Photo: Karen Neoh, CC BY 2.0[Content warning: Sexual assault: Brock Turner case. Again. I was totally hoping to talk about something more pleasant this week, and then this dumbass had to go and get in the paper yet again. If talking about sexual assault is (understandably) not something you wanna do with your Friday then please join me next week where I will, I hope, be getting to talk about something less awful.]
Sometimes I wonder what it must feel like to be a white, wealthy, privileged, oblivious, cis male. What do your days look like? What does that feel like, going around every day with the bone-deep conviction that you are right and everyone else is wrong, and the world is meant to bend to your whims? What level of brain damage does it take to be certain that no matter what you have done, you don’t deserve to be punished for it? Do you feel like Superman on a bender? Do you feel like a tiny king? Is it like the Sixth Sense, only instead of not realizing you’re dead you don’t realize that you’re a total jackass?
These are questions I also want to ask Brock Turner, who is currently attempting to appeal his conviction for sexual assault.
For those of you who have blessedly blocked this person from your mind (please, tell me your secrets), Brock Turner is a convicted rapist who was given a ridiculously light sentence, and lots of sympathy from the judge, his family, and the media. One of the reasons he was given said sentence (and one of the descriptors I deliberately didn’t put in front of his name) is that he was a talented swimmer at Stanford University who was an Olympics hopeful. You would think that between “alleged rapist” and “Stanford swimmer,” most media outlets would emphasize the former, but you would be totally wrong! Turner’s victim even had to criticize the media for emphasizing his swimming talents instead of, you know, the fact that he raped a woman.
Turner was initially arrested in January of 2015, after two Stanford graduate students noticed him behind a dumpster, lying and “thrusting” on top of an unresponsive, partially clothed women. The grad students did what almost no one has the decency to do, and intervened, holding Turner until the cops could come. The woman was taken to the hospital, where it was determined that her blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit. It took her three hours to regain consciousness, and she had no memory of the attack. Turner had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit, and claimed the encounter was consensual. You know, all those consensual encounters you have with unresponsive women behind dumpsters who are so drunk it takes them three hours to regain consciousness. Who hasn’t been there?
A jury found Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault, Turner faced up to fourteen years in prison. The prosecution asked for six. The judge gave him six; six months, that is. He served three months.
Judge Aaron Persky showed a lot of concern during the sentencing. Not so much for the survivor, but for Turner. In explaining the light sentence, he claimed, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.” No shit, Sherlock. A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. He raped a woman. The punishment for that act should have a severe impact on him, because he had a severe impact on his target. Persky also said,
…yep. I remember that part, from watching Law and Order. If you rape someone, but you feel really, really sorry for it, you should get let go with a slap on the wrist. And you can tell he’s very, very sorry from the way that in his statement, he mostly blames the fact that he was drinking and claims she was totally into it. You can definitely tell he’s sorry by reading this excerpt from his deep expression of remorse (if you can stand it):
While Turner does express remorse int his statement for hurting his victim, it’s pretty clear that what he regrets the most is hurting himself. At no point does he admit that he sexually assaulted this woman. He speaks euphemistically, saying that he had a “negative impact” on her, that he caused her “emotional and physical stress,” and that he “imposed trauma and pain” on her. Again, at no point does he use the phrase “sexual assault” or “rape.” The alcohol made him do it. Also absent from his “apology” is any acknowledgement that she was unconscious at the time of the “intimacy” he was trying to perform. According to him, she was conscious and assenting the entire time.
The underlying theme of the judge’s decision, Turner’s statement, and media coverage seemed to be that it was such a shame that Turner’s life was ruined. Not that his victim was harmed, or that Turner made a horrific decision to hurt someone, or that her life might be ruined, but that Turner’s bright future would be irreparably harmed because this woman decided to come forward. And his victim pointed out how bullshit this was. In her own statement, she wrote,
“And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming. Throw in my mile time if that’s what we’re doing. I’m good at cooking, put that in there, I think the end is where you list your extracurriculars to cancel out all the sickening things that’ve happened.”
From the beginning, Turner and his legal team did everything they could to prove that his target was lying, that it was consensual, that he was not a bad person. That she was a slut, and he was confused. That her unconsciousness, rather than proving rape, meant that they couldn’t prove she didn’t consent. (I feel like they need to look up what consent means again.) She again, explained the horrific process in which she was made to feel like the criminal instead of him. (This is lengthy, but worth reading in full.)
I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. He’s going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me, find loopholes in my story to invalidate me and my sister, in order to show that this sexual assault was in fact a misunderstanding. That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused.
I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.
When I was told to be prepared in case we didn’t win, I said, I can’t prepare for that. He was guilty the minute I woke up. No one can talk me out of the hurt he caused me. Worst of all, I was warned, because he now knows you don’t remember, he is going to get to write the script. He can say whatever he wants and no one can contest it. I had no power, I had no voice, I was defenseless. My memory loss would be used against me. My testimony was weak, was incomplete, and I was made to believe that perhaps, I am not enough to win this. His attorney constantly reminded the jury, the only one we can believe is Brock, because she doesn’t remember. That helplessness was traumatizing.
Instead of taking time to heal, I was taking time to recall the night in excruciating detail, in order to prepare for the attorney’s questions that would be invasive, aggressive, and designed to steer me off course, to contradict myself, my sister, phrased in ways to manipulate my answers. Instead of his attorney saying, Did you notice any abrasions? He said, You didn’t notice any abrasions, right? This was a game of strategy, as if I could be tricked out of my own worth. The sexual assault had been so clear, but instead, here I was at the trial, answering questions like:
How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’ d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.
