to get the necessary 58,000+ registered voter signatures to force a special recall election of Judge Persky, and we can hope for that to happen, but the track record of such measures isn’t good. Statistics on college sexual assault are terrifying; at Stanford alone, there were reported attacks every two weeks over the past three years. That is pure insanity. But, if judges like Persky keep choosing to excuse privileged kids like Brock Turner, setting them free with a ridiculous slap, those statistics aren’t going to change. If we parents, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives don’t believe in, discuss, set an equal standard of and demand respect and responsibility from all genders, the statistics aren’t going to change. If we are parents, we must make that change in how we teach our sons and daughters. When they are old enough to understand, we have to have these discussions before they head off into the world; we can teach them to make the right choices, and when they don’t we must hold them accountable. It is our job as fellow humans to create a culture of responsibility from the time our children are small, and that includes keeping them grounded no matter how well they swim, or skate, or sing or hit a ball. If we don’t all sit down and discuss what happened in this case, don’t read, pass around and learn from this anonymous heroine’s — and she is a heroine in every sense of the word, reading out her thoughtfully chosen, affecting words about her horrific experience to a courtroom full of people and beyond — we cannot expect change. This heroine’s life is forever changed. Brock Turner’s life is forever changed. Everyone who has read about this case is in some way, affected and changed. For us not to do things differently, to affect those statistics and effect change is simply unacceptable.
*Updated: I just wanted to add the link to our wonderful advocate and Vice President, Joe Biden’s open letter to our heroine. An excerpt:
I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul. Words that should be required reading for men and women of all ages.
Words that I wish with all of my heart you never had to write.
I am in awe of your courage for speaking out — for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity…
It must have been wrenching — to relive what he did to you all over again. But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.
You are a warrior — with a solid steel spine.”
Please read and share his letter in full.
*Update 2: According to the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections, Turner is expected to be released September 2nd, after serving only 3 months of his 6 month sentence.