You may have heard of both these cases ― different in detail, heartbreakingly different in outcome. But when placed side by side, they exemplify just how broken the U.S. justice system is.
On the one hand, we have Brock Turner, now 22, who served three months of a six-month sentence for three counts of sexual assault. Turner was an adult when he was convicted of assault with an attempt to rape an intoxicated and unconscious woman, crimes for which the state statute requires at least two years in prison. But the judge in his case decided that Turner represented an “exceptional case” ― really, those are his words, not mine ― and that he was less “morally culpable” because he had been drinking at the time of the incident.
Translation: The judge felt sympathy for the promising young, white athlete charged with a crime and therefore tried him as if he was a child who had simply made a mistake.
Not to mention now, after receiving a mere slap on the wrist for rape, Brock Turner is appealing his case in the hope that he will not have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Meaning when you’re a poster boy for white privilege, you not only have to serve just three months of an already lenient sentence, but you also think the world should just forget that you are a rapist.
Now, on the other hand we have Cyntoia Brown, 29, who has spent the last 13 years behind bars after she, at the age of 16, shot and killed a 43-year-old man who had paid to have sex with her. Although she committed this crime when she was legally a child, she, like Turner, was tried as an adult. However, there was little to no sympathy shown to her when she was charged with murder and prostitution and sentenced to life in prison, only eligible for parole after 51 years behind bars. The only worse sentence would have been life without the possibility of parole.
In the case of Cyntoia Brown, her tortured past as a child sex trafficking victim who was constantly raped and abused by several men was tossed to the side when she was treated by the justice system like an adult fully culpable of killing a predator who paid money to have sex with her. Despite actually being a child, she was not granted the same refuge extended to Brock Turner, the strapping young American from a upper class white American family who, as the judge put it, would have had his life ruined and his prospects of being an Olympic swimmer dampened if he was to face lengthy jail time for raping and sexually assaulting an unconscious girl with beer bottles. Turner was treated by the justice system like a child who was not fully aware of the seriousness of his actions, while Cyntoia Brown, who literally was a child ― a tortured child who had endured more trauma in one day than anyone should endure in an entire lifetime ― was not. No, she was not shown a shred of empathy by the justice system after she fought back against one of her countless aggressors, and was handed a life sentence.
There are several differences to note in both cases. Cyntoia Brown is black, and Brock Turner is white. Brown was a sex trafficking victim who defended herself against a predator. Turner is a sexual predator who preyed on an unconscious victim.
Brown didn’t come from a stable upbringing or have a loving father to write a note of support for her. Turner did.
Brown didn’t have a judge view her case through an empathetic lens, deeming that hers was an exceptional case, and then cut her sentence down to a fraction of what it was supposed to be. Turner did.
Brown is still in jail after the system rinsed her dry and held her fully culpable for an act she claimed was self-defense when she wasn’t even old enough to buy cigarettes. Turner has already been walking free for over a year and is now trying to ― and if his limp punishment is anything to go by, most likely will ― clear his name entirely, having already been given every benefit of every doubt.
If Brown had been tried as a child, she could have been available for parole next year. But the system thought it judicially just to sentence a sex trafficking victim to life behind bars while granting a sex predator the privilege of a second chance.
Although the details of their cases differ, when you put the two side by side, they represent two ends of the spectrum on not only how our society deals with sexual abuse and race but how our justice system has a different set of rules that bends and breaks based on circumstance. Favoring the privileged and crucifying the poor. Making excuses for the white and vilifying the black. Shaming a victim and appeasing the perpetrator. You’d think it would be clear who was the victim and who was the perpetrator but the justice system doesn’t always see it that way.