It’s a story fit for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit—elite university athlete found guilty of raping unconscious female at fraternity party receives slap on the wrist. Unfortunately, it isn’t fiction. Former Stanford University Varsity swimmer Brock Turner was convicted Thursday for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus last year. Though it would seem this is a win for rape victims, Turner was sentenced to a mere six months in county jail and three years’ probation. This after the victim read an emotional impact statement in court that quickly went viral, denouncing the 20-year-old’s crimes. Now, the Stanford rapist’s father is speaking out, and making the entire situation much worse.
The plot points are so generic; it wouldn’t even be a good SVU episode, and yet it is an all too common occurrence on college campuses these days. Two male graduate students discovered Turner raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster in January last year. According to trial testimony, one of the two men yelled, “What are you doing?” at the 20-year-old, who then fled the scene. Thankfully, the by-passers managed to catch up to the attacker, pinning him to the ground until police arrived on the scene to arrest him.
The 23-year-old woman (whose name has not been released to protect her privacy) was found unconscious, half-naked with twigs and leaves in her hair, and had no memory of the assault when she was brought to the hospital for examination. She had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit; Turner’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit, The San Jose Mercury News reported at the time. Both the victim and Turner had attended a fraternity party before the attack.
Turner claimed the woman had given her consent, but she was found unconscious and had no recollection of the event. He was found guilty of three counts of federal sexual assault. These crimes can carry a sentence of up to 14 years in jail.
Despite the mountains of evidence, a guilty verdict, and the victim’s emotional appeal, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Perksy sentenced Turner, a three-time All American high school swimmer from Dayton, Ohio, to only six months in county jail. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky claimed. “I think he will not be a danger to others.”
Meanwhile, Turner’s criminal actions have already had a severe impact on his victim, who described the emotional scars she gained from the rape. “I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt,” she said in a statement to her attacker during the sentencing. “My damaged is internal. I carry it with me.”
She listed the “irreversible” damage the rape inflicted on her, saying she became “closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable and empty.” She lost sleep, her independence and, eventually, her job.
Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen called her statement “the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor.” Still, the statement had little to no impact on the judge’s decision nor on the rapist’s family members. In fact, shortly after the sentencing, Turner’s father, Dan, reportedly released a statement opposing his son’s incredibly lenient sentence, claiming the case damaged his son. “As it stands now,” Dan Turner wrote in a letter posted on Twitter by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, “Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th.”
“He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile,” he continued. “His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression.” If those statements sound familiar, it is because they reflect what the victim described in court.
Dan lamented that his son would never be able to achieve his goals because of the sentencing—yes, the six-month sentencing. “His life will never be one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve.”
Indeed, Dan finds the six-month-long jail sentence, one that will most likely be reduced to three months on account of good behavior, too harsh for his son’s crime. “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” he wrote.
Seriously, “20 minutes of action?” “Action?!?” If that isn’t making you rage, I don’t know what would, because a man saying raping a girl is getting some “action” clearly misses the point. Dan’s letter only extends a disgusting and out-dated narrative that surrounds rape culture. In her letter, the female victim described how she was forced to answer invasive questions about her sexual history like what she was wearing, what sexual acts has she willingly performed, basically all the horrible questions that have plagued countless sexual assault and rape victims.
By calling the events of Jan 18 “action,” Dan is validating Turner’s sexual attack on another human being. It seems that Turner’s own opinions about the rape reflect his father’s. In his own statement, Turner blamed the rape on binge drinking. “Being drunk I just couldn’t make the best decisions and neither could she,” he said.
The victim said Turner has continuously failed to be accountable for his actions, apologizing for his drinking but never apologizing for assaulting her. “This is not a story of another drunken college hookup with poor decisions,” she said. “Assault is not an accident. Somehow you still don’t get it. Somehow, you still sound confused.”
Let me say this as clearly as possible: Being drunk is not a get out of jail free card for rapists. If you commit a crime, you do not get to claim you are also a victim because you were under the influence. That doesn’t work if you were drunk and murdered someone, so why is it an acceptable excuse if you are drunk and rape someone? It’s the subtle “she was asking for it” narrative that rape culture purveys.
Turner’s father bemoaning the fact that his son will never be able to escape these criminal charges is ridiculously out of touch. “The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations.”
Funny, but the victim sees Turner’s status as a lifetime sex registrant in a different light, saying,
The young woman who Turner raped asked the court to not view her as “a drunk victim discarded behind a dumpster” while favoring “the all-American swimmer,” during her victim impact statement. It would seem, after Turner’s ridiculously short jail sentence, that request was disregarded.
The fact that Brock Allen Turner was convicted of sexual assault and will be a lifetime sex registrant is a little solace for the victim of his crimes. Solace that the incredibly light sentence, a slap on the wrist really, didn’t supply.