The people of the United States are pissed.
Brock Turner, the Stanford party rapist, was just released from jail. He’s at his residence in Ohio, and protesters armed with rifles (It’s an open-carry county) menacingly wave threatening signs of how they want to shoot Turner, or sexually assault him or somehow exact some kind of justice where the courts failed to do so.
The victim’s address directly to her assailant describes in detail what she was put through, which has brought to light not merely the problem of sexual assault, but the grueling aftermath and prolonged trauma of being a rape survivor.
Turner is free. He’s the twenty minutes of action guy, the new Linda Tripp, and he may never work or have a life again.
I think we should leave him be.
Like really. Let him live his life, get a job, get a girlfriend, get spittle-free coffee at Starbucks.
Hear me out.
Brock Turner was a 19 year old Stanford University freshman on a athletic scholarship when his and Jane Doe’s attendance at a coed drinking party resulted in Turner sexually assaulting Doe behind a dumpster. When discovered, he tried to escape. During his trial, his story was ridiculous and contradictory — she never spoke except to consent three times. He would have stayed to help except that he fled after the Swedish bicyclists caught him humping an unconscious woman. She was alert, oriented and enthusiastic the whole time, except she wasn’t. — but since Doe didn’t remember the evening, except to wake up in the hospital not able to feel her crotch, Turner’s account became the prevailing story.
Turner’s family and judge Persky wanted to sweep the whole affair under a rug. Turner himself refused to take responsibility, blaming booze and college party culture. It was observed that a poor man or a black man convicted of a similar crime could anticipate fourteen years rooming in the big house, but Turner got six months, cut in half again for good behavior. And now Turner’s out.
The desire to see justice and closure, to see Turner get his is palpable. If it were a movie, this is when Bruce Willis, or Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson says fuck the law and shoots Mr. Turner in the face.
More than that, Turner has become a symbol of privilege. The privilege of affluence. The privilege of being white. The privilege of being an athlete. Turner has become a symbol of how our system fails to be the paragon of equality and justice for all our founders hoped for. Turner’s light sentence provides contrast to countless black guys getting convicted on no evidence. It also complements the rising 2016 body count by the police who gun down innocent people, incidents rubber stamped as lawful and dutiful. There those above the law, those to whom law applies, and then the rest of us beneath the law, who get no rights, even the right to live, if a state agent decides he needs target practice.
But that’s the thing. Turner was a complete prick to sexually assault someone. He may be a jerk generally or not. He may have been able to see past his own welfare or not. But in the end, he’s a symptom, not the problem.
We want to imagine a just universe. Eastern culture promises the concept of karma, that atrocity rebounds on those who do them. Western culture offers the promise of salvation or divine justice, that Hitler is tortured for eternity in Hell. (A debate hotly argued in Christian philosophy.)
From a material perspective, all that is bullshit, a device by which we can feel better about the Josef Mengeles and Martin Luthers and Gerhard Klopfers who commit gross atrocities and yet escape justice. Because imagining that Hitler is tortured in Hell also allows us to imagine it gets better for the uncountable numbers who get really fucked up deals.
And by pretending that the universe will provide for those who suffer, we can justify not doing so, ourselves. We can justify not changing things for the better. Karma is the primary Eastern-culture excuse for no fucks given regarding the unfortunate: the wretches brought it on themselves.
That’s not how Karma works.
Karma works because shit happens. Really terrible shit. All the time. And this feeling that it is shit, this feeling of outrage and disgust and shame is that social part of our brain telling us we don’t want to live in a society where we let that shit go. That’s the fuck we give. It tells us we want to change the society to one in which such shit doesn’t happen, or at least in which it happens less.
Which brings us back to Mr. Turner. He is indicative of our fucked up society. His story shows us that we put sexual assault survivors through a living hell. His story shows how we like rich white boys more than women. It shows how we are too uncomfortable about rape to address it and we’d rather just hide that rape happened rather than change to prevent it, or adequately prosecute it.
Brock’s story shows us all these things. But he’s just the messenger. Going vigilante on Brock Turner isn’t going to make things better.
It may make some people feel better, but Turner is one of the 0.6% of sexual assailants (that’s 6 out of 1000 offenders) who saw jail time at all. We’re not going to identify and stalk every rapist. We just can’t. We have to be bigger than this. We have to think bigger than this.
We can use that outrage and disgust and shame to change society. Or we can choose to not, and watch Chuck Bronson shoot Turner in the face.
We’re going to have to change our culture, or the rape machine is going to go on and on and on.
And I don’t have the answers. I only have a first step.
We need to start teaching this to our kids about consent and personal boundaries. Not just the don’t let anyone touch your bathing suit zones that some toddlers get in preschool, but how it’s okay to have agency in your own body. It’s okay to ask. It’s not okay to not ask and do it anyway. Saying no is not a rejection of the person, just of the action. Hearing no doesn’t mean she hates you. Respecting no is what respect looks like. Responding to no by insisting or doing it anyway is not respecting. And it starts turning into assault fast.
Why is this not in our high school curricula?
I’ve written countless times (and creating an index would be a bit of a chore) on how civilized people (and their respective organizations) encourage people to make informed decisions about their own interests, to give them full agency. Our administrative policies and our business models often seek to exploit ignorance or exploit necessity or exploit weakness to force people to do what they want (spend money, fight as soldiers, work as laborers, relinquish their rights, and so on). The only thing between any of this and rape is that rape has sex mixed in with its assault.
If the rest of our society is about applying force, it’s not surprising that we treat our sexual assault survivors so poorly. It’s not even surprising that one of our presidential candidates raped (coerced into sexual acts) a 13-year-old and this isn’t big news.
So really, we should leave Turner be. Let him be a symbol of no fucks given about rape.
Or — and I really hope this is what we choose — let Turner be a symbol of the thing we did in response to his incident. Let Turner represent the change we made so that there will be fewer Brock Turners and fewer Jane Does.