AFTER THREE MONTHS IN A COUNTY LOCK-UP, THE ALL-AMERICAN SWIMMER TURNED Stanford rapist, is back on the streets. Brock Turner dodged a 14 year prison term and served just one half of a six month sentence. As of today he’s got three years’ probation plus he must register as a sex offender, an obligation required of him every 90 days for the remainder of his life—should he remain in the United States. Turner’s stated plans are to move back to Ohio and live with his parents. According to state records he’s already registered his address with the local sheriff there. Thus, a reactionary mob has come out of the woodwork to intimidate him and his family. These next three years will not be any cake-walk for Turner. In some ways the shelter of his jail cell would’ve been easier than the threats and public scorn he’ll face on a daily basis for a very long time.
The college freshman’s appallingly lenient rape sentence lit an unpreceded firestorm of public criticism. A veritable conveyor belt of victims’ rights advocates has churned out condemnations of Turner, of the cowardice of his act and of the judge’s wrist-slap justice. Ninety days late and a dollar short Roxanne Jones was still fuming indignation about men who rape. All of these critiques carry the same codified narrative, including the young woman from Stanford’s victim impact statement. Her letter went viral during Turner’s sentencing hearing and thrust her into the spotlight.
These retold narratives go like this: Women are the unheard victims. Men are the rapists. Every rare once in a while another man may intervene in an obvious sexual assault (or not in the case of Mike McQuery who decided to let it go and run home to tell his daddy). The usual narratives renew the call for gender equity in a culture of male predators, ignoring that males are also sexually assaulted. Justice Department studies suggest as many as one in six males will be sexually abused before they reach the age of eighteen. In the current narrative of empowerment males have two roles. They are either perpetrators or in much smaller doses, heroes. The current narrative of female empowerment over predators and their misogynist apologists never allows that males are victims themselves.
I am not suggesting the rapist is the victim. Turner is without question a predator and a perp. Any one caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster deserves those titles. The crime was despicable as is Turner himself. He’s all the more despicable for failing to admit to any real culpability to this day. It was the culture of alcohol and promiscuity on campus, not him. Stanford has agreed with that delusional assessment so they’ve banned hard liquor on campus, an institutional sized Band-Aid.
Turner is despicable for demanding his victim relive the nightmare he himself created through a lengthy criminal trial. This is where our Sixth Amendment breaks down, the so-called Confrontation Clause. When the cross-examination of the sexual assault victim itself becomes another horrific victimization then that is not justice, it’s another instance of abuse. It’s a handy and inviting cudgel used by the defense attorneys. And its among the leading reasons why so many charges of sex crimes never see a criminal trial. Like traffic fines that double in construction zones, legislators could even the playing field for sexual assault victims by imposing a mandatory multiplier on the sentence of a rapist who’s forced a trial and refused to concede overwhelming guilt. That might equal eighteen whole months for Turner. Nine in the real world. Martha Stewart with her illegal stock trading conviction spent more time in stripes than the “former Stanford swimmer.” Think on that.
Now Brock Turner is Florida neighborhood watch vigilante famous. For months his blue-eyed mug shot flashed across every TV screen and newsfeed. That bright future the judge sought to preserve with a cluck and finger wag is long gone. Turner’s “sex offender” label will be stamped across every job and housing application he ever submits. If he should dare to appear in public he’ll need to hide his identity for his own safety.
Some will say good, he deserves it. But for how long? We should ask ourselves if a nineteen year old shit-head should still face the public’s wrath at thirty-nine? At forty-nine? While we euphemistically call our standing army of jailers and probation officers “the department of corrections” there’s not much room for correction when an individual is branded for life. Everyday Turner will be reminded of this enduring fact: he is now and will always be a despicable pariah.
There’s zero question about Turner’s guilt. His actions on the night of January 17, 2015 are shockingly callous. But I wonder if his life sentence as Public Enemy Number One is more than a little hypocritical. Let’s face it, one of the prime reasons the Brock Turner case shocked the senses is because up until January 16th he’d done everything right. He looked like the pasty-white embodiment of the American Dream. The young man was so studious and diligent he earned a spot at Stanford University, perhaps California’s most prestigious school. And he was a star athlete. His winning race times were posted along side the account of his arrest on suspicion of sexual assault. It seemed so unlikely that a nice boy like Brock would be caught up in all that ugliness. Or is it?
Turner’s predatory attitude toward women didn’t form in a vacuum. His intimate relationship with privilege and entitlement formed over these nineteen years, not on the one night he got caught behind a dumpster. His unbridled aggression, his sexual objectification of women, his inability to accept responsibility—all of it suggest he’s been long conditioned to believe these are permissible behaviors. Turner’s attitude during his criminal trial reminds me of the dog who’s been allowed to lay on the couch all his life. And now the dog cannot comprehend why he’s getting smacked with a rolled up newspaper after he’s caught on the new Italian leather sofa.
No one skewering Turner seems have correlated that his ever-increasing power and privilege has informed his belief that hurting others is no big deal. A decorated athlete has a mindset that’s been rewarded with success and accolades. Beyond raw talent, the star succeeds, in large part, because of his or her heroic pursuit of attainment, a mentality that suggests, “win at any cost.” There’s little wonder that some will pervert this attainment and see their status and achievement as a license to abuse. US soccer star Hope Solo has done just that with the assaults on her own family, an incident that forced her into early retirement.
The media’s conveyor belt of advocates issuing condemnations does not allow that Turner is a product of a larger community. The retold narrative is men are rapists. Women are victims. That’s our current narrative. Simple. But if Turner’s morality rotted because it was conditioned to be rotten by, say, an environment of permissiveness then others might fall under that same specter of blame. The rapist’s teachers, his coaches, his parents, the upper-middle class community of Bellbrook, Ohio (median income: $73,168) would become partly culpable for cultivating and encouraging a life of unchecked privilege and entitlement. Former Penn State President Graham Spanier learned about this culpability. Spanier has a criminal conviction stemming from a failure to check the privileges of child rapist Jerry Sandusky. Again, Turner’s startled, wide-eyed stare and failure to accept responsibility suggests someone has allowed these delusions to propagate. As long as advocates criminalize a gender and fail to identify how communities foster deeply antisocial mindsets we will always have a simplistic and therefor stunted response to these types of sex crimes, sadly, yielding little solution.