I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name. After a physical assault, I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up, he’s like an athlete right, they were both drunk, whatever, the hospital stuff she remembers is after the fact, why take it into account, Brock has a lot at stake so he’s having a really hard time right now.
And then it came time for him to testify and I learned what it meant to be revictimized. I want to remind you, the night after it happened he said he never planned to take me back to his dorm. He said he didn’t know why we were behind a dumpster. He got up to leave because he wasn’t feeling well when he was suddenly chased and attacked. Then he learned I could not remember.
So one year later, as predicted, a new dialogue emerged. Brock had a strange new story, almost sounded like a poorly written young adult novel with kissing and dancing and hand holding and lovingly tumbling onto the ground, and most importantly in this new story, there was suddenly consent. One year after the incident, he remembered, oh yeah, by the way she actually said yes, to everything, so.
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.
The entirety of her statement is much longer, and also worth reading in full. It is powerful, and heartbreaking. It shows exactly why his light sentence was a mockery of justice, why his behavior did not truly demonstrate remorse, and why probation and parole really, really needs to spend longer on their sentencing recommendations and spend more time with the victims of crime.
By any definition, Brock Turner got off easy. He got about 2% of the overall sentence he could have received. He’s on the sex offender registry, and one textbook writer who is my new hero made him the literal face and definition of rape. But still, he got off light.
But entitled white dudes are gonna be entitled white dudes. While anyone with an ounce of sanity and shame might acknowledge that he should be thanking his lucky stars every day for how little punishment he received for his horrific actions, Brock Turner feels he was Wronged By The System. So his lawyers recently filed paperwork to overturn his conviction.
According to Buzzfeed, “Turner’s lawyers argue that the jury did not see sufficient evidence to represent their client’s character, and was not permitted to consider a lower-level offense.” … is there a magic amount of character witnesses that would make his actions not horrific? How many high school swim coaches have to be paraded in front of the jury to tell people that Brock was a swell guy who was nice to the freshmen and, as far as they knew, never raped anyone on an away meet that would have made what he’d done okay? Is there a lesser offense that would have let him off with an even lighter sentence? Probably, and it makes my head swimmy with horror to think about it.
But in what is probably the most “should be hysterical but actually just makes me want to cry frustrated tears” part of their beef with the trial, his lawyers object to the way that it was contextualized as taking place behind a dumpster:
According to court documents, the lawyers are also arguing that the assault did not occur “behind the dumpster,” but rather a “completely open setting,” and that the jury received “extensive ‘behind-the-dumpster’ propaganda.” They are requesting a new trial in the hopes of overturning Turner’s convictions, which require him to become a permanently registered sex offender.
“What we are saying is that what happened is not a crime,” John Tompkins, Turner’s legal adviser, told NBC. “It happened, but it was not anywhere close to a crime.” He went on to describe the trial as “a detailed and lengthy set of lies.”
So first of all, “Behind-the-Dumpster Propaganda” is the new name of my alt-rock group. And it happened. And it was a crime. And there probably was a detailed and lengthy set of lies in this trial, but it was all from the mouth of Brock “the unconscious girl consented” Turner. The lawyer is really, really hung up on the whole dumpster thing, and thinks that it was this one thing that made the jury turn against his client:
Turner’s lawyer believes the jury was unfairly prejudiced against him due to the use of the phrase, “behind a dumpster.” He contends in a statement that this “implied an intent on the appellant’s part to shield and sequester his activities” and “implied moral depravity, callousness and culpability on the appellant’s part because of the inherent connotations of filth, garbage, detritus and criminal activity frequently associated with dumpsters.”
A couple of things.
First, according to all of the witnesses and court documents, it did take place behind a fucking dumpster. This is a factually accurate description of the location of the sexual assault. And yes, dumpsters are associated with connotations of garbage, filth, and crime, but maybe your client should have thought of that before he assaulted someone behind a dumpster.
Second, while the dumpster detail is certainly distressing and adds emotional weight to what he did, the fact that he assaulted someone behind a dumpster is not why he was convicted. The fact that he assaulted someone is why he was convicted. Brock Turner is morally depraved.
The aspect of Turner’s conviction that he is likely most upset about is the fact that he has to be on the sex offender registry. And there are honestly problems that I have with the sex offender registry that I’m not going to go into here. But in the case of Turner, it is literally the least that he can undergo in order for the survivor of his crime to have a bit of justice. I’ll leave everyone with the words of said survivor, in a part that is painfully poignant given Turner’s current attempts to escape even the tiny amount of consequences he’s had to face:
What has he done to demonstrate that he deserves a break? He has only apologized for drinking and has yet to define what he did to me as sexual assault, he has revictimized me continually, relentlessly. He has been found guilty of three serious felonies and it is time for him to accept the consequences of his actions. He will not be quietly excused.
He is a lifetime sex registrant. That doesn’t expire. Just like what he did to me doesn’t expire, doesn’t just go away after a set number of years. It stays with me, it’s part of my identity, it has forever changed the way I carry myself, the way I live the rest of my life.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to hammer home the point that sexually assaulting someone behind a dumpster does in fact make one morally depraved, she studies gender in popular culture.
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