Stanford Rape Trial & Sentencing
Anger Must Create Action
At WEAVE, our work prioritizes ensuring Safety and Support for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking and providing Education to survivors, youth, and our community.
The recent conviction of Brock Turner for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the Stanford campus and the subsequent outrage over a sentence that did not meet the minimum for the crimes magnifies the reality of what sexual assault survivors must endure in seeking justice. It shows the importance of not only ensuring safety and support for victims but the obvious need for education regarding consent, gender equality, the reality of sexual assault, and the importance of holding perpetrators accountable.
Throughout the case and sentencing, seemingly competing narratives have emerged. We seek to challenge outdated ideas, identify opportunities to change the narrative, and assert what is needed to build communities that do not tolerate sexual violence.
Understanding what constitutes sexual assault and understanding consent is paramount to combatting all instances of sexual assault.
Lack of awareness of consent and what constitutes sexual assault remains a problem: A recent study published in the journal Violence Against Women cited a recent survey that found that 54% of intramural and intercollegiate athletes and 38% of non-athletes used coercive behaviors to get women to engage in sexual activity. Nearly every coercive behavior surveyed met the legal definition of rape. This study reinforces similar findings. Young men who would assure you they would not rape are in fact committing sexual assault without recognizing the severity of their actions. Educating youth about consent and gender equality must begin at an early age with age appropriate information about respect for boundaries of others. More importantly, recognizing coercive behaviors and rapes and holding perpetrators accountable must not be optional.
Our community is rightfully angry over an offensively lenient sentence. We need to get equally angry over the reasons why thousands of rapes are never reported.
Justice is Elusive for Sexual Assault Victims: Only 34% of rapes are reported to law enforcement and a mere 2% of rapists ever go to prison (RAINN, 2016). Victims don’t report for a myriad of reasons: fear of not being believed, shame and embarrassment, fear of being judged, and having their dress, actions, and dating history picked apart. Victims are asked to repeat their story multiple times and even the smallest discrepancy in timeline or memory is viewed as lying. We know victims of trauma may not be capable of recounting every detail and memory of the sequence of items may shift – this is our brain’s and body’s way of protecting us. We must believe victims. We must understand the impact of trauma. Without commitment to investigation and prosecution, this trend will continue. When a perpetrator is convicted, we absolutely must demand sentences that demonstrate sexual assault will not be tolerated.
We must refuse to tolerate victim blaming and promotion of the idea that rape is committed by strangers.
Victim Blaming Must Be Banished: One need only look at the letters attesting to the character of Brock Turner to see that rape culture is alive and well. The letter submitted to the judge by Turner’s father demonstrates that he is incapable of recognizing his son’s actions for what they are – rape. He laments his loss of appetite and perpetuates the story that his son’s action were about binge drinking and promiscuity. He is incapable of understanding consent. He doesn’t consider his son’s actions to be violent. His reference to the rape as “twenty minutes of action” only highlights his misunderstanding of rape, which is an act of power and control, not of consensual sex. Turner’s friend suggests a violent rape was a “misunderstanding” and blames political correctness for his prosecution and fails to acknowledge that he is capable of rape despite the fact he sexually assaulted an unconscious person behind a dumpster. Responsibility for sexual assault lies with one person – the rapist. We must refuse to tolerate any effort to shift blame to the victim.
Victims Most Likely Know Their Rapist: 75% of victims of sexual assault know their rapist. Women on college campuses live in a world where friends, acquaintances, and fellow students represent far greater risk to them than the stereotype of the stranger lurking in the bushes. Turner’s friend wrongly asserts misinformation about “real rapists” while minimizing the reality of students raped by classmates. Her personal opinion should not hold weight against what research and data consistently demonstrates. Again, education about consent, gender equality, and illegal behavior must begin at a young age. Educating youth to intervene when questionable behavior is evident is needed, as well.
Alcohol and Promiscuity are not the problems.
Alcohol Does Not Cause Sexual Assault: Research indicates that alcohol is involved in at least half of campus sexual assaults. Alcohol continues to be wielded as the sword of victim blaming and needs to stop. Countless youth and adults alike consume alcohol without committing violent crimes. The fact is that a rapist believes they are entitled to have access to the body of another individual without their permission and this underlying belief exists whether or not they are under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is used as a weapon to increase vulnerability on the victim’s part. Sexual assault is one of the few areas where use of alcohol is used to diminish the rights of a victim. This outdated and tired excuse only rears its head when violence against women is held up for societal comment. Would we dare suggest a family injured by a drunk driver was at fault for being on the roads late at night? Never.
