Some Thoughts on the Stanford Case
|Amy Widdowson||Jun 10, 2016|
Normally I’m more apt to end the week with lighter fare, but I’ve had a few readers write in about the Stanford sexual assault case. To be honest I’ve been trying to get my own head around the whole thing, and since I’ve made it a habit of researching and writing these Missives every morning before 7 a.m., it’s been difficult to distill anything of value into something I feel comfortable sharing with all of you. But here goes. If you're looking for anything funny or witty, I'll see you on Monday.
For those who are not familiar with the case, former Stanford undergraduate Brock Allen Turner was recently sentenced to only six months in county jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster. The maximum sentence could have been 14 years, but the judge, Aaron Pesky, reduced the sentence as Turner had no “significant” prior offenses, and that Turner was less culpable because he was drunk. This despite the fact that Turner had been convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault.
It was when BuzzFeed published the 12-page statement the anonymous victim read aloud in court after sentencing (which I HIGHLY encourage you take time out of your day to read,) the internet blew up. The statement spread, with Ashleigh Banfield of CNN dedicating more than 20 minutes on-air to reading the statement uninterrupted.
And when documents continued to trickle out, everything lit on fire...
So here’s what I am thinking about this morning. This is by no means all I think about this topic, nor is this all I want to say.
Language and Agency
One of the most enraging elements of this proceeding was the letter written to the court by Turner’s father. In it, the father writes that Turner didn't deserve prison for "20 minutes of action.” In another statement, a friend called his conviction “political correctness,” saying that “idiot boys… having too much to drink” aren’t rapists. And Turner’s own statement never apologizes, instead blaming party culture for the fact that he’s lost jobs, and isn’t a competitive swimmer anymore, and he didn’t get to graduate from Stanford. The cognitive dissonance of all of this is astounding, a rejection of culpability by his family and friends, and a reduction of the incident to “boys will be boys.”
Absent from all of these statements is the victim, and frankly, the crime. All of these statements refer to the situation like he cheated on a test, or got busted with weed on a school trip. The victim and the incident are burdens imposed on him from which he now suffers.
For the first few days after the case broke, media outlets were using an official Stanford photo of Turner smiling in a tie, not his mug shot. When the San Francisco Chronicle covered the case in print, the center photo in the two-page article was of Turner swimming.
Compare that to the Facebook photos selected by media to represent young African American men who have been shot. This is a systemic issue: young white men accused of crime are represented differently than young African American victims, both in language and imagery. And that perpetuates the next point...
Privilege is the thread throughout this entire ordeal. In terms of the legal result, I defer to the many criminal prosecutors who have more experience with trials and sentencing then I will feign, and who subscribe to this Missive.
But I think this case would’ve had a different ending if the rapist had different colored skin. Or came from a lower socioeconomic background. Or had less expensive lawyers. Or didn’t have a judge that went to his alma mater. So instead of the story in court being about a young man who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, the story because about his hardship and what he endured as a result of this trial. And that’s bullshit.
Why is why I once again encourage you to read the victim’s statement. Again, and again, and again.
And to get fucking involved in your local politics and elections.