Last year, in January, two Stanford University students spotted a freshman sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. In March, a California jury convicted the 20-year-old Brock Turner with guilty of three counts of sexual assault, a sentence that carries a maximum of 14 years.
Yet he received only six months in county jail and probation, and will now be released after three months for 'good behavior'. During the trial, the judge said he feared that a longer sentence could “severely impact” Turner and his sports aspirations.
After the sentencing, Turner's father published an open letter that bemoaned his son's "steep price" for "20 minutes of action." Now that he is registered as a sex offender, "[Brock] will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile," as if the judicial system should feel guilty for punishing a racist. Turner's mother called him the most trustworthy person she knows.
The letter, slammed as “tone-deaf” and “impossibly offensive," helps answer a crucial question: what led a "good kid" to rape an unconscious woman?
Primarily, because he chose to; but it probably didn't help that he was raised by a misogynistic man who writes off women's trauma as "20 minutes of action", while his mother continues to extol his virtues. The adults most directly involved in his upbringing continue to blame the victim - if she hadn't prosecuted their son, he would still have a good life. For Turner's parents, the woman is the problem.
This case as a whole also illustrates how American culture is both misogynistic and white supremacist. For example, Turner argued that the victim consented, which perfectly exemplifies how our culture often excuses violence against women: they must be asking for sex, even when unable to move or speak.
As for race, when Latino and African-American boys aged 14-16 were sentenced for decades for raping a Central Park jogger in 1989, no judge worried about their potential or how the punishment would affect the rest of their lives. At the time, Donald Trump even sought the death penalty for these minors, all of whom were poor, and none of whom could afford to hire an expensive attorney as Turner could. Overall, the record shows that America privileges white male criminals by disproportionately incarcerating men of color, particularly poor men.
I don't mean to say that rapists do not deserve harsh sentencing. I am saying that Turner's family and the judge are perpetuating the racist, misogynistic, and classist systems that let him off so easily.
Consider that the very same judge punished an immigrant with a longer sentence in an almost identical case. The judge was raised in this white supremacist culture, after all.
What Turner did was awful, but older adults in positions of higher authority continue to excuse and allow it. This tells other white men that even if they assault a woman and the jury decides that she was not asking for it, the rapist need not fear the same prison sentence as a non-white one. So when a wealthy white man rapes a woman, it is first because he chooses to, but also eased by this assurance.
The problem with Brock's actions is exacerbated by the racism and misogyny deeply imbedded in America, and only by admitting this can we change that culture.