Brock Turner in a January 2015 arrest photo. Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office
Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, was sentenced to six months in jail on several charges of sexual assault and rape on an unconscious woman. He was found guilty on three felony counts, prosecutors asked the residing Judge Aaron Persky to give Turner 6 years in state prison, almost half of the maximum 14 years he could have faced. The assault occurred in public behind a dumpster and was only interrupted when two students passing by on their bicycles took notice. They chased Turner down and detained him until police arrived when he tried to flee the crime scene.
The Brock Turner case is a great example of how race and class can lessen the severity of a crime someone commits. Based on those prior two factors, a criminal is able to get away with a lenient sentence and have the power to blame the victim.
The image of what a “real” rapist looks like put together by society is a gross misrepresentation of the reality of rape. Rapists are not always anti-social, lonely, damaged, and living in the dark shadows of life. It is easier for society to accept the villain-esque rapist than the rapist you may work with, go to school with, or have befriended for so long.
Luckily for Turner, he is (or was!) an accomplished swimmer attending Stanford on a sports scholarship. Coming from a privileged white background, he had enough family wealth to hire expensive top-notch lawyers who usually appear into the public sphere for the defense of the “rich kids” who have committed gross crimes.
Pictures of Turner smiling have from ear to ear have circled media reports. Many were upset that he had the privilege to have his polished Stanford yearbook picture dominate the media coverage, unlike the one with this report. However, there is an advantage to this. It breaks down the typical image of the rapists and that an accomplished privileged athlete can indeed be a rapist too. The tactics employed by the media and society of associating rape with certain traits is not only dangerous, but an injustice to the victims.
The family and lawyers of Turner argued that it was “binge drinking” and “sexual promiscuity” that resulted in this unfortunate “mistake.” Turner and his lawyers even had the power to say that the victim wanted it and even climaxed–all while being unconscious laying on the ground behind a dumpster with an alcohol reading three times of the legal limit for driving.
Being privileged enough to add more insult to injury, Turner’s father made a statement saying, that the sentence was a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 years plus of life.” He then continues to argue that, “ My son has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015 [night of the assault].” The judge agreed and sentenced Turner to 6 months in county jail and that a prison sentence “would have a severe impact on him,” adding, “I do not think he will be a danger to others.”
Class and race plays a huge factor in such rape cases.
The judge based his decision on the lifestyle of Turner. He had lived such a privileged and easy life that he wouldn’t have been able to survive in prison. The judge did not even take into consideration the prison of trauma and humiliation the victim has been sentenced to for the rest of her life. Have criminals of troubled past given any consideration of their lifestyle when they were sentenced? Likely not. Moreover, the prosecutors did not even ask for the maximum 14 year sentence that he was supposed to get, but only 6 years.
Childhood friend, Leslie Rasmussen, came to the defense of Turner. In a detailed letter, she mentioned Turner’s “respectable family” and accomplishment, called him a “sweetheart,” and blamed the ordeal on “political correctness” and “idiot” campus drinking culture. She characterized his action as not being “rape-rape” and decrying the reactions of his lenient sentence as a product of political correctness.
It does not matter who you are or where you come from, if you rape, then you are a rapist and deserve to be brought to justice. Being apologetic to rape or attempting to show what of a “sweetheart” Turner is does not hide the fact that he raped someone and is now, by definition, a rapist. You do not have to commit several rapes to become a rapist or meet certain standards. Once you violate someone sexually and without their consent, you are a rapist.
Brock Turner is a swimmer but he is also a rapist. He might be a “sweetheart,” but he is still a rapist.
In rape cases, the upper class is able to influence the narrative of the reality of rape. They have the power to say “it was a mistake,” blame the victim and the binge drinking culture in college, and unfortunately enough describe a heinous rape as it was not really “rape-rape.” The narrative of “not all” rape is violent and that sometimes it is just a “mistake” is prevalent with rape cases of privileged offenders.
The Washington post described Turner as “an all-American Swimmer” and described his heinous crime as “sexual assault.” Other similar cases reported by The Washington post are of African-American males described as “men” and charged with “rape” rather than sexual assault. Black men are often sentenced to harsher and lengthier times than white men for the exact crimes.
Justice is not blind, it is biased. And the rules do not truly apply to everyone.