After Steubenville and The Daniel Holtzclaw trial, another case of sexual violence against women is in the national spotlight. Charles Rae covers the whole story.
January 2015, Brock Allen Turner attacked a female victim behind a dumpster. Two strangers intervened, a chase ensued, and the strangers held him down and called the police. Fast forward to March 2016, Turner was tried and faced a maximum of 14 years in prison. Turner was found guilty by a unanimous jury, the three felony charges were,
assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. MercuryNews
It was also reported that,
Prosecutors recommended six years in state prison, noting that he’d lied about his alcohol history, had been previously accused of aggression toward women and has refused to admit he committed assault. Huffpo.
There are several reasons the internet has collectively lost its shit because of Brock Turner and Co.
1. Turner’s Repeated Social Status
Most of the media you’ll search about this man will inform you of his social status first. The Washington Post introduces him (in an article containing a statement the victim made) as “Ex-Stanford swimmer” and “Former Standford University varsity swimmer.” The Guardian, in the article announcing his conviction, off the bat refers to Turner as “A former Stanford University athlete.” The Huffington Post introduced his father as “The father of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner.” Not sexual predator Brock Turner, not violent criminal Brock Turner, which are glaringly more appropriate. The world is a broken record.
As @LaurenDeStephano put it,
Turner’s social status is a key factor in this case and in the media coverage of it. Words like varsity and athlete and Stanford and potential Olympic Swimmer still have status in our culture, even if there’s an “ex” before it. There’s still no violent offender and former Stanford athlete Brock Turners coming up in my Google Search. The “ex” is a ploy, as is feigned concern about his ruined career. Turner’s career wasn’t dropped like a dinner plate, he ruined it himself when he decided to commit a violent sex crime. The constant repetition of status manipulates viewers into sympathizing with a supposed lost American Hero. Or as Anne Theriault put it in The Establishment, “the narrative persists that young white men convicted of rape are being unfairly denied their potential bright futures.”
This is all a part of the language of a culture which minimizes rape and sexual violence. It’s built into the language and repeated so many times that it’s normalized. It demonstrates that regardless of his crime his social status is still what defines him, and impacts every other perception we might have of him. Former Stanford athlete first, sexual predator second. Which is more important? Which is he? As if he couldn’t be both.
This is a result of sexism within capitalism. We live in a celebrity-glorified culture. Even tiny celebrities like Youtube commentators have become important to us. The more glorified the title the more likely society will refuse to believe a crime has been committed. Look at Amber Heard, who has a lot of evidence against Johnny Depp, or the over 50 women who have accused Bill Cosby of raping them and we still couldn’t believe it. In a class-based society, status is important. It does more than skew public perception. It hires these men the best legal council, keeps violent offenders like Turner out of jail on bond, and it even correlates to shorter prison sentences. Apprehension and outright denial to call high-profile men rapists or sexual predators is a part of rape culture.
2. Turner’s Picture
Turner has been pictured many times, and the picture reaffirms his status and the sympathy angle that mainstream medias are playing at: a school picture. Turner’s got a bright face, looks somehow naive, is wearing a blazer and a goofy smile. Finally, we got the mugshot, and it ain’t so pretty.
Turner has unruly hair, bloodshot eyes, and the overall maniacal look of someone who just sexually assaulted a woman behind a dumpster, ran when he was caught, and was tackled.
The apparent racism in this media coverage has not gone unnoticed by vigilant writer and activist Shaun King who said on his public Facebook wall,
After 18 months we now have the ACTUAL mugshot of Brock Turner the night he was arrested for rape in January of 2015.[…]
For 18 months they kept this from the public. That’s the epitome of white privilege.
Everything about this case is disgusting.
King also penned an article for the Daily News detailing the racism in this case. A juxtaposition of Brock Turner’s (a violent criminal) picture, and Trayvon Maritin’s (a 12 year old boy shot and killed by police), puts the media portrayal of sympathy in context.
The media intentionally portrays Turner as a sympathetic character, which they didn’t even do for an innocent kid who was murdered. It’s obvious that the media knows what it’s doing and can choose a side in a story, and in both cases, chooses the side of the perpetrator and not the victim. It’s rape culture to continue to paint a sexual predator in a favorable light in the public eye.
3. Turner’s Sentencing
Another viral narrative that has enraged the internet was the sentencing. With prosecutors recommending 6 years for his violent crime,
Brock Allen Turner, 20, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation – a punishment that is significantly less severe than the minimum prison time of two years prescribed by state law for his felony offenses. […] Further scrutiny on the judge’s remarks at sentencing appear to suggest he concluded the defendant had “less moral culpability” because he was drunk. The Guardian
After Turner was convicted on three violent felony charges, Judge Aaron Persky also said “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” These remarks alone are easy enough to point to as a representation of rape culture, not only that which is perpetrated by media, but institutionalized and backed up by Judges in our courts of law. Did he have to look the victim in the eye when he said he did not consider her violent sexual offender to be a danger to others?
Unsurprisingly, Judge Persky has a history of giving lenient sentences to violent abusers.
Stanford law Professor Michele Landis Dauber (read about her here) intends to run a recall campaign because of his decision. The website dedicated to this cause can be found here, with a link to donate to the campaign. You can follow along with the campaign on this Facebook page.
