I think it’s pretty safe to assume that no one enjoys reading about rape cases in the news. Which is why, when I first saw headlines about Brock Allen Turner and his rape case from Stanford University, I admittedly kept scrolling. Details about these cases are never pleasant to read. Not to mention that, as someone who has also been a victim of sexual assault, I feel like I’m invading a person’s privacy when I read details of their rape. So much news coverage surrounding these cases, in my opinion, borders on voyeurism. After all, why exactly do people need to know the nitty gritty details? It’s generally my opinion that, in most cases, all that the public needs to know is that, “This person was accused of rape, and while the investigation is pending, you probably shouldn’t let them buy you any drinks or invite you to their place. On to the next story…”
But then I came across some more tweets, detailing how, despite being convicted of three counts, Turner was only sentenced to six months in prison. That part was extremely shocking. It’s rare enough that a rape case actually managed to make it to court. As many of you out there already know, occasions like that are all too rare. And even when they do make it to trial, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked in the favor of the accused. So the fact that Turner was convicted was incredibly surprising. But to then find out that he got such a lenient sentence, because prison would have “a severe impact on him”…that was just sickening. Isn’t that the point of prison, to have a severe impact on you so you don’t commit any more crimes? Then I stumbled across the statement made by Turner’s father and I started to get angry.
RAPE CULTURE: Brock Turner’s dad is sad he only got “20 minutes of action” & doesn’t even like eating steaks anymore pic.twitter.com/eQswM8Lb11
— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) June 5, 2016
This is, as so many have aptly pointed out on social media, rape culture in a nutshell. People and organizations rush to discredit a victim and downplay a rapist’s actions because “they’re such a bright young star”, “they have so many accomplishments”, “they have a bright future”, “they have so much potential”…you guys know the story by now. This is usually the part of the story where people take to social media to express their outrage. Some channel that rage to try to fuel discussions about rape culture and how broken our legal system is. Others are far less articulate. But what irks me about this part of the process is that people feel like, because our legal system is so broken, that we can instead rely on the “court of public opinion” to get justice. This is dangerous. Do we need to fundamentally change how our legal system treats rape and rape victims, from investigation on through the trial process? Absolutely. But for all its faults, at least the legal system has a set of rules in place, which is much more than I can say about public opinion. Public opinion is volatile, unreliable, easily swayed by sensationalism and misdirection, not to mention chaotic. Is it a forum we can use to discuss reform? Sure. But we can’t let that stand in the place of actual justice.
And it’s in the interest of said discussion that I decided to share something that I read yesterday. During the sentencing hearing, Turner’s victim gave a statement, written as a letter addressed directly to him. That letter was later published by Buzzfeed News, and has since been making the rounds online. If you can stomach it, I highly suggest you read it. And even if you’re not sure if you can stomach it, I suggest you read it. As someone who has been sexually victimized, I obviously found it incredibly triggering, and it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t have to undergo most of what she describes, in pretty vivid and ruthless detail. Her account of the rape and the subsequent investigation and trial are absolutely harrowing. But what struck me was not just her description of said events, but her ability to then examine them with plain, unassailable logic:
He said he had asked if I wanted to dance. Apparently I said yes. He’d asked if I wanted to go to his dorm, I said yes. Then he asked if he could finger me and I said yes. Most guys don’t ask, can I finger you? Usually there’s a natural progression of things, unfolding consensually, not a Q and A. But apparently I granted full permission. He’s in the clear. Even in his story, I only said a total of three words, yes yes yes, before he had me half naked on the ground. Future reference, if you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence. You couldn’t even do that. Just one coherent string of words. Where was the confusion? This is common sense, human decency.
It should be worth mentioning that, after I was victimized the first time, it took me over a decade to be able to even talk about the event with anyone, let alone in such a plain, matter-of-fact fashion. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for her to write, much less read aloud to a courtroom full of people, including and especially her rapist, all while maintaining her composure. It’s been almost two decades since I was first sexually assaulted, and I’m not even sure if I’d be able to pull something like that off.
It’s pretty obvious that, no discussion of rape culture and our legal system would be complete without a firsthand account like this. But that would be the case no matter what she decided to say. That said, I feel like this victim’s letter so clearly and so perfectly articulates the struggles faced by far too many people in this country (and others), and does so in a way that not many people in her situation ever could. Her honesty and her courage are absolutely staggering, and I highly recommend that you read it before you form any sort of opinion about any sexual assault or rape case.
Read the whole letter HERE at Buzzfeed News.