Stanford, Turner, and the Unjust Rape Sentence

The sentencing in the Stanford rape that was announced yesterday is disgusting and a true injustice.

Why shouldn’t a man who violates another person have a “severe impact” as punishment for his wrong doing? When 12 people unanimously say you are guilty, when you believe that drinking was the problem and not your violence is the issue, when you blame someone else for you unconscionable actions, you deserve to be impacted, to face the consequences of your actions.

But, when you are a star athlete, of course, you are automatically a better person and don’t need heavy punishment. Right?

No. Being physically gifted should not entitle you to easier sentencing when you have done wrong. And yet, this is the message our society continually sends. If you have provided entertainment on a field or pool, you can get away with sexual assault.

Certainly, his privileged background and race were also factors. As Turner’s victim states in her extremely powerful statement, if a man of a different background was found guilty of three felonies, he would not be getting a 6 month sentence, but a maximum one. Just a day before, Jasmine Abdullah Richards, a Black Lives Matter organizer, was sentences in California to 4 years for “felony lynching” or trying to de-arrest someone. The minimum for this punishment is 2 years. Think about that – a white man enrolled in Stanford is sentenced to 6 months (less than the minimum for a felony sexual charge) for assaulting someone and a black woman is sentenced to 4 years (the maximum amount, and more that the recommended 1 year). Yes, the cases are different, but you can’t ignore that the defendants’ backgrounds played a role.

In fact, Turner’s background played such a role that his swim record was mentioned several times during the trial and in practically every article about the case. It is so imbedded in how the defense portrayed Turner that it is impossible for any to removed it from consideration.

According to the judge, a sentence in state prison would have a “severe impact” on Turner and that his “lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict” shouldn’t count against him.

Rape laws in California are serious. Felony charges call for prison terms, not county jail. They call for years of imprisonment, not months. Yet, Turner was given the sentencing a misdemeanor, not of three felony charges. Why? Because according to the judge, a sentence in state prison would have a “severe impact” on Turner and that his “lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict” shouldn’t count against him. Shouldn’t someone who assaults someone else be severely impacted by his actions? Drinking is not an excuse to violate another human being. Ever. Just because you come from a good family and have a “bright future” does not mean that you can treat another person as if her body does not matter. Turner’s dad said his son will “never again be his happy-go-lucky self.” Good. I don’t think his victim will be either.

But this is the problem with our society. We let certain people get away with crimes or at least not face the true consequences. When 54.3% of intercollegiate and recreational athletes engage in sexually coercive behaviors, something is wrong. When a former football player pleads guilty to nine sexual charges and is still considered for the hall of fame, something is wrong. When a boxer serves time for raping a woman and still comes back to have a successful boxing career and star in films, something is wrong. When a professional soccer player can punch a college student in the face and sexually assault her and still be signed by a club after his 18-month prison sentence, something is wrong. When an NBA star publicly announces his actions weren’t consensual and reaches a settlement and we still celebrate him as a star, something is wrong.

Something is wrong.

It’s no wonder Turner doesn’t really believe what is did was wrong. It’s no wonder he thinks it is part of the “drinking and sexual promiscuity” culture of college. We have taught him no different. We have repeatedly told him, and every man, that you’re not truly responsible for your actions. Women dressed provocatively are to blame. Drinking to excess is the problem. Don’t worry about assaulting someone; with your athletic prowess, you’ll still make millions, be cheered by thousands.

Well guess what? Violence against women isn’t okay, regardless of how drunk she is or what she’s wearing. And we need to stop celebrating those who view their desires as more important than another human being.

Turner’s victim deserved better. We, women as a whole, deserve better. We deserve a world in which our assaults mean something, a world in which our attackers are severely impacted by their actions. We deserve a world where those Swede bikers are the norm, not the Brock Turners of the world.

We deserve better.


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