Privilege pays in short sentences

Gaby Cedeno

There is a problem with society when the media focuses on how sexual assault affects the attacker as opposed to the victim. 

When Brock Turner’s case first reached news outlets, it seemed as if some people were more concerned with his athleticism than the fact that he had sexually assaulted someone. By focusing on how this incident affected his life instead of the victim’s, the media was basically telling the world that this was a good guy who made one mistake and that the victim’s life didn’t matter. 

It wasn’t until the letter of impact the victim wrote reached the public that people acknowledged that there was a problem with how our society tries to deal with assault. Not only did our legal system prioritize the attacker based on his stature, but when alcohol is involved, people are quick to place the blame on the victim for drinking. 

When Turner decided to take the case to trial Jane Doe — a pseudonym used to protect the victim’s privacy — was told that because she couldn’t remember what happened that it would be impossible for her to prove it was unwanted, despite the fact that being incapacitated — which she was — legally means you can’t give consent.

“According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down,” Doe said in a letter. “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.”

Turner and his attorney, Mark Armstrong, went to great lengths to discredit Doe. In an article by The Guardian, Armstrong was said to have questioned Doe about her partying habits, trying to make it seem as if she had been asking for it. 

“It is enough to be suffering,” Doe said. “It is another thing to have someone ruthlessly working to diminish the gravity and validity of this suffering.”

It didn’t help that Turner’s loved ones were going out of their way to protect him either. In a letter to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, Dan Turner, the defendant’s father wrote: “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

In saying what he did, Turner’s father, whether he meant it or not, was basically saying that rape isn’t that big of a deal and that Turner doesn’t deserve to be punished. With a father like that anyone would lack empathy. 

Ultimately, Turner was charged with sexual assault. However, judge Persky was rather lenient with his sentence, only giving Turner six months in county jail with three years’ probation, despite prosecutors asking for six years in prison. 

Persky’s ruling sparked public outrage, as it should have. Not only did he ignore the prosecutors, he ignored the assembly, the jury and most importantly, he ignored the victim. In a statement Persky explained that he gave Turner a light sentence stating, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” 

Throughout the trial, Persky said that he believed Turner’s account. The Guardian reported that Persky said Turner had “less moral culpability” because he was intoxicated. This brings up one of the biggest issues when it comes to campus sexual assault cases, and that is alcohol. 

One argument people make is that women should know the risks of drinking and that if they become incapacitated then they’re the ones asking for trouble. The problem with this is that it sends a message to men that it is okay to take advantage of a girl who is intoxicated because clearly she’s asking for it. Turner doesn’t do himself any favors blaming alcohol as if alcohol committed the assault and not him. 

Throughout Turner’s statement to Persky, Turner repeatedly places the blame on party culture and drinking. “I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted],” Turner said. “At this point in my life, I never want to have a drop of alcohol again. I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed.”

Regardless of how the alcohol affected Turner, it does not change the fact that he raped someone. The fact that he continues to refuse to acknowledge that shows that we have a big problem in America when it comes to educating people about alcohol and sexual assault. Stanford University’s response to this case is a perfect example of how our methods of teaching young people about these topics are the root of the problem. 

Shortly after the events played out, Stanford University created a website called “Female Bodies and Alcohol”. Though the website was taken down after it received backlash, sections of the webpage have been posted on several social media outlets.

The biggest problem with the webpage was how it spoke in-depth about how alcohol negatively affects women, not at all mentioning men and drinking. This implies that only women are responsible for their drinking habits, not men. 

When we teach young people that drinking makes women targets, we are implying that taking advantage of a woman who has been drinking is okay. That may not be the message that we are trying to convey, but that is how some people may interpret it. That is certainly how Brock Turner saw it. 

If you rape someone, you have raped someone. It doesn’t matter how much alcohol you consumed. You can’t use alcohol as an excuse for what you did. We don’t excuse drunk drivers for killing people just because they were drunk. Why should we excuse someone for rape?

Recently, Stanford announced that it is banning large containers of alcohol from undergraduate housing and events. This is their way of trying to prevent assault. Although alcohol can play a factor in sexual assault, taking it away is not going to make the problem disappear. 

“These policies don’t work,” Managing Director of the organization End Rape on Campus, Anna Voremberg said. “They don’t prevent sexual assault. Schools definitely have a responsibility to prepare students for safe drinking habits. That’s important. But putting such policies in the context of preventing sexual assault misses the mark. Alcohol doesn’t cause rape. It’s a weapon used by rapists to rape women.”

It doesn’t matter that Turner was a student at Stanford or that he was a good swimmer. When it comes down to it, rape is rape. We cannot continue to let men like Turner off easy because their morals were supposedly vacant while they were drunk. Turner didn’t just make a little drunken mistake, he committed a crime and has emotionally scarred a young woman for life.