What You Need to Know -- And Read -- About the Stanford Rape Case

Bronze statuette of justice (focus on face)
Bronze statuette of justice (focus on face)

2016-06-08-1465420981-1571195-brockturnerbookingphoto.jpg

The Case


On January 18th, 2015, two Swedish Stanford grad students riding bicycles late that night spotted a man thrusting on top of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. When confronted, he tried to run but one of the cyclists chased him down and held him until the police came and arrested him. The man was Brock Allen Turner, a star member of Stanford's varsity swim team with Olympic aspirations, who,
, was ultimately found guilty by a jury of three felonies: assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

At his sentencing on Thursday, June 2nd, the victim read aloud this letter, which has since gone viral, describing the severe impact the rape had on her. If you read nothing else about this case, read this letter in its entirety, which crystalizes how, as Planned Parenthood put it on Twitter, "Rape culture puts the responsibility of sexual assault on survivors--instead of perpetrators." She eviscerates that culture, along with Turner, his lawyer, and the court. Her bravery, her power, and her conviction are absolutely awe-inspiring. Here are two short excerpts, the first about discovering the horrifying details of her rape online:

One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me. That's when the pine needles in my hair made sense, they didn't fall from a tree. He had taken off my underwear, his fingers had been inside of me. I don't even know this person. I still don't know this person. When I read about me like this, I said, this can't be me, this can't be me. I could not digest or accept any of this information. I could not imagine my family having to read about this online. I kept reading. In the next paragraph, I read something that I will never forgive; I read that according to him, I liked it. I liked it. Again, I do not have words for these feelings.

And here's her conclusion:

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, "Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining." Although I can't save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can't be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing 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. To girls everywhere, I am with you.

The 6-Month Sentence

Turner could have gotten up to 14 years. But Judge Aaron Persky, who once
, gave the convicted rapist a measly six-month sentence which,
, is "significantly less severe than the minimum prison time of two years prescribed by state law for his felony offenses." Judge Persky explained his sentencing, saying in court that "a harsher punishment would have a severe impact" on the defendant, a person who "is youthful and has no significant record of prior criminal offenses." He also said "There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is ... intoxicated." (So we guess if you get
drunk
and intentionally murder your
first
victim, that's fairly small potatoes, too.)

Outrage over the lenient sentencing spread quickly. Brian Banks, a black ex-football star, who served five years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, spoke to the Daily News:

"I would say it's a case of privilege," Banks said. "It seems like the judge based his decision on lifestyle. He's lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious in his life that would prepare him for prison. He was sheltered so much he wouldn't be able to survive prison. What about the kid who has nothing, he struggles to eat, struggles to get a fair education? What about the kid who has no choice who he is born to and has drug-addicted parents or a non-parent household? Where is the consideration for them when they commit a crime?"

Also in the Daily News, Shaun King decried the injustice, not only against this victim, but against black people who serve longer sentences for way lesser crimes (like marijuana possession):

He will literally be home in time for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Do you know how many young black boys and girls, sometimes as young as 13 and 14 years old, are tried as adults in court rooms all across America and given mandatory minimums of 10 years and 20 years and even life in prison? Thousands. Tens of thousands.

that images used in covering the case -- yearbook pictures rather than his booking photo the night of his arrest (above), which wasn't available until after the sentencing -- "expose a double standard at play in the way the media treats young, white criminals versus young, black victims of violence."

William Wissler Graham, who helped create a satirical Onion video a while back with eerily similar details to this case and Turner's treatment, had this to share:

This is a piece we made at The Onion when we were doing Sportsdome. I remember shooting it and wondering whether people would be able to see the joke through all the controversial stuff around it. And here it is, five years later, and it's not a joke at all anymore -- It's pretty much real.

As one of our Facebook fans, William Mills, observed so astutely: "When life imitates art, things are usually ok, when life imitates The Onion, we're probably about to hit a dead end as a species."

There's currently a Change.org petition to remove the judge from the bench for his bare-minimum sentencing. As of this writing, it had 351,092 supporters out of a goal of 500K.

 The Father's Letter

The tone-deaf letter that Brock Turner's father apparently wrote to the court before the sentencing, asking for mercy and probation only, became public on Sunday, June 5th. It offers, as The Atlantic suggested, a stark contrast between the two partiesSlate wrote that the father defends  his son "with nearly every thin excuse his son's victim demolishes in her letter; he elevates all the rape-apologist, victim-diminishing tropes she exposes as misogynist garbage."

