University of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner looks like he should be on a box of Wheaties, not posing for a mug shot. He does not “look like a rapist,” but on January 17, 2015, Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman who made the “mistake” of attending a fraternity party and losing consciousness after consuming alcohol, only to wake up hours later in the hospital with pine needles in her hair and various wounds, as described in a letter she wrote to the court about the forensic exam she was subjected to after the assault. The letter later went viral and can easily be found on the Internet. Here is an excerpt that is equal parts chilling and heartbreaking:
“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.”
The letter was 12 pages long, and was sent to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky before his sentence was handed down just a few weeks ago. Another letter, also now gone viral, was written by Turner’s father, pleading with the judge to go easy on his son, stating that a long jail sentence would be “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 years of life.”
The judge apparently agreed with Turner’s father, sentencing Brock Turner to six months in prison. Prosecutors had been seeking six years.
“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky said. “I think he will not be a danger to others.”
Petitions are now circulating to remove Persky from the bench. Whatever you might think of Persky’s application of the law and the fairness of the sentence, his comments reflect a profound lack of judgment and proportion. In a sense, his comments are not much less outrageous than Dan Turner’s comments regarding his son’s “20 minutes of action.”
Persky’s focus is the impact the sentence would have on Brock Turner, and not the impact that Turner’s assault will have on the victim. He does not “think he will be a danger to others,” though he committed a vicious sexual assault on a woman who was unconscious.
Maybe it would provide at least some comfort if we could say with some confidence that this is an isolated incident, just one regrettable incident of a sexual assault committed by a man, and then diminished by a couple of other men in authority, his father and a woefully out-of-touch judge. But we cannot say that, can we? Not when we know that these attitudes reflect a culture that, despite whatever signs of progress we can grasp onto, nevertheless sexualizes and diminishes women on so many different levels that this verdict cannot really come as much of a surprise.
To be sure, there are other factors at play, including issues of class, and, yes, race. Had Turner been black, does anyone doubt that his sentence would have been considerably harsher? Had he not been a student-athlete at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, would he have escaped with such a light sentence?
These are fair questions, and it is important to consider all of the ugly facets of this case. However, we look away much too often from the violence committed against women, and it is the Dan Turners and Aaron Perskys of the world that perpetuate this culture of male entitlement by recasting sexual assault as oopsy daisy boys-will-be-boys misadventures, rather than the horrible crimes that they actually are.
So, what do we do? Where do we begin to make these long overdue changes in our attitudes and biases?
Fathers, tell your sons that women may dress as they please, that no always means no, that it is their responsibility to control their own impulses and no one else’s, that they can always stop regardless of “how far it goes,” that she has as much right to be there as you do, that drinking is no excuse for anything at all, that they are not entitled to a damn thing from any female, and that boys will become men only when they truly understand the value and humanity of all women, and not one moment before.