Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME
Brock Turner is a convicted sex criminal.
He was unanimously convicted of assault with the intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person. He was caught on the scene, apprehended by police, and a full medical examination on his victim took place immediately.
Two eyewitnesses say they found him thrusting himself on an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University on the night of Jan. 17, 2015. They said they chased Turner down when he ran, and held him there until the police arrived. The woman woke up in a hospital in San Jose hours later, with no recollection of the event.
Turner is not described as a rapist because California law defines rape in terms of sexual intercourse. Since Turner violated his victim with a foreign object and not his genitalia, he gets a pass on the rapist label. But regardless of semantics, Turner is a convicted sex criminal. The end.
Yet Turner continues to maintain that his crime was drinking, and it looks like the judge agrees. Santa Clara County Judge, Aaron Persky, chose to extend leniency to Turner out of concern for the “severe” impact imprisonment would have on Turner.
Alcohol doesn’t sexually assault people. Alcohol did not forcibly penetrate an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. The protection given to white men of privilege is the issue. Notice the same leniency and understanding was not extended to Brian Banks, the now-proven innocent black 16-year-old who was tried as an adult and wrongfully served five years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.
By turning this into a learning moment about alcohol, Turner and his defenders are merely deflecting what has been proven in a court of law to be absolute blame.
Why is it that alcohol absolves our young men of privilege, but condemns our young women? If a woman has had too much to drink, our culture writes off anything bad that happens to her as her due. She’s been rightfully punished for the dangers of alcohol. She has been brought up from a young age to know that drinking heavily could lead to her victimization, and she chose to do it anyway. Therefore, her victimization was imminent and her punishment fits her crime. She knew better.
A childhood friend of Turner’s wrote that the victim was just as much to blame as Turner due to the amount she’d had to drink, and complained that only Turner was being held accountable. But is he?
Turner’s entire network of family and friends wrote character letters outlining how devastating the verdict would be for him and for them, helping to form the judge’s decision. His grandparents penned a moving bit about how kind Turner had been to one of his uncles with disabilities. The conviction, they wrote, made them cry. Turner’s father wrote a letter defending his son, saying he’s suffered enough. In it, he mentions how anxious the 20-year-old has become, and he blames the verdicts. Not the assault, but the verdicts. Turner can no longer eat his favorite snacks, is literally a line in this letter.
But what about the woman he assaulted?
First reports of the sentencing labelled Turner a champion swimmer and focused on the opportunities now lost to the young man. The sheriff’s department withheld his mug shot for days, and media ran his smiling, innocent-looking yearbook photo instead. Many bits of information about this story were tinged with sympathy for the perpetrator. And none of it is relevant to the issue at hand. It doesn’t matter what a nice kid he was before he assaulted someone. It doesn’t matter what a good swimmer he is. It doesn’t matter that he drank too much. It doesn’t matter that he thinks he’s going to go around to college campus to lecture on the dangers of drinking.
Because drinking is not the issue. Rape is the issue.
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