In her excellent New York Times essay, writer Roxane Gay notes that Stanford rapist Brock Turner’s light sentence is a significantly harsher penalty than most rapists face. Sadly, sexual assaults are greatly unreported. According to this study 97% of rapists receive no punishment at all.
The only reason Brock Turner was prosecuted at all is that two Swedish grad students decided what they saw was just plain fucked up and they weren’t going to let it go. I was thinking about this when I had a sort of flashback memory. Summer before high school, I was at the State Fair with a couple friends, just walking around, hanging out, meeting up with boys our age. (I remember one unabashedly staring at my very insignificant chest, but that’s not what this story’s about.) We were weaving through the crowds when I spotted a father and daughter. The daughter looked about seven or eight. Young. And the father was totally shit-faced, barely standing drunk. He was stumbling along with her following at his side. It’s been such a long time, I can’t remember if her face betrayed emotion. I do remember he seemed oblivious to her even being there. It was just a snapshot. I barely registered or processed what I was seeing before we’d crossed paths.
Now that I’m older my guess is that it was his weekend with her and he thought the State Fair would be a fun daddy-daughter date. But, man, was that poor girl in danger. And at least in that snapshot, no one seemed to notice or be concerned. Of course, maybe I had the wrong idea. Best case scenario, Dad or Uncle or whoever was just a messy drunk and Mom was in line somewhere to get cheese curds. But I don’t think so. He was rambling without much purpose or direction, and the girl was dutifully trailing along. I also hope I’m wrong and someone that day prevented him from driving. But that intervention wasn’t underway when I spotted them and it was overdue. Of course, I was no hero that day either. All of us need to take a page from those Stanford students and watch out for each other better.
If it was thanks to those heroes that Turner faced any justice at all, then it was thanks to his white male Stanford athlete privilege that he got all this public scrutiny. So many rapists never have to truly own up to their crimes. Even when those crimes are abhorrent. What about the New York Times 2011 reporting of an 11 year-old girl gang raped behind a trailer by 18 men and boys (the oldest being 27)? In the story, the reporter quotes residents in the town alleging that the girl dressed like a 20-year old and questioned her parental supervision. They express remorse about the lasting effect it will have on the boys’/men’s lives without any regard for the life of the victim. Even the title “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town” seems to treat the town as the victim. And this is the New York Times, gold standard of journalistic professionalism. In the United States, we’re not lighting our women and girl sex victims on fire, but if you don’t think our culture doesn’t condone rape and sexual violence in countless subtle and unsubtle ways, your eyes are shut.
The only positive thing I can find about the promising All-American Brock Turner is that his “20 minutes of action” have shined a light on an issue that has been in the dark for FAR TOO LONG. Even one of his female friends appear to be completely ignorant of the prevalence and severity of something that affects so many women. The letter that she penned was so over-the-top in its condoning of his behavior, I cringed to read it. But her views are not unusual, and at least this incident is opening a critical dialogue for all of us.