For those who’ve been paying attention, the name Brock Turner has elicited outrage and shock from all corners of the public. The former freshman Stanford University swimmer has been at the center of a year-long trial for raping an unidentified woman on the night of January 17, 2015.
An intoxicated Turner initially encountered his female victim – whose identity has remained protected from media disclosure – while hanging out at a dance club. She was later found behind a dumpster near a fraternity house party, when two other young men intervened to stop the attack. Once the trial began, Turner was inconsistent with his own recollection of that night’s events.
In courtroom testimony, Turner’s victim recounted harrowing details in the aftermath of waking up in the hospital and feeling the physical and emotional pain resulting from the violation to her body. She was systematically humiliated as hospital staff examined her bruises, abrasions, lacerations, and torn bodily tissue. Her experience was made all the more traumatic by the fact that she couldn’t remember what had actually happened during Turner’s attack.
But for his crime, Brock Turner received only six months in prison (rather than the maximum sentence of fourteen years). The charges against him were downgraded from “rape” to “assault” due to a legal loophole; the state of California specifically defines “rape” as the penis non-consensually penetrating another person’s anus or vagina.
Because Turner forcibly penetrated his victim with fingers – rather than with his own genitalia – Judge Aaron Persky redefined Turner’s criminal offense as “assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object; and penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.” Thus, no longer considering it to be, by definition, a “rape.”
Yet, according to the FBI, rape is defined as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object…without the consent of the victim.” The state of California’s failure to update its laws on par with this definition gave Persky an excuse to “redefine” the terms of Turner’s sentencing.
For his part, Turner claimed that he didn’t stop the penetration because his victim wasn’t responding. Well of course she wasn’t responding, dipshit – she was sort of UNCONSCIOUS at the time! And then his defense attorney, Mike Armstrong, had the audacity to assert that Turner shouldn’t be blamed because the college student was too drunk to be in control of his decision-making.
Aside from his half-year of jail time (and it’s possible he’ll only end up serving three months of that!), Turner will have to register as a sex offender. He will be subject to a lifetime removal of all formal athletic privileges. But, for more than a year of the trial’s duration, Turner had remained unapologetic and refused to take responsibility for his crime.
The victim’s open letter to Brock Turner, Aaron Persky, and members of the closed courtroom sheds light on the inanity of Brock Turner’s partial-vindication:
It doesn’t make sense. 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 consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative. The fact that Brock was a star athlete at a prestigious university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a strong cultural message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.
Turner’s own father, Dan, decried the scrutiny his son has faced while cavalierly trivializing the rape as “20 minutes of action.” And, according to Dan Turner, his son’s suffering has been made all the more tragic by Brock being so upset he’s no longer able to eat his favorite food: steak.
Judge Persky seemed to agree with this bubble of sympathy, citing Turner’s status as a college student and first-time offender when laying out the rationale for leniency. Persky insisted that a state prison sentence wouldn’t be an antidote, since the damage to the victim had already been done. Thus, he reasoned, six months in county jail plus three years of probation was enough to teach Turner a lesson – along with a felony (rather than a misdemeanor) of “assault” going on his record.
In response, an online petition has popped up calling for a judicial recall of Persky. The petitioners claim that Persky’s ruling was sexist, racist, and classist. Not only have angry citizens expressed desire for Judge Persky to be removed from the bench – some have even made death threats against him and his family members.
At this point, I’m utterly sickened – but not just by what Brock Turner did. It also makes me sick to my stomach how virtually all of the players in this melodrama have been allowed to flaunt their bad behavior at the expense of an innocent woman’s dignity and sense of security.
Personal responsibility somehow seems lost on the masses…and, in the process, those who are initially targeted and victimized end up being the ones who get shamed.
The foremost culpability lies with the perpetrator himself. Brock Turner may claim he had impaired judgment from too much alcohol. He might think he isn’t truly responsible for his atrocious act, not having been of sound mind when he’d committed it. But that doesn’t matter. No one forced Turner to get uncontrollably drunk. And his victim never asked to be raped. NO ONE – female or male, brown or pale, rich or poor, of any color or creed – EVER “asks” to be raped!
And then there’s Judge Aaron Persky, who essentially let Turner off with a slap on the wrist. Should Persky be judicially recalled for his role in this travesty? I’d have no problem with it if he was. Judges are supposed to use prudent judgment when rendering verdicts…and it’s clear to most observers that Persky, in this scenario, was doing anything but that! Whatever might have been going through his head when he’d made that ruling is, quite frankly, irrelevant. No one with any common sense would argue that Persky came to this decision, in any iteration of our universe, rationally.
But it doesn’t stop with just these two. Dan Turner (the father of the convicted) seems keen to write off his son’s crime as a mere youthful indiscretion. Yes, I’ll say it – that makes him an awful parent. If he raised Brock with such faux-morals as those, then I’m not surprised that the college student dug in his heels…rather than taking responsibility for his lack of self-control.
