Stop Blaming the Victim. It’s Time to Start Blaming Rape On the Rapist.

By Heather Levine. Published Saturday June 11, 2016

On June 2, 2016, Brock Allen Turner, a man of age 20, was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault, and sentenced to 6 months in county jail, for the rape of a woman that happened at Stanford University in January.  

Since then, social media has erupted in anger on both sides—Most of the outcry has been in defense of the rape victim, and against the judge’s ruling, from people who believe that 6 months in a county jail is not nearly enough of a punishment for the crime committed. (For reference, the minimum sentence for just 1 of the 3 felony charges is 2 years in a state facility.) Even more discouraging is the fact that even with Turner’s lenient sentence, he will spend more time in jail than 97% of rapists.  According to analysis of Justice Department data by the Rape Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), only 3 out of every 100 rapists will ever serve jail time.  

Many people, including Turner’s father and friends, have taken Turner’s side, pointing to the alcohol that was consumed at the party, as if it excuses Turner’s behavior.  In a letter written to Judge Aaron Persky by Turner’s father, Dan Turner, he refers to what occurred behind that dumpster as "the events of Jan. 17th and 18th" and the possible sentence a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” He explains, in great detail, how since the sexual assault conviction, Brock has lost his appetite, and “eats only to exist.” He does not acknowledge that his son’s actions affected anyone other than himself.

Especially troubling are the comments made by Turner’s female friend in another letter written to Judge Persky.  In it she states that there is “no way Brock could ever be a rapist” because “he was always the sweetest to everyone,” even stating that “the whole thing [is] a huge misunderstanding.” She then makes the case that “alcohol-fueled sexual assaults on college campuses” are not the same as assaults on women who are abducted. She states, “This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgment.”

And this is where she is wrong.  The very act of committing a rape is what makes someone a rapist, not the location or circumstances under which it happened. Non-consensual sex IS rape, and to split hairs because her friend is on the wrong side of the law is detrimental to everyone involved.

Perhaps 50 years ago, rape was only thought to happen when a woman was abducted and taken against her will to a sleazy apartment or hotel, or backseat of a car.  Those of us who grew up before keyless entry technology can surely remember our parents and friends telling us to check the backseats of our cars before we get in, lest we find a rapist lurking in the shadows. We were told not to walk anywhere alone at night, and to keep our keys between our fingers “just in case.”  However, in 2016, we know more about rape. We know that rape happens most often between people who know each other, and sometimes, yes, when women are abducted and assaulted. Rape happens in broad daylight, and it happens in public. It happens in homes, it happens at schools. How is being found behind a dumpster, naked, being penetrated by a stranger, any different from being abducted and assaulted?  More importantly, how would his friend feel if SHE were the one behind that dumpster? Would she still think these shades of grey exist?

Sadly, in 2016, with as much information as we have about when and where and how rape and assault occurs, much of the blame still falls to the victim.  When news about a rape case comes about, there are often more people there to tell us what the victim should have been doing, what the victim should have been wearing, what the victim should or should not have been drinking.  Even in our own research for TigerLady, we have come across many people who object to the statistic given by the U.S. Department of Justice that “3 million men and 19 million women have experienced at least one incident of sexual assault,” because this figure takes into account attempted rape and assault as well as “completed” rape and assault. We don’t know where to draw the line between “attempted” assault and “completed” assault because is assault is assault, and so we continue to stand by those numbers.  To us, it doesn’t matter. No instance of assault, sexual or otherwise, is acceptable.

This morning, on the Michael Smerconish show on Sirius XM, several callers weighed in on the case. Many of these callers were men, and this was likely purposeful on Smerconish’s part.  More than one of them mentioned the alcohol involved in the incident, blaming the culture of drinking on college campuses for the rapes that occur. One caller recalled his own experiences with drinking and “blacking out” and outlined how he “just stopped drinking” to “fix” the problem.  The thing that is truly troubling is the idea that getting rid of alcohol on college campuses will somehow “solve” the problem of rape. It’s amazing to us though, that every time there is a mass shooting in the U.S., gun-rights advocates speak up to remind us that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”  If this logic follows, then it would seem that alcohol does not rape people. People rape people. Another caller asked earnestly how the victim could be affected by the “incident” if she had no memory of it. He hadn’t read the victim’s testimony.

In her now-viral emotional testimony, written directly to her rapist, the victim in the case expressed her own disbelief regarding the discussion of alcohol and the role it played: "Campus drinking culture…That's what we're speaking out against? Not awareness about campus sexual assault, or rape, or learning to recognize consent. Campus drinking culture. You realize having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less."

Every time a woman or a man is sexually assaulted and we do not act, we are failing our women.  Every time we shy away from teaching our men about consent, we are failing our women and our men.  Every time a woman comes forward about a rape or assault and is met with questions about her behavior or her dress or her alcohol consumption, we are blaming the victim.  We are teaching our women not to come forward.  We are teaching them that the system is against them, and that no matter how long the incident stays with them, likely for the rest of their lives, they will never receive justice from the legal system.

The legal facts in the Turner case are clear—Consent cannot be given if a person is unconscious, and this victim was in fact unconscious. This case also had something that most rape cases occurring on college campuses do not: witnesses. Two cyclists who were passing saw the rape occurring, and restrained Turner until the police arrived, according to the Santa Clara County prosecutors.

And yet, Turner was portrayed for several days by the media as a “Stanford Swimmer,” being more defined by his athletic prowess than the crime he committed.  News organizations showed his smiling yearbook photo, rather than his mug shot. Even facing conviction of rape, his athletic achievements were touted. It wasn’t until today, June 7th, that the headline on CNN began referring to Turner as the “Stanford Rapist.”

These words matter.  This portrayal is important.  Rather than teaching our men that excelling in sports and academics matters more than the way we treat other people, we need to be vigilant in teaching about consent.  Men should hear just as often as women about ways to “avoid” rape. Until we treat men and women equally regarding their responsibility in these situations, we have failed.

At TigerLady, we feel a bit helpless as we watch the facts of this case come to light.  We do not have all of the answers, and we are not lawyers or doctors or judges.  We are mothers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles, and we want our daughters and sons and nieces and nephews to know about the role they play in reshaping the narrative around sexual assault.  We want them to know that they have the right to walk freely, to go to a party, and live their lives without the fear of being raped.  We want them to be prepared.  And we want them to never, ever stop fighting against the stigmas that surround rape and assault.

We want them, and we want you, to know that we are here, fighting the fight.  Do not let anyone discourage you from coming forward and being heard. Use your voice, loudly and often, and never let it be silenced.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of assault, you are not alone. There are resources available to help.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) : https://www.rainn.org

24/7 Confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673

Safe Horizon Hotlines: http://www.safehorizon.org/page/call-our-hotlines-9.html



1 Response

Meredith Berlin
Meredith Berlin

June 15, 2016

The victim’s letter to her rapist should be required reading for anyone who is able to breathe. From the day we start talking to our children about sex we must explain that no is no is no. No matter when someone says it. And if you have to explain to someone that having sex with an unconscious person is a criminal offense they not only need a jail sentence—they need to be looked at as a sociopath. That woman is a hero. And so’s her sister.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.