4. Turner’s Lies and Coverups
*Under construction because of new evidence surfacing*
5. Turner’s Father’s Letter
This letter to Judge Persky, written by Turner’s father, also went viral. In the letter he called the sexual attack “20 minutes of action,” and reiterated rhetoric about alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, neither of which are crimes. Turner’s mother also mirrored this denial of responsibility in her letter to the Judge where she writes of asking herself “Why him? Why HIM? WHY? WHY?” Penetrating an unconscious woman with foreign objects, however, is. The gravity of his son’s actions are completely lost on him, which has prompted idioms like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” to accompany posts which criticize his letter. This was all after his son was convicted.
Neither Turner nor his father will even say out loud what Turner has been convicted of. They, along with his legal defense, insist that this was an incident of two kids being reckless.This consistent denial of responsibility has echoed in our media, is passed down through generations, and reiterated by the court system itself. Rape. Culture.
Furthermore, blaming Turner’s actions on their collective drinking is scientifically proven to be wrong. In one meta-analysis, reported on by the Washington Post, reiterates what feminists have been saying all along. It’s not alcohol which causes rape, the analysis reported that “men who commit sexual assault when drinking alcohol are similar to men who commit sexual assault when sober in most aspects of their personality and attitudes.”
6. Turner’s Friend
As if it’s not enough that this man had his father, his well-paid lawyer, and the judge negating his responsibility, a friend of Turner’s wrote a letter to the Judge which, again, went viral. The entire letter can be read at NYMag.
Turner’s friend blamed public outrage on political correctness and has been widely quoted saying we should all “see that rape on campus isn’t always because people are rapists.”
This is another line of rape apology. Why not say not all murders are committed by murderers? Not all robberies are committed by robbers? Who the hell else are they committed by? The act of rape makes someone a rapist, point blank.
7. Lastly, and most importantly, the Victim’s Statement
This testimony to the culture of rape – and subsequently, denial – is a statement Turner’s victim made in court, which also went viral, and is being hailed for its poignancy and power. It will be quoted here in great detail outlining her responses.
The victim described what it was like to realize her body had been violated and to not remember, and said painfully,
I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.
She describes how she found out about the details of the attack on her phone at work in a news article.
In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. […]
And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming.
The victim grasps the rape culture we live in so firmly she even stated:
Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else.
The trial brought the victim to the edge of her own sanity with the gaslighting she experienced.
I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet.
She talked about how Turner’s story had changed in the year between the attack and the trial,
So one year later, as predicted, a new dialogue emerged. Brock had a strange new story, almost sounded like a poorly written young adult novel with kissing and dancing and hand holding and lovingly tumbling onto the ground, and most importantly in this new story, there was suddenly consent. One year after the incident, he remembered, oh yeah, by the way she actually said yes, to everything, so.
He said he had asked if I wanted to dance. Apparently I said yes. He’d asked if I wanted to go to his dorm, I said yes. Then he asked if he could finger me and I said yes. Most guys don’t ask, can I finger you? Usually there’s a natural progression of things, unfolding consensually, not a Q and A. But apparently I granted full permission. He’s in the clear. Even in his story, I only said a total of three words, yes yes yes, before he had me half naked on the ground.
She went on to contest the logical progression of this consent by asking,
Next in the story, two Swedes on bicycles approached you and you ran. When they tackled you why didn’t say, “Stop! Everything’s okay, go ask her, she’s right over there, she’ll tell you.” I mean you had just asked for my consent, right? I was awake, right?
Another alteration in his story even broke me:
On top of all this, he claimed that I orgasmed after one minute of digital penetration. The nurse said there had been abrasions, lacerations, and dirt in my genitalia. Was that before or after I came? […] To [have your attorney] say, yes her nurse confirmed there was redness and abrasions inside her, significant trauma to her genitalia, but that’s what happens when you finger someone, and he’s already admitted to that.
To use this line of logic in court is to promote rape culture. The attorney used her physical trauma as an indication of consent. Let that sink in.
The victim refuted Turner’s regret of reckless drinking which he “stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing [it]”:
Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That’s the difference. […] you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me. […] You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? […]
By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction. […]
The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error.
The victim refutes the framing that they were somehow equally at fault for partying, or that because his life is forever altered, he’s the only one whose life was ruined:
[…] you said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.
A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect.
- As was covered previously in this article, a recall campaign against Judge Allen Persky is underway.
- Jurors refuse to serve in Judge Persky’s court room en masse.
- Stanford students plan graduation protest.
To conclude, the Fem Column as a whole would like to commend this woman for her strength, intellect, and perseverance in seeing this through. We at the column have dedicated our time to researching, linking, and collecting information for this article as an act of solidarity with this woman. We wanted to create a single link that anyone debating this case would be able to use to combat rape culture. It’s the least we could do, to offer our media as a tool to help end the mass gaslighting of women who live in such a culture. It’s our attempt to push, as hard as we could, along with the victim, the women fighting tooth and nail against our culture, and all who speak out online or in their social circles, to push the social tide in a new direction.
Relevant links referenced in this article:
(this article will be updated if any more relevant information emerges)
The Victim’s Statement
The Victim’s Statement Read Outloud
Coverage of Conviction
Meta-Analysis of Rape and Drinking
Coverage of Meta-Analysis
The Father’s Letter to the Judge
The Mother’s Letter to the Judge
The Friend’s letter to the Judge
Judge Perky Recall Website
Article about Judge Persky’s Recall
Article about Woman Leading the Recall
Facebook page following Recall Campaign
The two Men who Intervened
Shaun King on the Racist Media Coverage
Anne Theriault in The Establishment
The Definition of Rape Culture
The Definition of Rape Apologizing
The Definition of Gaslighting