Thursday, June 9, 2016

This Woman's Anger: the Stanford Rape Case

I am, at this moment, so angry that I'm close to tears. 

I just read the letter written by the woman who was raped by Brock Turner, and it is truly the most heartbreaking thing. Seeing her experience written in words, directly addressing the man who violated her, evokes an amount of admiration and rage I've yet to feel for a complete stranger before this moment. My anger stems from a variety of sources. It stems from the rape itself, from the use of alcohol as a shield from the real problem, from the father's justification of his son's actions, from the media coverage, and from Judge Aaron Persky's decision to sentence Turner 6 months in a country jail. 

Let's talk about how the media covered this attack. Let's talk about the Washington Post article specifically. This article, written by Michael E. Miller, is an article that merely pretends to be the unbiased journalism I (unreasonably perhaps) expect in this country. Because throughout the post we see Brock Turner's athleticism, youth, and swimming career mentioned. It's tricky, because on the surface these are just mentions of his life, but they have the potential to bias readers against the truth. Take this line, "He was an All-American swimmer in high school in Ohio, so good that he tried out for the U.S. Olympic team before he could vote. Suddenly he was accused of rape." Can you see how fucked up that line is? "Suddenly he was accused of rape" How dare you, Michael E. Miller, mention his stellar athleticism and then jump to the accusation. That line enrages me because it puts this idea in readers' heads that this accusation came out of the blue and not, maybe, from being caught red handed thrusting on top of a blackout drunk woman. Ellie Fialk wrote a moving post on her Facebook page calling out the Washington Post's article. In fact, I give her credit for bringing this entire issue to my eye. She says "Thank you, Washington Post, for this detailed track record of Brock Turner's swimming career, which is so incredibly relevant to the fact that he was just found unanimously guilty of committing an unforgivable act. I'm sorry things were so sudden for you, Brock. That your career was "upended during a night of drinking." Since you know, that's all it was, just a casual night of drinking when you raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster" This is only one of many excellent points she brings up. 

Now some focus on the attempted rapist himself, Brock Turner. Something that makes me sick (in a case as vomit inducing as this one) is his utmost lack of remorse. Or wait, no he definitely has regrets. He regrets his drinking and the promiscuity it induces! Isn't that great everyone? Can't you see he's learned his lesson? It's unbelievable! And by that I mean I literally don't believe it. I don't believe for one second that he thinks he's done something wrong. Throughout the trial his reasoning behind why he was behind that dumpster attacking an unconscious woman was that she liked it. He thinks she liked what he was doing, and that is so disturbing it's giving me a knot in my stomach just writing about it. I can't imagine how twisted a person has to be in order to think a woman would enjoy any part of being assaulted behind a dumpster. Oh, and did I mention she was unconscious during this ordeal? This lack of personal accountability is also chilling because it means he could very well repeat his actions. Without a moral compass to tell him his actions were wrong, disgusting, and violent there is nothing preventing him from doing this again. And that is scary. 

Blaming alcohol is such a cheap move because it completely disregards the real problem. It's a trivialization of an attempted rape and sexual assault. Because here's the thing, I've been drunk before with men who were attracted to me and tried to hookup. Sometimes I've said yes, sometimes I've said no; and every single time I've said no, dodged a kiss, or pushed a man away they realized that it wasn't going to happen and they moved right along because they realized that any further action taken by them would be wrong. It would be a violation. Alcohol is not what made Brock Turner take this blackout drunk woman behind a dumpster and attack her. It's true that alcohol made her susceptible, but it did not turn him into a rapist. He did that. When we teach young women that we shouldn't drink, dress provocatively, or flirt lest we find ourselves the victim of rape, what we're really saying is make sure it's the other girl who gets raped. Let me say that again so you understand how sick that thought it: MAKE SURE IT'S THE OTHER GIRL WHO GETS RAPED. Make sure it's the drunk girl, the one with the short skirt. Make sure the rapist targets someone else. That is the definition of rape culture. We blame everyone and everything except the man himself. 

Culture is what we pass down for generations. This applies to rape culture as well and we see how it was passed down to Brock Turner by reading the letter his father wrote, pleading to the judge to give leniency to his son. Unfortunately, this letter swayed Judge Persky. Do you know how insulting it is to women when you refer to your son's violation of an unconscious person's body as "20 minutes of action"? You can't even say it, can you? You can't even say your son was about to rape her. I not only think the letter he wrote was dismisive, I think it's terrible parenting. The reason, or at least one of the reasons, that Brock Turner thought he could get away with that silly little twenty minute act is because of a lifetime of letters like this. Parents who continually get their children out of trouble and keep them away from the consequences ensure that they can't learn from the hard lessons. All this privilege did nothing to protect the woman he attacked, but it did everything to protect him from the consequences of his actions. 

Which brings me to the part of the system that was supposed to be there for the victim and for all of us in the future who may need it: the law. The law is what sets civilized societies apart from others. It is what I, personally, lean on to ensure that even if my safety is not guaranteed, at least justice is. I spent four months in a country that valued my life less because of my sex and I laugh at the thought of those who warned me against going, who told me to be safe and keep an eye out for danger and rapists; people who don't realize that the problems they judge another country for are the exact same ones we face in the United States today. Strong sentencing has the dual power to comfort a victim and punish those who have committed violent acts against another person. Not only that, it's also what keeps the victims, family, and friends from taking matters into their own hands, because I come from a town that's protective of its people and I wouldn't be shocked to hear about vigilantism in cases like this (not that I would ever condone that. Stooping to the level of criminals does nothing for society). We are supposed to be an example to the world, and yet even when a rapist is found guilty by a jury of his peers, we still can't guarantee he will be punished in full because men in power place more value on a rapist's swimming career than on the indeterminate ways the victim's life is now changed forever.

The judge's decision has told me two things. For one, he's let me know that I and every other woman in the country do not matter. Our ability to rely on the justice system is a farce, because when it comes down to it, a man shouldn't be punished too severely for his first rape. After all, it was just the one time. Only the second, or maybe the third time are actually serious when it's a white, privileged athlete. That leads me to the second point this judge made with his actions; white men aren't punished in the same way a man of color would be. If a black man were caught in the act of raping a white woman (this also highlights how a white woman's life is valued higher than a black woman's in society, but that's another topic for another post) he not only would be sentenced to the maximum number of years, that number would be much higher than 14 years. The idea of a black man being punished for rape isn't the problem, it's the fact that white men are given leniency for the same crimes when they should be serving the same amount of years as their minority counterparts. You see, I thought prison was supposed to be a punishment. A, in Judge Persky's words, "severe impact". Isn't the idea of prison to severely impact the people who are there? As much as it disgusts me, according to Judge Persky the answer is no. 

My only hope in all of this is seeing my own outrage mirrored across the country on Facebook, twitter, news outlets, and other blogs. We can take some comfort in knowing that Brock Turner will be listed as a sex offender for the rest of his life, even though we all want this to be only one part of his punishment. I can only hope this gut wrenching anger lives on and gives us as a society the will to turn a new leaf and start holding those who are guilty accountable for their actions, and until then know that there are women like the victim in this case who are not afraid to stand up to their attackers and challenge them head on. 


Here are the sites I have linked in this post. Take your time to go through them, it's important.

If you are as disgusted by this as I am I highly encourage you to write a letter to Judge Persky. In no way should these letters threaten violence or harm to the judge and his family. Unfortunately they have already received letters of this kind. No, I want his mailbox full of righteous, deeply felt letters explaining why he made a terrible decision and why we hope from now on he will put the victim first and not the rapist. You can find the contact information here.