On the night of January 17, 2015, two graduate students bicycling across the Stanford University campus saw a man “thrusting” atop an unconscious woman. They intervened, called the police and Brock Allen Turner was arrested on sexual assault charges. Over a year later, he was found guilty by a jury of eight men and four women after an 8-day trial. On June 2, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to… 6 months in the county jail and probation. He does have to register as a sex offender, though.
In the past week, letters from both the victim in the case and Turner’s father have appeared in the media. And they could not be more opposite in tone if they’d been scripted. In one, a woman told of her pain and humiliation, how being raped has, affected her life and will continue. In the other, Turner’s love of snacks is given as a reason that 6 months is too harsh a punishment.
At Turner’s sentencing on June 2, the victim asked to address him directly. She read from a letter she had written, a harrowing account of the event from her point-of-view. She described waking up in the hospital, the examination, of telling her family and boyfriend about the assault, of the trial and her testimony, being badgered and asked unbelievably personal questions by Turner’s attorney. In a case that was so clear, she felt as though she was on trial. Because she had been drunk and couldn’t remember, meaning that Turner could claim she gave consent.
According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down. Note; if a girl falls help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her vagina… Here’s the thing; if your plan was to stop only when I was literally unresponsive, then you still do not understand… you were willing to go to any length, to discredit me, invalidate me, and explain why it was okay to hurt me. You tried unyieldingly to save yourself, your reputation, at my expense… It is enough to be suffering. It is another thing to have someone ruthlessly working to diminish the gravity and validity of this suffering. But in the end, his unsupported statements and his attorney’s twisted logic fooled no one. The truth won, the truth spoke for itself.
The entire letter is painful and heartbreaking, especially if one is a rape survivor. The victim of this assault eloquently expressed the feelings of guilt and fear that engulfs rape victims everywhere, always. She spoke for us and did it with great courage, standing there, looking at the man who raped her. Truly she embodied grace under pressure.
The sentencing — six months instead of a possible 14 years — was appropriate, Judge Persky said, because prison will negatively affect Turner’s life. Why, he’s a star athlete, a swimmer with Olympic dreams. Both he and the victim were drunk. Character witnesses said that they never thought he could commit such a crime. Just think of the poor boy’s future. :::insert dramatic music:::
Contrasting Turner’s father’s letter with the victim’s seems almost surreal. In it, Dan Turner describes son’s “lack of appetite” and how incarceration is not the “appropriate punishment” for his son. Those “20 minutes of action” should not be allowed to ruin Brock’s life, he argues. You can read a photocopy Tweeted by Michele Dauber — who rightly noted, “This letter denies the essential humanity of victim & compounds trauma” — and feel the privilege radiating from your screen:
— Michele Dauber (@mldauber) June 5, 2016
Comparing those two letters is a glimpse into the completely lop-sided way rape and sexual assault on women is treated by our legal system. This rich, white young man gets preferential treatment. You can bet that, if a black man or Hispanic man had assaulted a white woman on campus (or anywhere, for that matter), he’d be facing those 14 years. Instead, we see a son of privilege facing half a year in a county facility. It’s disgusting and infuriating. And, throughout this entire process, Turner never once took responsibility for his actions.
This isn’t about drinking too much, it’s not a question of binge drinking and its “unfortunate results.” It’s about a man using a woman’s intoxication as an excuse to rape her. Period.
This sentence sends a message to the rich, white male: you will pay very little if you decide to rape a woman, it will be a slap on the wrist. It also sends a message to women: you are never worth what a man is, sorry. How, in 2016, is this okay?
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