Brock Turner was a 20-year-old man who was convicted of three accounts of sexual assault and sentenced to six months in county jail and three years probation. The fact that he attended Stanford, that the crime only took twenty minutes, or that he can swim fast, are not relevant. Yet, as people around the country obsess over corrupt judges and biased news networks, the necessary conversations, about sexual assault and how we can stop it, are once again being diverted. The Stanford rape case is packed with extremely sensitive and uncomfortable topics, which, if not properly addressed, are only going to continue to occur.
The most atrocious part of the situation has been, and will always be, the actual crime committed. A man, regardless of his prestigious education, healthy upbringing or promising future, voluntarily chose to sexually assault an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Brock Turner made a conscious decision to deny this woman any ounce of human dignity or respect and chose to abuse her in a despicably heinous manner. I wish that this case was rare. I wish that there was more shock and outrage over the demeaning actions that took place. Unfortunately, we live in a country in which 23 percent of female undergraduates have reported experiencing some form of sexual assault (AAU). We live in a society in which an acceptable question for a rape victim, and one asked at this trial, is “what were you wearing?” There is a sense of blame and responsibility placed on victims and potential victims, with an overwhelming amount of resources being dedicated to advising women on how to avoid unwanted sexual advances.
“Use the buddy system”, “watch the drink being poured”, “don’t drink.” As a female college freshman, I attended a dizzying amount of these meetings, as well as personally hearing the same advice from police officers and complete strangers. My male counterparts, however, were not subjected to anywhere near the same level of education. Why? Much like we don’t hold a homicide victim responsible for their death and dismiss the actions of a murderer based on something like their intoxication level, we, as a culture, need to stop assigning blame to the victim and pardoning the attacker. Every fear inducing rule that women have come to live by should be gospel to men as well. Use the buddy system, to ensure you aren’t taken advantage of and to ensure that you don’t take advantage of anyone. The rules that young girls grow up hearing should be preached in reverse at an even more frequent rate.
While you would think that common sense dictates the unacceptability of drugging unattended drinks, understanding the definition of “no”, and having enough self control to resist the urge to rape an unconscious woman, this is clearly not the case. These are lessons that need to be taught. Sexual assault is an epidemic deeply ingrained into our society. An epidemic largely caused by a widespread lack of respect, and a prominent mentality of arrogance and entitlement. From a young age, boys need to be taught respect, that they are not owed anything because they bought a girl dinner, and that they have no right to demand anything from another human being. Though parents, mentors and teachers can certainly aid in the promotion and correction of these values, the misconceptions about masculinity, respect and the female body are deeply imbedded into our culture and must be changed.
Dominance, aggression, power and control are not indicators of masculinity. The need that many rapists feel to demonstrate their mastery of these values directly causes their actions. A Division 1 athlete’s ability to rape a 23-year-old woman, who is unconscious, is not a display of strength. It is a disgusting abuse of force. Yet it is something that happens all the time. Through movies, TV shows, commercials, advertisements, music and books, young boys and girls are often taught that the female body is nothing more than an object to be controlled and conquered. This needs to stop. Brands like American Apparel that consistently utilize sexist advertising campaigns which objectify the female body need to be boycotted. Models need to refuse posing in demeaning and degrading ways. Companies like Carl’s Jr., who’s advertisements are so obviously not selling just a cheeseburger, need to be confronted and urged to change. These companies, their advertisements, and the media as a whole, who constantly drown viewers in a singular, largely unattainable, idea and standard of beauty, are still not the root of the problem. They are just a symptom of the underlying issue. The problem is that our culture deems a woman’s worth comes from her body. Few little boys are congratulated for how cute they are, but rather for their humor, intellect and athleticism. Little girls on the other hand, come to learn that being pretty is one of the most desirable of achievements. There is no easy way to reroute generations of American thinking and ideals, but we need to try. It takes a conscious effort and a loud conversation. As long as a “perfect” female body is the utmost of achievements, sexual assault is going to continue as a means to attain this.
There is a plethora of other issues this case brings to light which should also be discussed. The defense of alcohol, which is so often used in sexual assault cases, as it is present in more than half of all sexual assault incidents, needs to be immediately disregarded as invalid (NIH). The duration of a crime in light of the defendant’s total lifespan is a ridiculous and irrelevant statistic and should not even be considered or discussed (if I rob a store in five minutes does that make me less guilty than if I had robbed it in five hours?). The media's use of Turner's smiling yearbook picture rather than his mugshot is an offensive injustice. The 6 month sentencing for a middle class white man surrounded by incriminating evidence is disgusting in light of the wrongful sentencing Brian Banks, the black high school student convicted of a rape he did not commit, received several years ago. But even if not due to his race, background, education, or any other privileging factor, Turner’s sentence is indisputably too light. More than 90 percent, 90 percent, of those victims who experience sexual assault on a college campus do not report the assault (NSVRC). This is as equally horrifying as it is heartbreaking. Why would there be any fear amongst rapists and assailants when there is a 90 percent chance they will get away with their crime?
Yet why would victims, who have been physically and often psychologically damaged, press charges and go through a long and torturous trial when it results in a mere slap on the wrist for their attacker? Our judicial system is flawed. Rape and sexual assault need to be treated as the horrendous crimes that they are, not some excusable biological urge that is unworthy of a punishment that would severely impact the perpetrator. The court system has to deliver harsher punishments for those convicted, and women need to come forward with their cases in order to execute this justice. If this doesn’t change, sexual assault never will.
At the end of the day, the swimming accomplishments or any other trivial detail of those involved in the Stanford rape case should not be the items primarily discussed. In times like this, when people are unable to hide from the realities of sexual assault, the conversations need to be about sexual assault itself, and what we can do to stop it. The victims are never responsible for the crimes committed against them, however, until these sickening incidents are wiped out of our society and the rightful fear felt can be dismissed, women need to work together to protect one another and prevent sexual assault as best we can. As women, we need to stop objectifying ourselves and reducing our self worth to our physical figures. When we go out, get a buddy, watch out for one another, be more skeptical than usual when alcohol is involved and know your limits. The same goes for would-be rapists. Get a buddy, watch out for one another, be more skeptical than usual and know your limits. Each and every one of us is responsible to do our part to end sexual assault.