This article was written by Lily F., an Essex County, NJ Middle School Student.
The following article is a part of a new series, “Listening to Youth Voices in the New Year.” Each Sunday, articles written by Essex County Middle School students will be published, each week relating to a new topic. You can learn more about this series here.
A few days after the start of eighth grade, I was walking home from school. I decided to stop by a local Starbucks to get a snack, so I took a different route than usual. After I got my food, I walked away from the store and headed home. Not after long, a car passing by slowed down near me. A whistle came from the car, and a man stuck his head out, waved, and smirked at me. The car sped away before I had time to take in what had happened. I had heard so many stories about girls and women getting cat called and how it feels so terrible, but I had always thought the men and boys in my community were better than that. Instead, I stood in the middle of a sidewalk tearing up, wondering why someone who seemed at least three times my age thought it was okay to yell out at me from his car.
Our society has created a rape culture that allows men to harass and assault women whenever they please, with very little consequences. Cat calls and other forms of sexual harassment have become so normalized that they just seem like a part of life that girls should learn to accept (instead of an offensive behavior that men should learn to stop). This develops into even bigger situations, such as rape, becoming normalized as well.
On January 18, 2015, Brock Turner raped a woman behind a dumpster at a party. On June 2, 2016, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to a mere six months in jail. On September 2, 2016, he was released after only having served three months of his sentence due to good behavior. Power was abused in the Brock Turner rape case through Turner’s actions, his words in court, Judge Persky’s decisions, and the reactions to the event.
To begin, Turner himself took advantage of his power in this situation through his actions. He sexually assaulted a woman. She was unconscious and therefore could not consent to what was being done. It is obvious that what Turner did was wrong, and he was aware of what he was doing. He went against the law, and that in itself is misuse of power. According to The Washington Post, “a jury found him guilty of three felonies including assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.” Turner had the power to do something illegal, and he took advantage of that power by taking part in those actions. Not only is what he did illegal, but it is cruel, inexcusable, and misogynistic. He took advantage of the control and power he had over the woman he was with in the situation the second he touched her without her consent.
As a young girl, hearing that situations like these occur all the time is terrifying. This woman went into her night hoping to have a fun time, and she left having gotten raped. Knowing that this isn’t a rare situation makes it so that young girls like me, girls who should be spending their time worrying about drama and school, are instead worried about whether or not they will get sexually harassed walking to school each day. Teenagers shouldn’t be concerned about getting raped, and it’s not fair that people like Turner are making it so that we have to be worried about that. It’s disgusting that Turner would think touching someone without consent is okay, and it’s even more disgusting that he isn’t the only one who thinks like that.
Additionally, he abused his power in court by making himself appear as the victim in the situation. Before the night of the party, Brock was a very successful swimmer and a student at Stanford. He was hoping to go to the Olympics in 2016. After what he did, he was no longer allowed to attend the university, and his reputation was ruined. Similarly, in his statement, he told the judge, “I’ve lost my chance to swim in the Olympics. I’ve lost my ability to obtain a Stanford degree. I’ve lost employment opportunity, my reputation and most of all, my life.” This makes it seem that he was the one who this situation hurt the most. As stated by Turner, it sounds as if people should have sympathy for him, because now, his life is over. If he wanted to use his power in a good way, he would have explained how his actions ruined the woman’s life, not how a drink ruined his life. He was the one who sexually assaulted a woman; any results that came from that are entirely his fault.
Next, Judge Aaron Persky abused his power through the sentence he gave Brock Turner and his reasoning behind the sentence. Turner was only sentenced to six months in jail and three years on probation for all that he had done. He only ended up serving three of those six months for behaving well in jail. Persky had the individual power to give Turner a sentence that his crime was deserving of, yet he misused that power and let Turner off without even a full year in jail. In an article from Cable News Network, the prosecutor in the case requested a six-year prison sentence for Turner, claiming that “This behavior is not typical assaultive behavior that you find on campus, but it is more akin to a predator who is searching for prey.” Giving Turner a six-year sentence would have taught people all over the world, including himself, that what he did is not acceptable. It would have taught him a lesson about respect and that there are consequences for every action. A sentence that long would have taken away a lot of opportunities for him, but it would prevent a lot of situations similar to this from happening, not to mention the fact that a sentence of that length is what he deserves for his actions. However, instead of using his power for good as explained above, Persky abused it and gave Brock a short sentence.
Many argued that because of Turner’s lack of criminal history and all of his potential in school and swimming, a punishment of that length wasn’t fair. They claimed it would ruin his life, and that he had no intention of hurting anyone. According to Washington Post, Santa Clara County probation officials asked that a shorter sentence would be given to Brock due to his “lack of a criminal history, his youthful age, and his expressed remorse and empathy toward the victim.” Judge Persky clearly listened to their advice. He chose to give Turner a more than generous sentence. Although he claims it will teach him the lesson he needs to learn (and that he has already learned it), this gives people similar to him everywhere the message that they can sexually assault whoever they’d like and only get three months in jail. It also gives women everywhere the message that someone can do something as awful as Brock did, and they won’t be given justice. It shows the victim in this situation that Brock’s future is more important than what she went through. Persky took advantage of his power by not giving Turner a sentence that matched his crime.
Further, power was abused in this situation through some of the reactions to what happened. Although some people supported the victim and pushed for Turner to be given a long sentence, his family (and many others) defended him. For example, many, such as Turner’s father, Dan Turner, used Brock’s past as an excuse. It is inevitable that Brock’s family will be biased towards their own son, but their defense of him can’t be unconditional in situations like this. As stated by the The Washington Post, Turner’s father claimed in a letter that his future shouldn’t all be thrown away “for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Turner and his father have the power and privilege of not being the victim in this situation. Turner’s father doesn’t have a son who was just sexually assaulted; he doesn’t have to worry about how to handle that. Instead, he has the upper hand in the situation, and he is abusing that power for the good of his son and himself. He knows that many people will listen to him. Therefore he is using that leverage to get the outcome he wants in a way that is unfair due to how it victimizes Turner.
On the other hand, many people, such as Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, agree that Turner’s father’s statement was unfair. The Washington Post claims that Rosen “criticized the letter for reducing a brutal sexual assault to ‘20 minutes of action.’” Rosen is claiming that Turner’s father and his supporters aren’t fairly assessing the situation, and they are abusing their power by doing that. Rosen is using his power for good, and Turner is not (as Rosen stated). Similarly, Turner has the privilege of not experiencing this assault, along with the privilege of being able to rewrite the story because the victim was unconscious. He is abusing that power and making the situation appear as a small, casual event, when really, it is much more serious than that. Many people, such as Turner’s family, misused their power by defending the horrible acts that Brock did, as Rosen stated.
In summary, the abuses of power in the Brock Turner rape case include Brock Turner’s actions, Turner’s words in court, the sentence given to him, and the reactions and excuses made around the case. Although many wrongs were done in this situation, a lot can be learned from it to make sure that it never happens again. Society needs to learn that sexual assault and misogyny are not okay, no matter who is involved or what the excuses are. Because of other situations similar to this, women learn to stay quiet when something similar happens to them, because no matter how loud they are, many people will be implicitly biased towards believing men. Instead of teaching girls that “boys will be boys,” we should be teaching our boys how to be held accountable for their actions. Instead of teaching girls how to respond when we are cat called, we should be teaching boys how to treat those around them with respect. Instead of giving girls self defense classes so they are prepared if they are ever sexually assaulted or raped, we should be teaching boys about consent. As the victim closed with in her letter to Turner, girls need to be taught that “you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.”