There are a number of reasons why I care about climate change, but the biggest one is that I care about humanity. I like us, as a species, and I want us to continue to exist for as long as we can, and I’d like for there to be as much human happiness as possible during that existence. Climate change is one of the biggest large-scale threats to that, but it’s far from the only threat. I realize that as small as my platform currently is, it still feels irresponsible to block exclusively about climate change, and to ignore the other problems in human society.
Bigotry – both individual and institutional – also represents a massive threat, and one that has done a huge amount of damage throughout recorded human history. With every form of bigotry, there seems to be a group of people who insist that it doesn’t exist, and right now in the U.S. that denial seems to be strongest for rape culture and racism.
I’m sure you’ll all be just shocked to discover that this post centers on the absurdly light sentence of convicted rapist Brock Turner. This is less of an essay than it is the result of the thoughts that have been going through my head on this over the last few days.
I’ve been pleasantly astonished by the amount of agreement I’ve seen around the internet that this was unquestionably rape, and unquestionably Turner’s fault. My guess is that that is largely due to the presence of witnesses who stopped him, caught him, and held him till the police got there. From what I can tell, the odds of a rape being witnessed and stopped like that are near zero.
According to the prosecution, this rape came after “Turner was accused of aggressively touching a woman who was dancing at a party at the same frat house the weekend before.” Which indicates that this may not have been an isolated incident. Certainly, I doubt that had he gotten away with it, he would have stopped at assaulting just one woman. That incident wasn’t brought up at the trial, but I assume it came up when discussing sentencing, and was ignored. Or maybe the Judge decided to add a couple days to the prison sentence? Either way, it seems that Turner’s lesson for this is that as long as he keeps insisting he wants to preach morality, he’ll be given light punishment at most.
At the same time, we’re hearing from another college athlete who served over five years for a rape he didn’t commit. He also had no criminal record, violent or otherwise, and had far less evidence supporting his conviction, so why the difference in punishment?
“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?”
Maybe the judge thought poverty prepares people for prison? Or maybe – just maybe – it’s because Banks is black, and even ignoring all the racism in policing, plea deals, and trials, black people convicted of crimes get harsher sentences than white people convicted of the same crimes.
But of course this is not just an issue of racism. This is an intersection of systemic racism and the bigotry against women that manifests as rape culture. By now, most of you have probably seen the statement made in court by Turner’s victim. It contains a graphic, wrenching account of both what happened to her, how she experienced it, and how she feels about it. A couple days ago, I would have said that if you haven’t read it, you should. I’m still going to say something similar, but there’s something else to be said first.
With some very, very unlikely exceptions, every single person reading this knows multiple victims of sexual assault. You may not know who it is, but sexual assault is so common that it’s a virtual certainty that you know someone who has been through it. Not only that, many, many victims of sexual assault have spoken about about their experiences, about what it was like trying to get justice, or to prevent others from being assaulted. They have spoken out on how they felt, and how they healed, and how it changed their views of the world around them.
My desire to share this statement by Turner’s victim, and demand that everybody read it, comes from two places. The first, and lesser, reason, is that it is eloquent and compelling. It’s also my only impression of that particular woman, other than knowing that she is a fellow human, and she was the victim of a vile assault. The second reason to share it is the feeling that it’s a message that many people still haven’t heard before. Can that be? Again, we all know somebody who has been sexually assaulted. I’ve listened to friends talk about their experiences, and I’ve read statements and articles similar to this one many times. How can it be that there are people who don’t understand the devastation that can be wrought by sexual assault?
And yet it is clear that there are such people. Many accounts I’ve heard include somebody in the victim’s life telling them to “just get over it”, and it’s not always men saying that. It’s also abundantly clear that the judge who sentenced Turner to 6 months with a shot at early release for good behavior, plus a couple years of parole, did not consider the crime to be particularly serious. It’s also clear that Brock Turner, his father, and his childhood friend don’t consider the crime to be particularly serious.
It’s also clear, from conversations I’ve had online, that a number of people don’t fault Turner Sr. for the content of his letter. After all, they say, it’s not HIS fault his son is a rapist, and he’s just defending his son like any father should. Sorry folks, but to paraphrase P.Z., fathers do matter. Context matters. Neither Brock Turner, nor the millions of other rapists in the United States grew up in a vacuum. In an ideal society, there would probably still be some rapists, but this is far from an ideal society, and we know that people are influenced by the culture they live in.
And what sort of culture do we live in? Well, if you’re not clear on how that relates to this rape case, why don’t you start with the victim’s statement. Read it more than once, if you need to, and see if you can see some indication of how rape victims are viewed. It should be clear to anyone familiar with the facts of this case that this woman was injured by her attacker, that he took no care whatsoever for her wellbeing, and exposed her to infection through getting dirt and other stuff on external and internal wounds, and then when caught, he tried to escape. And yet what did the defense do? Anybody? They did what the defense teams of rape defendants always do. They did everything they could to make the jury think that she wanted it. That the whole thing – pine needles and all – was just fine by her.
Like so many others, this trial revolved on how effectively the defense team could make the jury lose all respect for the victim, and to see her as undeserving of bodily autonomy. I’m glad that she’s anonymous. I think she deserves all the privacy she wants. I’m also glad that she wrote that letter, because nobody reading it can pretend that there’s not a human behind those words, full of life, and thoughts, and energy, and potential.There’s another fun word: “potential”. Someone named Louisa Curry put it better than I could:
Everything about how our society handles rape indicates that we don’t view it as a serious crime. The fact that marital rape wasn’t illegal across the U.S. until 1993; the way rape victims are questioned by police and courts and anybody else with an oar to put in; the way rapists are so often considered victims whose futures have been taken away; the way a young woman feels comfortable saying that Brock Turner isn’t a rapist, he’s just an “idiot boy” who had too much to drink – “rapist” only applies to people who kidnap strange women and rape them – not a fine, upstanding young man with so much potential; the way women are portrayed in media, and the way rapists are are portrayed and even lauded in entertainment (James Bond, anybody?); the way we’re asked to consider the talent of a rapist who also happens to be a film director – all of that says that this is not a crime to be taken seriously. Not like murder. Not like *shudder* smoking pot
That is a culture in which rape is acceptable. That’s fucking rape culture. It’s also not all that surprising from a culture the predecessors of which viewed women as property, or if they were people, they were not real people. In the end, a majority of people who read this probably already know everything I’m saying, and many of you probably know it better than I do. But as I said in the beginning, I care about climate change because I care about my fellow humans, and as long as any portion of our population is being treated as lesser than the rest of us, there is no good reason to ignore it.