Accountability & Entitlement
“His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve.”
This sentence was part of a public statement from the father of Brock Turner, a young man convicted of sexual assault in June. According to the father, prison time was too steep a price to pay for “20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.”
Content warning: Some of the details and statements mentioned from this point on relate directly to sexual assault and the aftermath.
The 20 minutes of action described in the statement refers to Turner’s assault of an unconscious 22-year-old woman. According to reports, two graduate students bicycled by a fraternity house on the Stanford University campus around 1 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2015. They spotted Turner on top of a woman behind a dumpster.
The two cyclists intervened and, with the help of other bystanders, eventually apprehended Turner. Campus police arrived moments later and, after questioning the assailant, arrested him.
Turner faced five felony charges upon his indictment, including two counts of rape, one count of attempted rape and two counts of sexual assault. The prosecution eventually dropped the two rape charges during a preliminary hearing.
The jury in the case found Turner guilty the other three felony charges in March 2016. Two days later, the judge sentenced the assailant to six months of jail time and three years of formal probation. Turner is also permanently registered as a sex offender and is required to participate in a sex offender rehab program.
However, on Sept. 2, Turner left jail after three-months of the sentence.
There are many infuriating factors involved with this case. One of the most frustrating is the focus away from the act and toward the life of the perpetrator.
Until this case hit the wire, Turner was a competitive swimmer with hopes of reaching the Olympics. Many publications posted his swimming times in almost equal light as the rape case. But athletic performance doesn’t make up for criminal activity.
Statistics show that this incident was not an isolated one. In a survey of 379 undergraduate male students, 188 of which were in athletics at the intercollegiate or intramural level, 54 percent of athletes admitted to coercing a partner into sex compared to, 38 percent of the non-athletes admitted to similar behavior.
While one major limitation of the study was that all participants attended one university, that should not downplay the severity of the issue and the admittedly lax consequences thereof. Just look up recent reports from Baylor University, University of Tennessee or Oregon University.
That isn’t to say that this athleticism causes criminality, nor does it assume all universities overlook crime. Many schools take assaults seriously and ensure those responsible receive punishment. Yet people still clamor about unfair sentences for perpetrators, regardless of justness.
But the most maddening aspect of this case runs rampant throughout most every rape case, regardless of whether or not it involves student athletes: the victim blaming.
In the aforementioned survey, researchers found a troubling pattern regarding an acceptance of rape-related myths. The misguided sentiments are prominent.
“Women just cry rape to get back at men.”
“It isn’t rape if she doesn’t fight back or say no.”
“She was drunk/wearing a skimpy outfit, so it isn’t my fault.”
These statements are only a few of the common sayings surrounding the frankly archaic misconceptions about sexual assault. It not only permeates incorrect concepts regarding the nature of assault but also turns factors irrelevant to rapists’ intentions into admissible evidence to lessen jail time for assailants.
In 2013, a judge sentenced a Montana teacher to 30 days in prison for raping a 14-year-old girl. The district judge at the time defended his ruling, stating, “She seemed older than her chronological age at the time.”
A year later, a Dallas County judged sentenced a man who admitted he raped a 14-year-old girl to probation for five years. According to a piece in the Dallas Morning News, the judge stated that prison time was unneeded since the girl was “not a virgin” and “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be.”
As baffling as these stories sound, victim blaming still happens in many reported rape cases. Equally as confusing is the notion that there is no such thing as a rape culture despite these circumstances.
Most importantly, this mentality has severe ramifications on the victims.
The 14-year-old Montana girl died by suicide during the trial. Emily Doe, the victim of the Turner rape case, wrote statement after the trial, detailing the trauma she felt as events unfolded. These reactions and the subsequently unfortunate are not uncommon.
Yet these same victims receive questions about everything from their drinking habits to the meanings behind text messages and other pointless minutiae irrelevant to the assailant’s motivations.
It goes to show just how little stock some people put in victim’s stories. Yes, there are some people who make false accusations. But invalidation of trauma because of a statistically infrequent happening is shortsightedness at its worst.
Some of the most telling examples are the news articles regaling Turner’s athletic achievements almost as prominently as the crimes he committed. This fact just added more weight to Doe’s feelings.
“How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me and should not lessen the severity of his punishment,” she said in her statement.
“The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency,” she wrote, “but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”
Buzzfeed and The San Jose (California) Mercury News published Doe’s statement in response to the sentencing. She addressed the courts, the judge and Turner himself, criticizing the reactions to the traumatic event. But the following lines summarize her feelings.
“This is not a story of a drunk college hookup with poor decision making,” she said. “Assault is not an accident. Somehow you still don’t get it. Somehow, you still sound confused.
“If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”