Like many, I’ve been caught up in the swarm of articles, petitions, and opinion pieces surrounding convicted rapist Brock Turner, a 20-year-old former Stanford University swimmer with “aspiring Olympic dreams.” According to an article in The Atlantic, Turner was convicted of three felony counts based upon his rape of an unconscious female student who was passed out behind a dumpster and faced up to 14 years in jail. He received 6 months in county jail, 3 years probation, and lifetime sex offender registration. According to Turner’s father, this “was a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
Unless you are a survivor of sexual violence, it’s very difficult to fully understand the significant physical and psychological effects of rape. I’ve spent a great deal of time working alongside victims to seek justice (on and off of college campuses), researching antecedents to rapists behavior so as to develop effective prevention strategies, and helping to change systems to be more responsive to reports. Even with this, I still don’t fully get it because I am a man and am not raised in a culture whereby I need to be constantly worried for my physical and sexual safety. The victim in this case, a 23-year-old fellow Stanford student who is using the pseudonym “Emily Doe,” read a powerful statement about the impact Turner’s actions had on her. For some, it may a difficult read, but I encourage you to if you haven’t already. I have taken some of her words and used them below.
Rape culture is real, folks. It’s very real and unless we do something about it, it’s going to get worse. What drove Brock Turner to his actions? He claims he was a victim himself, of a culture where the pressure to drink heavily and hook-up are rampant. The victim responds by saying, “Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. Everyone in this room has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much, or knows someone close to them who has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much. Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That’s the difference.”
Some of you reading this may know that I completed my dissertation research on the subject of masculine gender norms and rape myths. I’m going to provide just a little information from that dissertation so you have a fuller picture of what is happening on many college campuses:
- Consent: Depending on the institution or state, varying definitions of consent are out there. Some require “enthusiastic;” others, “affirmative.” Regardless of which, a person who wishes to engage in sexual activity with another person is required to ascertain that the person wants to engage in said conduct. This can take many forms, including verbal or non-verbal. However, an individual is incapable of giving consent under multiple conditions, including: incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs, if they are sleeping or unconscious, mental impairment, being coerced (using force or threats of force), and age. In the words of the victim: “Future reference, if you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence. You [Turner] couldn’t even do that. Just one coherent string of words. If she can’t do that, then no. Don’t touch her, just no. Not maybe, just no. Where was the confusion? This is common sense, human decency.” Big question: Why is getting consent grounded in a “fear of going to jail” as opposed to “I respect you and want to make sure that you’re good with what we’re going to do?”
- Rape Myths: take two parts- 1) blaming victims for the assault/rape and 2) excusing perpetrators for their behavior. They can take the form of individuals asking what a victim was wearing, if she/he were drinking or doing drugs, why they didn’t fight off their attacker, if there was flirting, if the two had sex before, “mixed signals.” Perpetrators were only “boys being boys,” couldn’t stop their actions when the girl “changed her mind,” had too much to drink and didn’t know what he was doing. Or the big one, “she’s lying.”
- Growing up Male: While men have significantly higher levels of rape myth acceptance, what about their “maleness” predicts this? This was the question my dissertation attempted to answer. The two main gender norms that predicted this belief: desiring power over women and fear of being perceived as gay. Compound this with environments that encourage this behavior and you can have a toxic brew. Just as an example, Inside Higher Ed released a story on June 3, telling us that over 50% of intercollegiate and recreational athletes physically or verbally coerced women into having sex with them. These are socially constructed things that MUST BE CHANGED.
Brock Turner made a decision, actually, more accurately, he made a series of decisions. The biggest decision he made? That instead of calling for help when he encountered an unconscious woman next to a dumpster on campus, he took off most of her clothing, penetrated her with his fingers, and was getting ready to begin intercourse. When confronted by two bystanders, he jumped up (with an apparent erection) and proceeded to flee the scene, prompting one of the bystanders to chase him until he tackled Turner. Again, in the words of the victim: “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. If a girl falls help her up. If she is wearing a cardigan over her dress don’t take it off so that you can touch her breasts. Maybe she is cold, maybe that’s why she wore the cardigan. If her bare [buttocks] and legs are rubbing the pinecones and needles, while the weight of you pushes into her, get off her.”
His sentence? Preposterous. Unfathomable. Do you think his White, upper-class upbringing had anything to do with it? I can’t say definitively…wait, no, I can. See, the judge in this case, well, he also graduated from Stanford. Turner’s high-priced attorneys wouldn’t have been available to him if he needed a public defender. Even the fact that it took until yesterday (June 6, 2016) to have his MUGSHOT RELEASED and instead we were shown his well-coiffed, suit-and-tie, full-mouth-smiling, YEARBOOK PHOTO is utterly ridiculous. How about that his SWIMMING TIMES were included in the article that reported his arrest? And lastly, Emily Doe points out: “The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard earned swimming scholarship. If I had been sexually assaulted by an un-athletic guy from a community college, what would his sentence be? If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? How fast he swims does not lessen the impact of what happened to me.”
Rape culture surrounds us and isn’t going away until we do something about it. Women’s bodies are used to buy and sell products, but we reject them when they are used to nourish a child. This shows that women are meant to be sexualized and objectified by men, we (men) control women’s bodies, don’t we? Male politicians push through laws limiting what a woman can do with her body if she were to become pregnant. Boys are taught to “man up,” to “hit it,” “pound it,” “screw,” “nail,” and “tear it up.” As if a woman is only a receptacle, built for men’s pleasure and “it” doesn’t have feelings. While Brock Turner is most certainly to blame for his actions that night, as a culture, we must share this blame. Men must stand up and stop making others defend their masculinity, rewarding them for their “conquests.” Fathers need to stop encouraging their sons’ behaviors with an “atta boy” and instead have a real conversation about sex and respecting your partner before, during, and after. We must get real about sex education in our middle schools and high schools because colleges are inheriting the Brock Turners of the world when it may be too late to change them.
Ask yourself, what are you going to do to change our culture? Tell me! Post it in the comments below.