What happens when rape culture meets white privilege?

Brock Turner, the former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, leaves the Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose, California

by Chelsea Cabral, Staff Writer

On September 2, 2016, the nation watched with anger as Brock Turner, former student at Stanford University who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman at a party, was released early from jail.

Originally given a very lenient six month sentence, Turner was released early for good behavior after having only served three months.

The situation all began last January when Turner, a freshman at Stanford, was caught by two bystanders sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.

In March of 2016, he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault by a California jury, which could have given him a maximum sentence of fourteen years.

So how could a rapist (not the glamorized Stanford athlete as he has been depicted) who blames his actions on Stanford’s so-called “party-culture” receive the light sentence that he did?

The judge who presided over his case, Aaron Persky, persisted that a longer sentence would “severely impact” Turner and his swimming aspirations, due to his age and his lack of criminal history.

The sentencing does not only reveal judicial biases for cases like this, despite the strong evidence and eyewitness accounts, but sheds light on why most sexual assault victims are hesitant to come forward.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), about 54% of rapes go unreported with 52% of college-aged people not reporting sexual assaults. Jenna Melo, a senior Sociology major here at UMass Dartmouth, also disagrees with the less-than-appropriate verdict reached in this case.

“Shame on everyone in that court,” Melo says. “They aren’t thinking about the poor girl who is going to be traumatized for the rest of her life.”

What this case does reveal is the strong patterns of bias against sexual violence and violence against women. Brock’s father, Dan Turner, who released an open letter to the court, laments the price his son has to pay for “twenty minutes of action.”

He goes on to say: “Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of January 17 and 18. He will never be his happy-go-lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile.”

While Turner’s father seems to forget that it is the victim herself whose life will forever be altered by the horrendous events, he continues to make excuses for his son, while blaming the actual victim.

He claims that if Turner had never been prosecuted, he would still be the “good kid” that he articulates. For Brock’s parents, the woman is the problem.

To further show the victim-blaming seen in most sexual assault cases, Turner even argues that the victim consented, which seamlessly demonstrates how our culture often excuses violence against women: they have to be asking for sex, even if they’re unable to move or speak.

Even simple identity privileges played an extensive part in Turner’s sentencing. Rebecca Brizido, a junior Biology student here at UMass Dartmouth, is someone who also believes Turner’s affluence had leverage in the case.

Brizido states, “When the story initially hit the media, nobody saw his mugshot. The photos used were portraying him as the ‘good kid’ and star athlete to the public when in reality he’s a rapist. If he was any other race, I believe the case would have a different outcome.”

Take for example Corey Batey, who had a strikingly similar case to Turner’s. Batey, a black 19-year-old student at Vanderbilt University, also sexually assaulted an unconscious woman.

However, the difference between Batey’s case and Turner’s was that he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, not six months.

According to a 2013 Pew Research study, black men are six times more likely to be imprisoned than white men.

The similarities in both Batey’s and Tuner’s stories reveal the unjust biases of the court system and systematic injustices, including Turner’s white male privilege.

While the conversation around Turner’s sentencing has sparked a lot of outrage, it can be used for some good. As a nation, we are coming to the realization that culture influences many people and circumstances.

Maybe by admitting and recognizing that Turner’s actions underline the misogyny, identity privileges, and the enforcement of a rape culture that is deeply embedded in American culture, we can work towards trying to change that culture.

Photo Courtesy: Reuters.com


Leave a Reply