Excusing The Rapist Is As Toxic As Blaming the Victim

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It is extraordinary that a jury of twelve unanimously found Brock Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault. In our culture, where rape is rarely reported or subsequently prosecuted, the likely ordeal of being accused by the defense of provoking their own rape is often more than even the bravest sexual assault victims can endure. The lawyer with the best spin often wins their case and spinning back against the victim is a common game in sexual abuse trials.

“ What were you wearing ? Why were you out alone at night ? How much did you have to drink? Are you sexually promiscuous? Did you dance with the accused?”

The courage, sensitivity and intelligence that Brock Turner’s victim exhibited in the statement she read in court is extraordinary. After a full year of the emotional ordeal of the trial and the ongoing psychological recovery from the assault her ability to address her attacker with such dignity is heroic. Her words are being read by millions and will change our understanding of sexual assault forever.

The outrage that I feel about this case is of course not based on the verdict but the sentencing. Brock Turner was found guilty by a jury of eight men and four women. He did commit these crimes. But he was leniently sentenced with tremendous sympathy by judge Aaron Persky who has described himself in election campaign propaganda by saying.

“I focus on the prosecution of sexually violent predators, working to keep the most dangerous sex offenders in custody in mental hospitals,”

According to quotes by Persky reported in the Guardian on June 6 the judge implied that an imperfect legal system had subjected this youth with no prior criminal record to the same judgment as the dangerous sex offenders that he prides himself in sentencing responsibly. The judge used his considerable power to all but erase any serious legal punishment that Brock Turner might be subjected to after the verdict.

“Obviously, the prison sentence would have a severe impact on him…….There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is … intoxicated. I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him.”

When I was at University of Michigan in the early 1980s rape culture on University campuses was a big concern. We marched in demonstrations to “Take back the Night” , carried pepper spray and whistles and avoided frat parties. We learned that if we said no and sex was forced on us even by someone we knew that was rape. And we talked about the importance of changing a legal system that blamed the victim in more rape cases than not.

Thirty years later our culture has not changed much. It is still dangerous for women to hang out with jocks at frat parties and if they are raped, although they might not be blamed, their attacker will most likely be excused. Boys will be boys and according to judge Persky drunk boys should not be seriously punished for their actions.

If we do not hold boys and men responsible for sexual assault and rape because they’ve had a few too many drinks than how can we hold drunk drivers responsible for getting behind the wheel of a car and crashing into innocent victims?

The binge drinking culture on our University campuses is a disgrace. It is dangerous on so many levels and dumbs down our “best and brightest”. But it is deep seated in our culture and will not change until the older generations begin to take responsibility for how we model a responsible approach to drinking. Taking responsibility for his behavior, for his crime, is something that Brock Turner has yet to do. And with the lenient sympathetic sentence from Judge Persky I think that it is unlikely that he will.

In 2014 in the state of California a sixty two year old nurse with no criminal record was sentenced to two years in prison for the sexual assault of an eighty two year old corpse. For the sexual assault of an unconscious twenty three year old women who will live with the physiological scar for the rest of her life, Brock Turner received six months.When necrophilia is more severely punished than the sexual abuse of a living person our legal system is indeed imperfect .