Brock Turner used to be a star Stanford swimmer. I’m sure everyone knows the story by heart at this point. It’s all over Facebook, Twitter and the news. Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious girl in a back alley. He was apprehended by two concerned bystanders. He was arrested and put to trial. It sounds like just another rape case, so what makes this one so different?
The sentencing. Turner was sentenced to just six months in jail, with a possible 3-month early release for good behavior. With the news of such a short sentence, America erupted into chaos.
Within hours, the accusations of racism and sexism came hurling from everyone with a social media presence. Suddenly, we had gained thousands of criminal justice experts with opinions on what a fair sentence should have been. Similar cases of rape committed by black athletes were brought out as evidence of racism. College rape statistics were used to show the sexism of rape culture. Petitions were started to recall Judge Aaron Persky, who settled on the shortened sentence on the basis that prison would be too harsh for Turner.
Then came the open letters. The initial letter, delivered in court, was written by the victim of the crime. The emotional plea brought tears to the eyes of everyone who read it. It caused CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield to break down live on air while reading the letter. Once this letter became public, cries for justice only amplified.
Then came Turner’s father’s letter. His attempt to justify the short sentence was only met with more criticism. Turner’s father claimed that the loss of his swimming scholarship, defamation of his name and jail sentence were enough of a punishment for “20 minutes of action.” An onslaught of condemnation fell upon the Turner family, as the rapist’s parents continued to defend their son’s actions.
The Brock Turner case highlights many issues of our society at once: a broken criminal justice system, the wealthy elite and campus rape culture.
We all can agree that the criminal justice system is flawed. Whether it’s a white police officer getting off after shooting black teenagers or life sentences for marijuana possession, the American court system is a labyrinth of precedents.
Depending on the judge, the background of the defendant, the presentation of evidence and the opinions of the jury, it’s possible for two cases with the exact same variables to result in different outcomes. How is it that two athletes convicted of the same crime get such different sentences? The issue is so black and white that it literally comes down to the color of the rapist’s skin.
The wealthy members of our country have always had a clear advantage. Maybe it’s because they can afford better lawyers. Maybe it’s because they donate money to political campaigns. Maybe rich people are just smarter than everyone else. Whatever your opinion may be, there’s no denying that a privilege exists.
I’m no expert on the Turner family’s financial records, but something about attending Stanford and having a well-financed swimming career hints at a wealthy lifestyle. All other doubts are dispersed when you consider Turner’s home of Oakwood, Ohio is well-known for its high standard of living, great schools and low crime rate. Turner’s socioeconomic status obviously played a role in such a short sentence.
Where can one even begin to discuss campus rape culture? Perhaps allowing rappers like 2 Chainz to use lyrics like “take yo’ girl, kidnap her, beat her to my mattress,” in popular songs affects the way students perceive reality. Perhaps not being able to watch a movie without experiencing a sex scene convinces some students that sex is guaranteed to them. Perhaps 12% of the Internet being pornography-related plays into the sexual entitlement some students have.
Rape culture is everywhere.
The sexism of rape culture may be the scariest part. Turner’s parents have started an awareness campaign for the dangers of alcohol abuse among college females. They’ve done what most people do when rape is involved: blame the victim. Sure, shift the blame from the rich white boy to the victim because “she drank too much” or “she was flirting” or “her outfit was too provocative.” Maybe instead of the Turner family starting a campaign to teach daughters how to hold their liquor, they could have, I don’t know, admitted their son is a rapist and urged parents to raise their own children to respect the bodies of fellow students. Just a thought.
The Brock Turner case is still developing. Politicians have gotten involved in attempts to re-try the case. What will become of Judge Persky is still unknown. Nevertheless, this won’t be the last time.
It won’t be the last time a college athlete rapes a fellow student. It won’t be the last time racism is demonstrated in the court system. It won’t be the last time that wealthy citizens are shown special consideration. It won’t be the last time the victim is blamed instead of the rapist.
Unfortunately, these things will happen again. If that bothers you as much as it bothers me, maybe it’s time for a change in the way our society does things.