In the wake of the most recent of countless mishandled rape cases, I have found myself thinking more and more about the world of college life I am about to enter as a woman. I have always been an activist for women’s’ rights, gender equality, and the elimination of systemic sexism, but more than ever I am beginning to realize how real the idea of rape culture is and will be to me in just a few short months. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college. This number is horrifying. Sitting at a table eating lunch with four other women next year, it will be more than likely that one of us has been the victim of completed or attempted rape. This statistic, however, is surprisingly not the most baffling information I have learned about our country’s distressing culture over the past few weeks since the social media outburst about the Brock Turner sexual assault case.
I would first like to address the situation in which Brock Turner sexually assaulted his unnamed victim. As a girl entering the world of college partying, I would hope that if a man or woman found me unconscious behind a dumpster, they would immediately call the police. The utter fact that Turner saw this unconscious woman as an object to please himself as opposed to an endangered person is, in itself, terrifying. To quote the victim of Turner’s crime, “According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down. Note: if a girl falls down help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls down, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her…” I would like to think that this idea is relatively simple, but given the amount of substance-related rapes and assaults that occur on college campuses, it seems as though it is not.
Furthermore, Brock Turner attended Stanford University, one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. and the world. Not only is it alarming that such a supposedly intelligent and accomplished person would see another human being as an object to use to his delight without any form of consent, but Stanford has also reported 26 rapes on campus in 2012, 2013, and 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, or about 1 sexual assault every 14 days. If a place like Stanford University, a place for those with the highest of standards for themselves, has such a prevalent problem with sexual assault, I cannot even begin to imagine the number of people at other universities that have fell victim to this cultural rape-enabling plague.
In the letter Turner’s father wrote to the judge of the case, he refers to his son’s recent depressed nature as “…a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action…” treating his son’s crime and violation of another human being as though it was just another activity Brock was involved in; just another swim meet that he happened to lose. This goes to show that this cultural illness goes further into the roots of our society than just college campuses. This man, with a wife and a daughter, referred to the assault his son committed as “20 minutes of action.” This man clearly has no regard for the safety or well-being of the woman who has suffered so much more than sadness or loss of appetite. Rather, this father and husband sees the sexual assault of a non-consenting, unconscious woman as 20 minutes of action. To think that if I were drunk at a party and taken advantage of, it would be considered merely “20 minutes of action” by the man who assaulted me, sends chills down my spine.
Lastly, I would like to speak to the problem of institutional rape-culture, and the Turner case displays this problem clearly. The judge on the case, a Stanford graduate and athlete, gave Turner the most minimal punishment of six months in jail and 3 years probation for the rape he committed, despite the 6-year sentence prosecutors requested for the three counts of felony sexual assault. His excuse: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on [Brock]. I think he will not be a danger to others.” Instead of thinking about the more-than-severe impact Turner’s actions had on his victim, Judge Aaron Persky prioritized the safety of a sex offender over the safety of every woman Turner will encounter for the rest of his life. This judge, a dealer of justice, chose to save the offender. This is institutional rape culture, and it makes me ill to think that in the U.S., a sex offender would be prioritized over his or her victim.
This is so much larger than just Brock Turner and the victim of his crime. This crime is one of many of its kind, most of which are silenced by the culture that surrounds us. Rape culture seeps into our every day lives, poisoning young men and women with ideas of what they should be and what they are or are not entitled to. Rape culture is a university in Canada that allows the following student orientation chant: “Y is for your sister. O is for oh-so-tight. U is for underage. N is for no consent. G is for grab that ass.” Rape culture is mothers who blame girls for posting sexy selfies and leading their sons into sin, instead of talking with their sons about their responsibility for their own sexual expression. Rape culture is journalists who substitute the word “rape” for “sex” – as if they’re the same thing. Rape culture is only 3 percent of rapists ever serving a day in jail. Rape culture is assuming that false reporting for sexual assault cases are the norm, when in reality, they’re only 2-8 percent. Each and every one of us likely knows at least one woman that has been a victim of attempted or completed rape or sexual assault.
What if that woman becomes me?