-- Michele Dauber (@mldauber) June 5, 2016

Countless responses to the father's note have quickly blanketed social media. Writer and actor 
, in her one and only Tweet as of Monday, June 6th, made spot-on edits to the father's letter:

 

 

John Pavlovitz wrote an open letter, from one father to another. Here's an excerpt:

If his life has been "deeply altered" it is because he has horribly altered another human being; because he made a reprehensible choice to take advantage of someone for his own pleasure. This young woman will be dealing with this for far longer than the embarrassingly short six months your son is being penalized. She will endure the unthinkable trauma of his "20 minutes of action" for the duration of her lifetime, and the fact that you seem unaware of this fact is exactly why we have a problem.
  • This is why young men continue to rape women.
  • This is why so many men believe that they can do whatever they please to a woman's body without accountability.
  • This is the reason so many victims of sexual assault never step forward.
  • This is why white privilege is real and insidious and usually those with it are oblivious to it.
 

 

Rob Arnold, a poet and editor friend of ours from Boston, had this to say via Facebook:

Think of all the seconds in a minute, think of how long it takes to lift a shirt, how long it takes to unbutton your pants, or how long it takes for a thought to cross the mind. A second or two, maybe? Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty opportunities to think about the action you're taking, sixty opportunities every minute for twenty straight minutes to realize the pain you're causing, the repercussions you will face. Even if we take the twenty minute construct as fact (which, of course, it cannot be because, of course, any sustained action we take is a culmination of social factors, privileges, and lessons we have learned or failed to learn throughout our life), twenty minutes is an eternity.

 

Another writer friend of ours, Diane Stopyra, posted this on social media:

We put little girls in onesies that say "Not allowed to date... ever." Why? Because it's a foregone conclusion that boys will be boys, right? That men are dogs. LOL, you guys -- what a funny punchline: we have to protect our daughters from our sons! Look at us, laughing it up over how little respect we anticipate for our girls!

Someone very close to me recently said, very nonchalantly, that all men are "dogs" at some point in their lives. He knows what dogs are -- creatures that aren't human, i.e. creatures capable of acting inhumanely. But LOL - that's what men are!

We shrug it off. We joke about it. We condition our kids to do the same. Boys will be boys. LOL.

The father of the Stanford rapist called his son's violent assault behind a dumpster, his insertion of foreign objects into an unconscious female body, just "20 minutes of action." The rapist's longtime family friend, a woman, called the whole thing a misunderstanding -- said Brock isn't a "real" rapist (just the hobby kind, presumably?) because he's such a nice guy normally, and wow, is he ever a good swimmer. And boys will be boys, right?

If I were a man, I'd be furious about the standard to which my gender is being held. And I know there are many men who ARE furious. Thank you for using your powers for good.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could one day associate "boys being boys" with raising the bar, acting honorably, respecting women? Or, at the very least, getting consent? Anything less is pathetic and tragic.

That little boy in the "lock up your daughters" onesie is going to grow up one day, and he's going to grow up believing what we've acculturated him to believe.

LOL.

 

And this from a friend of a friend, Matt Lang:

I've been drunk many times, even in the presence of promiscuous women who were also drunk, and I managed not to rape them, so I don't think drinking and promiscuity are the problems.

This here is the problem: some guys are entitled pricks, and they're entitled pricks because their fathers and coaches and friends taught them to be entitled pricks. Because they are entitled pricks, they think they can have whatever they want, and that their worth is defined by what they have and what they take.

Alcohol has this capacity to unlock what, deep down, we've always wanted to do. For me, that means, occasionally, running naked in places I probably shouldn't, like through libraries or deserts (remember for next time: deserts=cactuses). But even at my most intoxicated, I've never lost sight of the fact that rape is wrong, because I was raised to know it's wrong. No amount of alcohol can depress that value.

Brock Turner and his ilk were never taught that. They were taught that they can have what they want, when they want, including women. And that's called being a man. Brock Turner thought he was entitled to a little "action" any way he could get it, and he thought that long before he got drunk. The alcohol didn't introduce that thought, it unlocked it. That thought: "I can take whatever I want, including her," was planted and watered by a whole, rotten village.

It is right that we shame him, and his father, and the friend that came to his defense, and the judge, and every other entitled prick we meet.

Just as importantly, we need to love our boys, and teach them the dignity of the body, and how to live through disappointment and confusion, and how to navigate confusing feelings, and how to separate feelings from action, and how to communicate and listen. We need to redefine for them what it is to be a man, that their worth doesn't come from that which they have and take.

 

The letter of support from one of Turner's female childhood friend's to the court is no better than the father's, which asks the insane question, "...where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn't always because people are rapists." Rape is perpetrated by people who aren't rapists? Does not compute.

While the details of this case are disturbing, devastating and all too familiar, the widespread public outcry against the sentencing and the widespread support for the victim, who fought so hard and whose strong voice has been heard, are positive signs that the culture of casual yet brutal sexual violence against women is beginning to crumble.