There has been growing outrage over the sentence in the case of 20 year old Brock Turner, a star Stanford University athlete who raped an unconscious woman behind a garbage dumpster near a campus frat house – he received just six month’s jail time for the crime. The understandably angry reaction to such leniency in sentencing is compounded by Judge Aaron Persky (a Stanford alumnus), who in passing down his decision noted that a prison sentence “would have a severe impact” on the rapist. What about the severe impact the rape had on the victim? If you are shaking your head and wondering what’s going on here, join the club.
Two integral elements were entered into the proceedings by the victim and the rapist’s father, Dan Turner. I am no legal expert, but I fail to understand why the rapist’s father was allowed to do this. Brock is not a minor; therefore, he is responsible for his actions, not his old man. Meanwhile, a victim’s impact statement seems like the only thing that should have been heard by the court.
Questions have been raised about Judge Persky’s thought process in delivering such a light sentence, especially after listening to the victim read a 12-page letter about the trauma that this crime has caused in her life. She wrote, “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice.”
Apparently the victim’s lengthy and emotional appeal to the judge meant less to him than Dan Turner’s letter about his rapist son. Turner noted that his son was so distraught he could no longer eat a steak dinner. The father also indicated that a long sentence would be “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action,” referencing the time it took for Brock to rape the woman. How dare this man insinuate that this violent act was what he obviously is trying to say was his son getting some action?
Of course, Dan Turner shrewdly knew that by writing “action” he was attempting to not only qualify what happened as not being an assault but also to nullify the horror the woman had to endure. Since the judge in the end agreed with Turner by imposing such a light sentence, it seems the father’s words were more effective than the victim’s in the end.
Rape is one of the most horrific crimes that can be inflicted on a person. The concept of rape is really quite simple no matter how some try to redefine it – it is anything that goes beyond the victim’s willingness to participate or an inability to give consent. Once the person on the receiving end either physically refuses an advance or utters the word “No,” then the aggressor must cease and desist. In this case the victim was unconscious, so that rendered it impossible for her to make a decision; therefore, any ensuing “action” must be categorized as unwanted, meaning in no uncertain terms that any sexual activity would be rape.
Years ago in one of my English composition classes I used “Date Rape’s Other Victim,” an article by Katie Roiphe adapted from her book The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus. This was an attempt to get the conversation going about the next assignment that my students had to write – a persuasive essay. In a class of 26 students almost evenly divided between male and female, the impact of reading the article the night before led a vigorous and at times raucous discussion in which a number of students (male and female) became emotional. It is, of course, mentioned in the article that “one in four college women” have either been victims of rape or attempted rape, a statistic that shook up my class of 18 or 19 year old freshmen.
What became clear that day, and later on in the papers that the students would write, is that the definition of rape was muddled even back then. One of the guys said, “Well, girls always say ‘No’ because they don’t want to seem too easy.”
To which one of my female students responded, “Did you ever think that maybe girls say ‘No’ because they mean ‘No?’”
While things got a little heated there for most of the session – and definitely came down along lines of gender for the most part – the thing I tried to get to as the facilitator of the conversation was that each person has a responsibility to recognize the other one’s rights and respect them. Of course, when alcohol or drugs are involved and impairment is a factor, then the person has to stop upon realizing that the other party is in no condition to consent. At least in that session, all of my students seemed to agree with that.
Rape has always been a difficult topic that is uncomfortable to talk about and to confront; however, the Brock Turner case makes it necessary and compelling to do so now more than ever. The incongruously light sentence for rape handed down by Judge Persky is so shocking, so undermining of the victim’s long letter in which she passionately, but in the end futilely, pleads for some kind of justice, that the lasting damage to her is not hard to assess.
If a victim can lay bare her trauma, her horror, her psychological torment in such detail and still be discounted, then rape victims everywhere are going to worry about similar outcomes in court and probably hesitate to come forward. They will fear that all their efforts will end up with such horrific results. Why come forward at all? Unfortunately, throughout history, this is the reason many rape victims keep quiet in the first place – they fear that the victim will come out of it worse than the accused.
When reacting to the verdict, the victim’s lawyer said, “The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.” Now there are calls for Judge Persky to step down or be removed from the bench – Change.org has a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures in favor of removing Persky – but whether or not this happens, the damage to the victim cannot be undone. She has been re-victimized by the court and a system that has let her (and all rape victims) down.
In defense of Brock Turner, people have argued that he “is a good kid” and that he has never committed a crime before (as the judge also noted). Let’s make it clear – none of these things matter, absolutely none of them. Turner raped a defenseless woman in a vicious and pernicious manner, and the failure of the court to impose appropriate punishment is appalling.
One also has to look at the culture of rape on campuses across the country, what Roiphe notes as a “rape-crisis” that can also involve false accusations, which we have seen happen too; however, there is no denying that rape is a real issue at colleges, and Stanford has had more cases of rape and other sexual violence than any other college in the U.S. and is currently under federal investigation. So Turner’s case of raping an unconscious woman is part of a much larger problem on that elite Santa Clara Valley campus.
The victim’s letter stands as an essential document regarding rape, one that is as strong as anything Roiphe ever wrote about the subject. One can only describe it as gut-wrenching, and as Mel Robbins of CNN noted in her article, “Show Rape Victim’s Letter to Our Sons,” the letter should be required reading for the males in our lives – not just our sons but fathers, brothers, uncles, male cousins and friends. More importantly, we have to let our daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and female cousins and friends read it too. They have to know about the monster that could be out there and the danger that is real.
So Brock Turner gets six months in jail, three years’ probation, and will be a registered sex offender for life – meaning he got off way too easy. The victim, on the other hand, is sentenced for life – a lifetime of knowing that she was violated and treated literally like garbage behind a dumpster, and could have been just left for dead (if not for students who intervened).
Now the victim is supposed to get on with her life, knowing that in six months Turner will be out there again, chowing down on steak no doubt and able to live his life as if it never happened. How is the victim supposed to reconcile the inconceivable cruelty of that outcome?
Photo Credits: CNN