The recent trial and conviction of an ex-Stanford student for raping an unconscious woman is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice seen in our nation in quite some time – because the sentencing was so lenient, despite fact that he was literally caught in the act by two passerby, who were forced to hold him until the police arrived. One of the witnesses was crying so hard he was unable to immediately speak with the police, overwhelmed with horror and despair at the unforgivable act he had just witnessed.
The unrepentant assailant, Brock Allen Turner, was given only six months – which will probably end up being only three – out of the possible fourteen-year sentence he deserved because of his status as a white male with access to high-priced lawyers and the privilege afforded by his role on the school’s swimming team. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others” said Judge Aaron Perksy, somehow ignoring the fact that the man was literally just convicted of three felonies proving that he was a danger to others.
To add wrenching insult to horrific injury, a Stanford law professor posted a letter that Turner’s father, Dan, had written to the university while pleading for leniency for his son. Dan Turner is too much of a coward to acknowledge his son’s crimes, and too concerned with this frivolous matter of a lost career in the enormously inconsequential field of swimming quickly back and forth to care about the pain and the hurt that his predatory jackal of a son had inflicted on another human being. Not only did he take the conventional slut-shaming approach of blaming “binge drinking culture” – as if a couple of drinks somehow absolves his son of making the decision to disrobe and violate an unconscious person behind a dumpster – the elder Turner had the appalling gall to refer to the assault as twenty minutes of “action.”
— Michele Dauber (@mldauber) June 5, 2016
Twenty minutes of action. The choice of words is a bitingly casual dismissal of the weight of the situation, reducing the irreparable trauma inflicted on the innocent woman to twenty minutes of a white male forcibly taking his pleasure, asserting his patriarchal right to that pleasure without any regards to the violation of basic morality or the feelings and physical health of others. Such a choice of words shows very clearly where Brock Turner might have gotten the idea that it was acceptable to do what he did, and you’d struggle to find stronger evidence of the insidious entrenchment of rape culture in American society.
Throughout the entire trial, the survivor was barraged with questions forcing her to relieve the moments of her assault in minute detail, the pernicious leeches of the defense using her own trauma as a weapon against her at a trial for which the evidence said enough already.
Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.
I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name. After a physical assault, I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up, he’s like an athlete right, they were both drunk, whatever, the hospital stuff she remembers is after the fact, why take it into account, Brock has a lot at stake so he’s having a really hard time right now.
If this Brock Turner hadn’t been a white male from a privileged family and a star swimmer, there is absolutely no way that he would have been treated so leniently. But it is an even more depressing fact that no matter what race, background, or age the survivor had been, she would still have been treated the same way – never given the benefit of the doubt, the blame for her own assault thrown back in her face, her story distorted and picked apart with microscopic scrutiny.
The sins of the United States compose a long and storied list, but the patriarchal efforts to consign half our population to a disenfranchised and perpetually exploitable underclass is one of our most unforgivable. Only three in a hundred rapists will see justice in America – and when that mockery of justice is naught but a slap on the wrist, we must admit that as a nation we are not taking an epidemic of violent crime seriously at all, and that must change.
h/t to ThinkProgress
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.