Since the verdict in the Stanford Rape Case was announced, thousands have taken to social media to express their outrage. There’s even a petition floating around to disbar the judge that gave the absurdly light sentence. We can sit around and be angry and point the finger of blame all day -- at Brock Turner, at his father, at his family, at the judge, at the alcohol, at the victim, at our judicial system. But I'm not here to talk about my personal feelings- plenty of people have done so already and made their point. I want to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What does this case say about our society as a whole? What do we need to do to change?
First and foremost, in relation to this case, we need to stop placing athletes on such a pedestal. There is a long and disturbing history of sexual assault by athletes. In fact, one in five college sexual assaults are committed by male student-athletes. Countless professional athletes have been convicted of rape and gone on to have successful athletic careers. We are so quick to condemn Brock Turner in the moment, yet we cheer for athletes like Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger, who have also been accused of sexual assault. When you look at how we as a society are so quick to turn our backs for the sake of entertainment, it almost justifies the judge's verdict.
We need to put more pressure on colleges to punish rapists. Though Brock Turner was expelled from Stanford, less than one-third of college students found guilty of rape are forced to leave campus. That means that more than two-thirds of campus rape victims are forced to live in the same environment as their rapist. How can we expect such young adults to understand the consequences of their actions if they aren't punished accordingly? How can we expect the victims to begin to heal when they could cross paths with their rapist at any moment? We can't. In fact, the lack of punishment is teaching people that rape isn't a big deal, which does nothing to combat the ongoing problem of college sexual assault.
This case also painfully demonstrates how far we are from racial and gender equality. Brock Turner's light sentence is the result of his status as a white, semi-successful male. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black defendants face longer sentences than white defendants for the exact same crimes. Brian Banks, a former black football star, was wrongfully convicted of rape when he was 16 and ended up serving five years in prison. Banks had no prior criminal record. White male privilege, anyone?
The judge explained Turner's unusually short sentence by claiming that a longer sentence "would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others." The judge, and Turner's father, were concerned about the effect this case would have on Turner's future swimming career, and his future in general. Yet neither male mentioned the victim's future. She was just a silly, drunk girl, so of course her future isn't as important as Turner's, a privileged, white male. How sexist of us to think that her future should be considered in this matter, right? This case is a slap in the face to the fight for equality and to women everywhere.
There's one thing about this case that bothers me more than anything else- we are still missing the point. Angry Facebook posts and online petitions are a great way to express your emotions, but it does absolutely nothing to help the victim. If anything, the media attention is just one more thing for her to cope with. In a few weeks, we’ll all move on to a new scandal. In a few months, most of us will probably forget this case. But the victim will never forget. She will have to bear this weight every minute of every day for the rest of her life.
What can we do? The easiest, yet most often overlooked answer, is to step in. Say something. It sounds so simple -- of course you’d step in if somebody was harassing your friend. But would you step in if it were two complete strangers? 85 percent of people say that they would step forward to break things up. Yet as the number of bystanders present increases, the chance of someone actually intervening drops drastically. With four bystanders, the chances of someone taking action are a mere 31 percent. It's a common phenomenon referred to as the bystander effect.
We can teach our sons and daughters what consent really means. Just because someone doesn't explicitly say "no," doesn't mean that it's a "yes." Anybody has the right to say no at any point, whether it's "no" to buying a drink, or "no" to going further than flirting/dancing/kissing. We can stop slut-shaming girls for their choices of clothing- a short skirt or crop top does not mean she was "asking for it."
We can stop associating men of color with rapists and criminals. America frequently turns the other way when a white male is involved in a rape case, yet has no problem casting men of color as the villains. Donald Trump has referred to Mexican people as criminals, drug-traffickers, and rapists. We can stop joking about rape. Even though we claim to know that it is wrong, joking about it creates the idea that it's okay, that it's not a terrible crime. Most rapists will argue that it "wasn't a big deal" because they think they were somehow entitled to what they wanted.
The problem here is not just with Brock Turner. A large part of the responsibility falls on our shoulders to stop perpetuating rape culture. We need to reshape society into a place where every individual is treated equally and with respect, and where every individual is punished equally for the same crimes. We can continue to support victims, even when their case is no longer headline news, and we can continue busting stereotypes and breaking down the gender/racial divide.