Remember the Victims: How Hating Rapists Won’t Prevent Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Illustration by Signe Wilkinson (Philadelphia Daily News)

In the wake of news that Brock Turner, the former Stanford student who raped an unconscious woman, was released after serving three months of a six month sentence outrage filled the air.

This outrage is not new. Its origins stem from news of the trial that took place earlier this year.

Turner was found guilty of all three felony charges which included assault with the intent to rape an unconscious person and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Turner could have potentially served up to 10 years in prison. Instead Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to only six months in county jail. “The punishment does not fit the crime,” said one district attorney in a statement.

The outrage of Persky’s leniency added to Turner’s father referring to the assault as “20 minutes of action,” were enough fuel for the country’s outrage to last into the summer.

Now in September, the news that Turner will only serve half of his sentence before going back home to Ohio has revived this outrage.

Outrage is good, especially when it comes to these kinds of issues. As a result of the Stanford case a massive movement has formed to recall Persky. The judge answered this movement by removing himself from all criminal cases, however this most likely fell upon deaf ears.

But in all this outrage is there room to remember the victim?

This case is more than just Turner, the impact his actions had on the public do not compare to the impact they had on the victim.

In media we’re supposed to respect the privacy of the victims of sexual assault. This is a part of our ethics because they’re suffering should not be the reason they become known. Unless they publicly speak out, we respect their anonymity. That is why in her victim impact statement she said her name in newspapers is “unconscious intoxicated woman, ten syllables…”

We don’t know her name and we’ll most likely never know it. But because of this person, thousands are calling to recall a county judge and our laws may change.

California state legislators have also introduced a bill that would establish mandatory minimum sentencing for sexual assault of an unconscious person. I have conflicted feelings about this bill and the New York Times published an excellent piece that reflect these feelings.

I reject the argument that harsher sentences will scare others from doing the same on the fact that even though we imprison drug dealers, people still sell drugs.

Turner’s sentence also brought up the issue of white privileged with many saying that if he were darker and poorer, he would be in prison right now. These concerns were voiced in a Los Angeles Times op-ed written by a New Orleans-based lawyer.

But even when our outrage is put into legal motion, it still proves to be wild.

Buzzfeed News reported that armed protestors were waiting outside Turner’s parents’ house. Many of the protestors held signs that read “Castrate all rapists.”

Let me be clear when I say that those who commit sexual assault do need to be punished. Though Turner’s punishment by a court of law was light, it does not give out a free pass for any forms vigilantism.

It is also a diversion from the fact that castrating rapists will not stop people from raping.

Hating Brock Turner doesn’t change anything. It’s easy to hate the perpetrator of a crime. It’s easy because no further action is needed past being angry. But being angry, threatening perpetrators and giving them harsher punishments won’t stop people from getting assaulted.

As a brother of two sisters, I know that being outraged — though comforting — will not make college campuses safer for them. I want a solution.

The only way we can find a solution for this problem is if we actively try to prevent it ourselves:

– Teach children about intimacy and nonverbal communication when discussing consent. “no means no” and “yes means yes” is the spine of understanding, but real communication between partners are the ribs.

– Stop telling girls that its their responsibility to prevent their own assault.

– Teach everyone that if they see a sexual assault taking place, stop it. People forget about the two Swedish students who did the right thing and held Turner until the police arrived.

– Make the victim’s letter required reading in middle schools and high schools for all students. Not since King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” have such powerful and eloquent words needed to be remembered.

– Most importantly, as Ken Burns said, “If someone tells you they’ve been sexually assaulted, take it effing seriously and listen to them.”

There’s more to add but I can’t name them all. But it just goes to show that there are more productive ways to prevent campus sexual assault than being just mad about it. Our anger needs to fuel our advocacy for a plan.

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