Maybe you’ve heard: Brock Turner was released from jail after serving three months of his six-month sentence.
Other things you may have heard: Brock was an all-American swimmer. Brock was slated to compete in the Olympics. Brock’s affection for rib-eye steaks waned as his impending conviction loomed. Brock was sentenced to six months instead of the recommended six years because the Santa Clara judge reasoned a longer sentence would have a “negative effect” on him. Maybe you’ve heard all of that.
Maybe you’re tired of hearing about it. Maybe you’re exhausted from all of the headlines proclaiming him “the all-American swimmer Brock Turner.”
But this matters. Brock Turner, a rapist, getting out after serving only three months of his already-lenient six-month jail sentence matters. Because it’s everything that’s wrong with rape culture, privilege (male, white, class), and the judicial system.
Brock’s case affects women. Its outcome tells women that a person can be an affluent, successful, white man and get away with a crime. It tells women a photogenic man can’t harm anyone, in the eyes of the law—that a photogenic man is to be automatically trusted; that a photogenic man will prevail simply because he doesn’t embody this society’s connotative definition of “rapist.”
Rapists have to look rape-y, Brock’s case tells women.
It tells women that even when a victim of rape pens a powerful, heart-breaking, letter to her attacker—even when a rape victim reads that letter aloud in court, addressing her attacker directly—delivering sentences such as “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me and that’s why we’re here today” and “The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway” and “I was asked to sign papers that said ‘Rape Victim’ and I thought something has really happened”—even when the rape victim does all of that, she will still not see justice.
It tells women that this system is not designed to protect them or bring justice to them. It is not even designed to believe them. It tells women that if you drink too much, you will get raped. It tells women, if you drink too much, you will get raped, and it will be your fault. If you drink too much, you will get raped, it will be your fault, and even when the case goes to court, the sentence will be catastrophically lenient because we can’t have the young man who penetrated you, against your will, without your consent, no longer enjoying his rib-eye steaks. We can’t have that, women.
We can’t have young, successful, promising, rich, white men suffering negative effects for “20 minutes of action.” But we certainly can have women suffering negative effects for “20 minutes of action.” Because the women drank. Because the women drank too much. Because the women were alone. Because the women were dancing. Because the women were dressed a certain way. Because the women are sexually promiscuous. Because the women (gasp!) even leave voicemails on their boyfriends’ phones, proclaiming they wanted to have sex with him! This is what Brock Turner getting out of jail after three months tells women.
Brock’s case affects men. Its outcome tells men they can be affluent, successful, and white and get away with a crime. It tells men you can look a certain way and be perceived as harmless, as incapable of rape. It tells men you can rape someone and not be called a rapist, but instead a swimmer or a hopeful Olympian. It tells men when it’s their word over a woman’s, the woman won’t win. It tells men this system is designed to protect them. It tells men this system is designed to believe them. It tells men that alcohol is equivalent to universal consent. It tells men the one who rapes is not to blame for the raping. It tells men you can rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and apologize. And be forgiven. And only serve three months out of a possible 14-year sentence.
It tells men to rape. And it tells women to get over it.
This case—and the not-so-subliminal messages it sends to both women, men, and our society as a whole—matters. That much is clear. So what are we going to do about it?