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The Stanford Rape Case and the Lessons We Need to Learn

by on June 13, 2016 6:00 AM

By now, most of the country has heard and is outraged by what is being called the Stanford Rape case.  

Brock Turner, a student-athlete at Stanford University, was convicted on numerous felonies related to the sexual assault of an unconscious woman. Two Stanford graduate students testified to coming upon the scene while they were riding bikes and witnessing the assault – taking place outside, next to a dumpster.  They intervened, one tackling the perpetrator after he ran when they called him out, the other offering assistance to the victim who was unresponsive.  

Brock Turner was given a sentence of only 6 months in county jail by the judge in the case, Aaron Persky, who also happens to be an alumni and former athlete at Stanford as well. With time served and the potential for a reduced sentence for good behavior, Brock Turner may be released within three months, although he will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

This case, unlike most of the acquaintance rapes that are epidemic on college campuses, was not the he-said/she-said situation that makes it hard to prosecute. There were witnesses.  

In documents from the trial, we learned that the Dan Turner, Brock Turner’s father, pled for leniency at sentencing, outlining how his son is a nice boy and how is life is now ruined by the conviction. We read that Brock’s mother, Carleen Turner was concerned that the case would have a lifelong impact on Brock and his swimming career would be over. We learn that Brock can no longer enjoy the steaks and snacks that he had enjoyed prior to his conviction because he is so upset.  We learned of Brock’s willingness to go to college campuses to talk about alcohol and “promiscuity” in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Brock Turner’s father argued that 6 months in jail was an excessive punishment for his son for what he described as “20 minutes of action.”  

The internet is blowing up in response to the Brock Turner rape conviction.

In blogs, memes, and other internet commentary, people are reacting emotionally to this horrible crime and subsequent travesty at sentencing. Other college male college students who say “It’s not that hard not to rape someone when you are drinking.”  Letters from parents who are outraged at the seemingly entitled attitude of both son and father – a father who opened his own crowd-sourcing page to accept donations from the public to help finance the legal fees. Heartfelt statements from other rape survivors who talk about how the sentencing and disregard for the victim is not only an outrage but has stirred up issues in the processing of their rapes. There is an online petition with growing numbers of signatures in support of recalling the judge. Last week, 20 potential jurors in other cases before the judge asked to be excused because they did not feel they could be impartial in his courtroom because of Brock Turner’s sentence.

One brilliant tweet stated “if someone is an athlete and a rapist, they are not an athlete who made a mistake. They are a criminal who can also swim.”

The 13-page statement read by the victim in court and release on the internet is one of the most powerful things that I have ever read in my life.

Vice President Joe Biden addressed the victim in a letter of his own saying “I don’t know who you are but I will never forget you.” Her bravery and her ability to articulate her feelings, the impact, and the horrors of the medical and legal processes in a rape case are opening important conversations about the rape culture in our society.

Some people were quick to point out that the victim drank to the point of blacking out, therefore suggesting she was somehow responsible. Rape seems to be one of the few crimes where people are willing to shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim because of an inability to defend herself.

Through our words and our actions, we give predators like Brock Turner permission.  

There are many lessons to be learned from this incident. First, we need to continue to evaluate the systems within universities as well as within our judicial system to address campus rapes as well as binge drinking. One in five college students will reportedly be the victim of an assault during their college experience. According to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assaults, more than half of the assaults on campus involve alcohol on the part of the perpetrator, victim or both.  

We need to teach our young women the lessons of personal safety without assigning blame to the victim when someone crosses the line.

And then there are the lessons for our young men.

Being handsome or popular or a good athlete -- or drunk -- does not entitle you to anything. You are accountable for all of your actions and all of your decisions. Strength and power over someone else will not make the rage or the emptiness that you feel go away.  If only Dan and Carleen Turner had taught their son that helping an incapacitated young woman find her friends or helping her get home safely is the only option.  

Instead, Brock Turner learned some very different lessons.



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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