Brock Turner, also known as “The Stanford Rapist,” was released this week after only serving half of his six-month jail sentence. Turner raped an unconscious college student behind a dumpster in January 2015. As jails count time served while in court and awaiting trial, Turner got three months taken off of his six-month sentence.
The problem is not only that Turner received a slap on the wrist for brutally assaulting a woman — three months in jail and registering as a sex offender. The problem is that he really believed he could rape a woman. The problem is that his father described the rape as “20 minutes of action.” The problem is that other rapists do not get off half so lightly, should they be convicted.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a rapist could expect to serve about half of their 9 year sentence in the 1990’s. The Bureau no longer releases information about the sentences sex offenders can be expected to receive. A CNN report found 52 cases of sexual assault by Division I athletes in the past 20 years. Only 13 resulted in jail time, the sentences ranging from 3 months to 20 years. In each case, reports focused on the potential of the athlete. Turner was one of 25% to receive any jail time, but even that was contentious. Media highlighted his Midwestern roots, his achievements in the pool, and the fact that, at 19 years old, charges like these could ruin his future. Reporters lamented the impact their stories might have on a young man who made an honest mistake and might never be able to swim competitively again. Now 20, Turner is free. The morning after the rape, his victim woke up in the hospital, disoriented and scared. Now 24, his victim is left to pick up the pieces of her life and sense of security.
And let’s be clear, while the law may only charge Turner for the crime of rape (and rape of an unconscious woman, and a drunk woman, and other similar legal technicalities), his crimes extended beyond the 23-year-old young woman attacked behind a dumpster. Rapes start with smaller transgressions such as catcalls, without a written record of a person escalating their behavior. When the rape occurs, there’s rarely enough evidence, and people like Brock Turner get to walk free after three months in prison with their swim times printed in the newspaper. One way to prevent this is to keep some sort of record of behaviors. If someone is pushing your boundaries, if they’re giving you red flags, tell someone you trust. If someone is harrassing you, call campus security or, if you’re off-campus, the police. These steps will rarely create an immediate reaction, but they will hopefully scare offenders and, should offenders escalate their behavior, there will be a paper trail for courts to use as evidence in a trial.
There’s nothing we can do about this rapist, or any other rapist who’s already committed their crimes and hurt the people they’ve hurt. We can’t do anything, and that’s a kind of quiet horror we all have to live with. Prevention often falls on the shoulders of victims.
People, mostly women, already travel in packs. They are already told to park under lights with the driver’s side of their car facing the door, check the backseat and passenger side for intruders and to lock the door immediately after getting into their car. They walk with friends, they tell people they have a boyfriend because nothing protects you more than the safety of performative heterosexuality. They’re told to not lose sight of their drink, to keep mace with them, to carry their keys so the metal sticks out between their knuckles. They’re told to make eye contact with strangers and keep their heads up when walking alone, because rapists are less likely to attack people who will remember their faces. They’re told to watch out, because most rapists are people they know and trust.
Which is all to say, I think we have to support one another, regardless of gender or circumstance. We have to believe people and listen to them when they have a bad feeling about someone, or say that they’ve been raped. Within the judicial system, changes should be made in the way officers and medical officials approach rape victims. Training is one way to implement this. Professionals should be reminded to not ask what the victim was wearing outside of ascertaining the facts of the case. Rape victims brought to the hospital should be told what has happened when possible, and every step of the tests done to their bodies explained. Seminars, as well as a system to ensure that no rape victim is left alone with only one person so as to enforce these rules, would be a place to start sexual assault reforms.
To create these changes, people can contact Campus Security to learn more about their policies regarding sexual assault and to ask them for these reforms. You can also contact government officials. The easiest way is to get a hold of district representatives, either by phone call, mail, or email. Tulsa’s House Representative is Jim Bridenstine, although people can and should contact any elected official they feel most comfortable with.