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Read the Stanford sex assault victim impact statement? You probably didn’t need to

7th June 2016

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If there’s anything that the reaction to the sentencing of Brock Turner proves, it’s that sexual assault is not a real thing when it’s a man you know who is responsible for it.

Let’s look at the evidence.

We have Turner’s father, bemoaning the loss of his “happy-go-lucky” son and worried about him seeming quite sad and losing his appetite after stripping and fingering an unconscious human woman behind a dumpster then running away.

(His son has also never been violent towards anyone, including on the night in question, despite him assaulting someone being unanimously agreed upon by a jury.)

We have Turner’s female friend, Leslie Rasmussen, who claims that Turner is “not a real rapist” and that stripping and fingering an unconscious human woman behind a dumpster then running away is “completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot.”

(You might want to read up on the definition of sexual assault before you make that kind of public comment in the future, Leslie.)

Finally we have the sentencing judge, Aaron Persky, declaring that a long sentence for stripping and fingering an unconscious human woman behind a dumpster then running away would have a “severe impact” on Turner (because middle class white boys who rape might have a hard time in prison, presumably.)

If you feel like banging your head against a wall after reading these statements, you’re probably not alone.

Of course, the main slap in the face for women the world over is the paltry six months that Brock Turner will spend behind bars for his crime. After he’s released, he’ll be on probation until he’s all of 23 years old.

That’s how old his victim was when he decided to sexually assault her, just for context.

The message of this sentence for women is clear: the impact his actions have on you is less important than the impact they have on him. Your self worth, fragile as it is likely to be, is less important than his. Deal with it.

Oh, you can’t? Had to leave work because you can’t get through the day without falling apart? Rinsing your savings in order to stay alive? Think about poor Brock – he sacrificed a career on the Olympic swim team when he attacked you behind a dumpster! He’s having a really hard time; that’s what people need to realise. His life has been deeply altered forever. The fact that he now has to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with others.

(Direct quote from Dan A. Turner, in case you hadn’t picked that up.)     

All of the above, added to the huge denial that Turner is now in – believing that he can prove himself as a valuable member of society by lecturing others on the “dangers of binge drinking and promiscuity” – rather than admitting his own guilt as a sexual offender, unanimously agreed on by a jury, adds to the infuriating conclusion of this case.

Even after a conviction for sexual assault, it’s still all about Brock. We hardly have to read between the lines of his father’s letter to infer that it has always been about Brock, unashamedly, for Brock’s entire life. Brock needs ribeye steak. Brock needs pretzels. Brock needs to strip and finger an unconscious human woman behind a dumpster then run away.

As the news of Brock Turner’s light sentence fans across news sites and social media feeds across the world, the wider message is this: this is America. America is liberal. America is the land of the free. America is forging a path. In America, you can assault a woman and you’ll be forgiven – as long as you’re the right sort of man, of course. As long as the fathers and law makers of the good old USA can believe that you’re only a little bit guilty – because hey, you’re just like them.

At least some level of justice has been served in this case, though. At least the guilt has been realised. We don’t need to libel ourselves by naming the other cases from US campuses that haven’t resulted in a trial – let alone a conviction.

If you want to learn about those cases, the ones that haven’t made international headlines, watch The Hunting Ground documentary.

There may have been an increased dialogue surrounding sexual assault in the US over the past couple of years, but there still remains the question – as we addressed last week – of whether anything is actually changing.

Certainly, the intention is there. There’s the aforementioned Hunting Ground doc, of course. There’s the It’s On Us campaign, led by Barack Obama, which sets out to “recognise that non-consensual sex is sexual assault” (some reading material there to start you off there, Leslie.)

There are the survivors blazing a trail across America, willing those who have experienced the same things to talk.

There is another documentary, Audrie & Daisy, recently premiered at Sundance and acquired by Netflix, that tells the parallel stories of two sexual assaults, carried out in California and Missouri respectively.

Audrie and Daisy - both teenagers when their assaults took place - attempted suicide as a result of the harassment they received afterwards. Daisy survived, and attended the documentary’s premiere in January.

Audrie, pictured here, tragically did not.

The movement to tell these stories openly is heartening, but the fact is that the people who are likely to take the time to read up on the It’s On Us campaign or watch Audrie & Daisy on Netflix probably aren’t the people who need the message hammering home.

We know the message that they’re trying to get out already. We are the audience; we’re the ones watching - but it’s not us that need educating.

Clearly, it’s those who have no idea about the pervasive nature of sexism, who still think rape happens when a woman is grabbed in a dark alleyway, those who are in complete denial about the actions of their otherwise respectable sons and friends, who need to be forcefully sat down and made to listen.

How to do that, post-Hunting Ground, post-Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman and the extremely eloquent but as-yet-faceless survivor of Brock Turner’s sexual aggression, is a much more difficult step – but one that needs to be addressed head on, immediately.  

It’s the apologists for Brock Turner and those like him who need to read this victim impact statement in full, again and again, not us.

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