Brock Turner. Who knew it would take a convicted rapist who is good at swimming to supplant the ire of the internet that is normally reserved for talking about that reality show bigot (and alleged rapist) running for president?
Having covered damn near every form of depravity associated with sexual assault for the past 20-odd years – including human trafficking, Jerry Sandusky and Woody Allen, and even my own story – I can tell you I did not see that coming; not the conviction, because if there is one thing I am usually right about it is that rape survivors get no justice. And certainly not the escalating rage as the great slumbering masses collectively get woke about rape culture. Welcome to the outrage! We’ve been waiting for you!
There are decades and decades of truly terrible stories about rape culture letting the rapist off the hook – from Kobe Bryant to admitted pedophile Josh Duggar – of thousands of unprocessed rape kits, and judges choosing to waive jail time because (pick any of the following) her pants were too tight; she was his wife; she was unmarried; she didn’t say anything at the time; she lived next door; she was his three-year-old daughter; it “was relatively mild” … shall I go on?
Out of all the myriad reasons that I’ve ever heard for letting someone off the hook for rape, the athlete excuse has to be one of the most prominent. We heard it with Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger and many, many others. There are so many that you can make full lists of just one kind of accused – such as this list of the 44 NFL players accused of sexual assault and/or intimate partner violence. Then there’s this list of noted celebrities, including Oscar-winner Roman Polanski, Rick James, and of course, Bill Cosby. We’re so innurred to it that some are not surprised by a new survey that found half of college athletes self-reporting that they raped someone.
And certainly in Brock Turner’s case, the but-he-has-such-a-promising-career excuse worked overtime. Because even when a rapist is convicted, if he’s an athlete we need to worry about how his life will be ruined ala Stuebenville. Those poor, poor rapists. We shouldn’t be so hard on them, because sportball. (Or in this case, because swimming.) I mean, this could affect the rest of his life. And for what? “20 minutes of action?” (Oh, wait, we’ll get to that.)
There are just so many excuses for why we should not care about somebody raping people. We don’t want to ruin a rapist’s life, after all. Sure you can get more time in jail for possession of dimebag than a felony violent crime, but think of how fragile poor Brock Turner is. He was only strong enough to drag his unconscious victim to an alley and rape her behind a dumpster – and then run away and fight against the students who found him in the middle of committing a violent crime. I mean, that’s not nearly tough enough to warrant prison, amirite? Rapists are too fragile to carry that load. Best leave that heavy lifting to the victims. They can take it.
But then a funny thing happened. For once, the reaction to a convicted rapist getting a light sentence (which, let’s not kid ourselves will likely be reduced following an appeal already filed) was not met with a shrug by the internet or even by society in general. For once, everywhere I went people were talking about what a terrible human being this convicted rapist was and how the rape apologia offered by him, his father, friends, and even the Stanford-alum judge were outrageous. For once, people were talking about the sexual assault victim – a survivor by anyone’s definition – with real sorrow and real anger for what she endured and for the injustice in essentially letting her perpetrator off the hook.
For once, I was living in a world that was as mad as I am every day about the injustices suffered by sexual assault survivors everywhere. I can’t tell you what it means to me to see so many – even people I know who are normally ambivalent about such things – truly angry.
CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield read the victim’s own moving letter on air in its entirety – taking up three segments and 20 minutes of air time, something practically unheard of in other rape trials. Mike Golic went off about the verdict on his ESPN podcast, railing against the injustice of a six-month sentence for a crime that might have gotten a different defendant more than a decade in prison.
Then there was the bomb that was Dan Turner’s letter, in which the father of the convicted rapist asks Judge Aaron Persky for leniency in sentencing because “[Brock’s] life will never be the one he dreamed about … [and] that is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” Dan also mentions how poor Brock hasn’t had much of an appetite for steak or snacks like pretzels and chips and “he will never be his happy go lucky self.”
Here is where I break in half. You can go fuck yourself Dan Turner. You are a garbage person, who raised a psychopath who rapes unconscious women behind dumpsters. You don’t get to talk about how sad Brock is. You don’t get pitty because he doesn’t like steaks anymore. Right now, the best you can hope for is that everyone will eventually forget about what a horrible example of humanity you are.
You know who won’t ever be their “happy go lucky self” again? The 23-year-old unidentified rape victim, who described her experience in her own letter to the court [serious, serious triggers here, so be careful]:
The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing. The thin piece of fabric, the only thing between my vagina and anything else, was missing and everything inside me was silenced. …
Then, I felt pine needles scratching the back of my neck and started pulling them out my hair. I thought maybe, the pine needles had fallen from a tree onto my head. My brain was talking my gut into not collapsing. Because my gut was saying, help me, help me.
I shuffled from room to room with a blanket wrapped around me, pine needles trailing behind me, I left a little pile in every room I sat in. I was asked to sign papers that said “Rape Victim” and I thought something has really happened. My clothes were confiscated and I stood naked while the nurses held a ruler to various abrasions on my body and photographed them. The three of us worked to comb the pine needles out of my hair, six hands to fill one paper bag. … I had multiple swabs inserted into my vagina and anus, needles for shots, pills, had a Nikon pointed right into my spread legs. I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my vagina smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions.
After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.
In my nearly 40 years on this earth, in the nine years of being molested, in my testimony before legislative bodies, in my career as a professional journalist – I have never been able to so fully describe the dehumanizing, wretched experience of being sexually assaulted as well as this 23-year-old woman. I mean that as a compliment. I mean it to show that I am standing up with her now and forever. When I talk about the solidarity of survivors, I mean it. We are warriors. We have been to hell and survived. We have had the worst of humanity try to destroy our very souls by way of our bodies and we are bloodied but unbowed.
And that’s just the start of what she wrote. I can’t even bring myself to read to the end. The trauma of such a violent act breaks you. There’s no way around that fact.
But here is where I find the most unlikely ray of hope – the outrage. The palpable rage of a culture that is stunned by this young woman’s brave words and the feebleness of our criminal justice system – this is progress. I know it doesn’t feel like it. Right now it feels like an open wound.
It’s a rarified moment. People on cable TV and on social media are not just angry, they’re asking how this could happen. And the answer that people are actually saying out loud – and not with a mocking note of derision – is rape culture. It’s so big I can hardly believe it.
I imagine the editors at Time magazine fashioning a trivializing cover story right now about “The Rape Culture Tipping Point.” (Hence, the semi-sarcastic title of this post.) But even Time can’t bungle this moment. And this moment does gives me hope. This moment holds in it the possibility for change. I know that change will be slow and frustrating, but without this moment that’s not even possible. This is where it begins – with Bill Cosby on trial and a culture finally stirred beyond apathy.
Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.
Let’s use this moment, not only to express our anger about rape culture, but to lift up Jane Doe, the courageous 23-year-old who can’t go anywhere without hearing people talk about her story. I urge you to tweet words of encouragement to Jane Doe and use the #ThankYouJaneDoe hashtag. I’ve seen enough of that asshole rapist’s face everywhere. I’ve heard his name and his sick excuses too much. Let’s change the conversation by lifting up Jane Doe — and all survivors of sexual violence. I always say that we survivors are legion. Let’s show her our power and our love.
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons, free use public domain