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Former Stanford student Brock Turner who was sentenced to six months in county jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious and intoxicated woman is shown in this Santa Clara County Sheriff's booking photo
Brock Turner Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department

Why We Can't Call Brock Turner a 'Rapist'

Jun 09, 2016
Ideas
Kirsten Salyer is a writer and the former Deputy Editor of TIME Ideas

Brock Turner has been convicted of sexual assault. He is not, technically, a rapist.

Legally, the distinction matters. The definition of rape varies state to state. California, like many states, defines rape, specifically, as "an act of sexual intercourse" under circumstances in which a victim is unconscious or incapable of giving consent, among other criteria. Other types of sexual assault — including forcible acts of sexual penetration by any foreign object — are defined and categorized as different crimes. ( Some states, including Minnesota, Nebraska and New Mexico, have laws against sexual assault but don’t charge specifically using the term rape.)

Turner, the former Stanford swimmer who was sentenced to six months of jail last week, did not penetrate his victim with his penis. Therefore, no "rape" happened in the eyes of the law. Turner was initially charged with rape of an intoxicated person and rape of an unconscious person. Those charges were dropped at a preliminary hearing, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office said.

Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci said the rape charges were filed based on information in the police report, but prosecutors later dropped those charges after receiving the results of DNA testing on the rape kit, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Instead, Turner was convicted on three felony counts of sexual assault: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

Read more: Alcohol Doesn’t Rape People

"[Rape] is very narrow and biologically defined," said Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor and family friend of the victim. “It’s very arcane, but I think in layman’s terms, it’s just the difference between a penis and a finger.”

Dauber is now leading the charge to recall Aaron Persky, the judge in Turner's case, after he sentenced Turner to six months in jail.

The language we use to talk about rape, sexual assault and all sex crimes matters. Many argue that refusing to call rape "rape" can perpetuate a culture that turns a blind eye to rape on campuses and protects attackers while blaming victims.

The FBI used to define rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” In 2013, the bureau updated its definition to: “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

It's time for state laws to catch up.

— With reporting by Katie Reilly


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