Brock Turner’s own lawyer, Mike Armstrong, is obviously delusional – or else downright sociopathic – to claim that his client somehow possesses less guilt due to impaired judgment. Does Armstrong not have enough self-awareness to realize how utterly insulting to rape victims it is for him to make such a public statement? Or does he just have unbridled gall, and not really care that he’s undermining his own credibility within his profession? I can’t imagine this high-profile legal case will net Mike Armstrong a sudden upsurge in new clientele.
Even the Santa Clara County District Attorney who prosecuted Turner, Jeff Rosen, wasn’t above making excuses. Although he predictably castigated Persky’s ruling itself, Rosen nonetheless stopped short of agreeing that Judge Persky should be removed from the bench. Instead, the grandstanding prosecutor recited a few sound bites about how publicity from this case has “given voice to thousands of sexual assault survivors.” For Rosen to downplay the horror that’s been inflicted upon the victim herself – and try to romanticize the case by invoking allusions to legions of anonymous rape survivors – is disingenuous, at best. And notice how he didn’t even have enough respect for the severity of this crime to call it what it was: rape.
Say the word, Jeff Rosen. You – along with everyone else who has refused to – just need to say the word. Rape.
I’m even going to call out the recall petitioners, here. They’re jumping on a bandwagon of class warfare and identity politics – exploiting one woman’s personal trauma in order to make self-righteous political statements. They allege that since Persky himself was once a successful lacrosse athlete at Stanford, the judge is engaging in “unconscious class bias.”
Could it be, maybe, possibly, conceivably, that Persky is just a shitty judge? And, on top of that, a shitty person for being so reckless as to treat his law book like some issue of Mad Libs?
Additionally, several individuals out there in the abyss of cyberspace who’ve been threatening Persky’s family are, likewise, shitty people. Because, apparently, six wrongs somehow make a right within their warped bubbles – and, consequently, wishing physical harm upon those who are involuntarily related to Persky by blood or marriage is the most effective way to prevent rape from happening to others in the future.
I’m tired of Americans using rape (usually when it happens to people other than themselves) as a way to exact some vicarious sense of vengeance against those whom they resent. Given how Turner accompanied his victim to a fraternity party – never mind the fact that the dance club may have served them alcohol, before that – now these crusaders will probably try to use that as an excuse to shut down college fraternities and sororities across-the-board (conveniently overlooking how the vast majority of fraternity men and sorority women DON’T participate in rape).
Or, let’s extrapolate that even further: “young people in general” are irresponsible and exhibit horrible judgment, right? Especially young men? So this must mean that we should start giving women preference in political leadership positions, by default…and the drinking age should be lifted to some age much higher than 21…right?
Never mind that it was two other young men who saved her from her aggressor, restraining Turner until the police could arrive on the scene.
One of the things that infuriates me the most is when I hear squawkers from the peanut gallery scoff about how rapists should be thrown in prison just so they can be “taught a lesson.” There’s a common American prison culture where other inmates, once they catch wind of the fact that a new inmate was convicted of rape or pedophilia, will decide to give that newcomer a “taste of his own medicine.” Such attitudes are why the criminal justice system in the United States is so hopeless and pathetic; we envision these cretins getting punished for their sins – yet, we go well beyond that by proceeding to gleefully cackle at rapists themselves becoming the targets of sex crimes at the hands of equally-despicable cretins on their cell blocks.
Well, guess what? – prison rape is still rape. Just because prisoners are serving time for whichever (often heinous) crimes they’ve committed…that doesn’t make it right for any of us to cheer on the prospect of their bodies being violated behind bars. It’s still non-consensual. And it’s still unacceptable. Why should we enable individuals getting raped within prison walls anymore than we’d tolerate a rape occurring in public spaces or private homes?
Rosen does make one solid underlying point, though. There are thousands of others who’ve been victimized by rape, who never even have their voices heard…and, because they’re often too afraid to report having been rape victims, their stories are never told. Even males can sometimes be rape victims (although less proportionately than females are), regardless of whether the penetration is caused by another penis or a “foreign object.” For example, while the victim of the 1989 Glen Ridge rape was a female, part of the gang rape inflicted upon her involved a broomstick and a baseball bat.
A rape might be male-on-female, male-on-male, female-on-female, or even female-on-male (depending on physique and the involvement of narcotics). How many rapes – of either women or men – go unreported every year? We have no way of knowing.
But glorifying rape as some diabolical Game of Thrones-style punishment for the actual guilty parties does a disservice to their victims. Calling it a “sexual assault” or “an incident” – rather than what it is, RAPE – does a disservice to the victims. Blame of the actual victim, or failure to educate our children on the widely-encompassing definition of rape itself, does a disservice to the victims.
A rape might occur in a prison. It could happen between either strangers, acquaintances, or intimate companions. It may involve gay men. It may involve lesbians (since rape doesn’t necessarily require a penis to be a rape). It may or may not involve alcohol, drugs, emotional vulnerability, or any combination of those things.
Yet, the rape victim is, ultimately, the only one who has to continuously relive her or his macabre nightmare. If a vagina or anus is penetrated, it’s rape. When there’s no consent, it’s rape. And regardless of whether the person is male or female, rich or poor, a person of faith (or not), or what their specific skin pigment or sexual orientation might happen to be…it’s rape.
If you can’t say the word, then you’re part of the problem.