Sexual Assault is About Absence of Consent, Not Promiscuity: The use of the word promiscuous found its way into the narrative of this case including Turner stating a desire to speak with youth about the pitfalls of binge drinking and promiscuity on college campuses. Promiscuity is a gender loaded term. What Turner misses completely is the requirement of affirmative consent. There’s sex and there’s rape. Sex requires the consent of both parties for every action in a sexual encounter. You cannot consent when you are unconscious. When you are unconscious and unable to speak or move, you cannot be promiscuous. Turner and his father are promoting his plans to speak to high school students about binge drinking and promiscuity – someone may want to remind them that as a registered sex offender he will not be welcomed on a high school campus. School based education must focus on education about continual consent, gender equality, and respecting the rights and boundaries of others. It must make clear that no one is entitled to touch another individual without their express permission.
We must demand that sexual assault be recognized as the horrifically violent crime it is and that sentencing reflect the severity of the assault.
The Character Consideration of a Rapist Must Include Their Violent Actions: Much attention has been given to the character of Brock Turner. The letters asking for a lenient sentence highlight his attributes and repeatedly blamed the victim. Every excuse was made for why this was not his fault – despite the decision of twelve jurors who convicted him on three felony accounts. In the probation recommendations and subsequent sentencing, Turner’s character was given more weight than that of his victim. The judge gave a sentence below the minimum requirements to avoid the severe impact of prison. The probation officer recommended the lenient sentence of six months in jail and probation and the judge confirmed this recommendation even after hearing the gut-wrenching impact statement of the victim.
Accountability is Needed at All Levels: The probation officer and Judge Persky placed greater importance on the future of a rapist than his victim. Both failed to acknowledge the violence and trauma experienced by the victim in sentencing and went so far as to state they did not feel Turner would pose a risk in the future despite the evidence of what he was capable of doing. The anger and outrage at his undermining of the case are warranted and necessary.
There is hope.
In Vice President Biden’s open letter to the survivor, he shares his anger for those who failed yet does not ignore the positives which emerged – “I do not know your name — but thanks to you, I know that heroes ride bicycles.” and “I do not know your name — but I see your unconquerable spirit.” In his letter, Biden acknowledges the importance of responsible bystanders and celebrates the strength of survivors.
Bystander Intervention is Critical – Were it not for the two students who intervened and held Turner until police arrived, this case could have ended in greater tragedy. These men saw something concerning and took action. Each of us has the ability to be aware and intervene safely and appropriately. When we are willing to look out for each other, the ability of rapists to harm is impeded. When we intervene, we send the message that sexual assault is never acceptable under any condition.
Never Underestimate the Resiliency of a Survivor: The young woman who was attacked by Brock Turner read her incredibly raw victim impact statement and released it publicly. Her words can be difficult to read. She is brutally honest about every aspect of her rape and the subsequent trial. She refused to allow Brock Turner to define her experience. She is the hero in this story. She fought for justice for herself and in doing so gave voice to thousands of victims who are still denied their voice.
It Takes a Community to Change the Narrative
This case can be used to create change. With the shared anger, we can create action. Ways you can help build a community that does not tolerate sexual violence:
Educate yourself about indicators of possible sexual assault: If you see something, say something. If you suspect someone may be at risk for sexual assault, say something. Ask to call them a cab to get them safely home. Call 911.
- Educate yourselves, your workplace, and your school: WEAVE provides an array of educational presentations suitable for children through adults addressing a variety of topics related to sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. To learn more or request a speaker, click here.
- Educate your children about consent: Starting at a very young age. Issues of consent emerge very young. When a child reasonably expresses an unwillingness to hug a stranger, play with a sibling, or participate in an activity, respect their right to say no. Allow them to establish boundaries and reinforce their right to do so. As children get older, these conversation need to talk about healthy relationships and respecting boundaries of friends, peers, and partners.
- Learn more about how to talk with youth about consent and healthy versus unhealthy relationships. WEAVE will offer its inaugural “Let’s Chat” workshop on June 23 aimed at youth and their fathers/father figures. More information can be found here.
- Ensure safety and support are available for all survivors: WEAVE is Sacramento County’s only Rape Crisis Center. We respond 24/7 to provide an advocate for every sexual assault survivor who is undergoing an evidentiary examination. We are available to support survivors during interviews, medical appointments, etc. We provide free counseling to any survivor of sexual assault. Details about our services for sexual assault survivors can be found here. You can donate to support our work by clicking here.