Monday, June 6, 2016

Shocking Not Shocking

In yesterday's post, I satirized the outrageously short prison sentence and remorselessness of 20 year-old Brock Turner, a white, male, ex-Stanford University swimmer who was convicted of felony sexual assault against a 23 year-old woman while she was unconscious behind a dumpster and he was intoxicated. 

Brock was sentenced to six months in a county jail, though he's likely to serve only three--an objectively paltry sentence that he reportedly plans to appeal with the help of his expensive attorneys.

Six months, because the judge, a Stanford alum himself, felt incarceration would have a "severe impact" on Brock. The prosecutor, the victim, and the internet all decried the sentence as too lenient. The victim offered a moving and powerful impact statement that should be required reading for anyone who is or knows a woman; but Dan Turner, the rapist's father, was loath to concede his son had committed a crime at all. 

His statement to the court literally bemoaned the fact that "non-violent" Brock now suffers from a case of the sads and is unable to enjoy chips, pretzels, and a nice ribeye steak like he used to. Here's a pertinent chunk of it:
His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations. What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock. 
Let's break down Dan Turner's statement, leaving aside what it says about parenting boys. What do these four sentences say about rape culture, wealth, privilege, and the equity of our justice system? 

Here's one woman lawyer's not-so-humble opinion of what they say; and it's sadly shocking not shocking.

Brock Turner is a white, male, 20 year-old Stanford athlete from Dayton, Ohio whose family was clearly sufficiently invested in his life's ambitions to hire private lawyers and investigators when Brock found himself the subject of an all-too-rare criminal rape inquiry and prosecution. His father's statement casts a harsh light on a major blind spot in the American judicial system, and on assumptions society makes about who should be punished, how severely, why, and for what:

1. "His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve": And whose fault is that? It's Brock's fault. No one else's. He committed a violent felony for which he was convicted by a unanimous jury. Why is it so hard to believe that someone who has everything going for him--every institutional privilege the world has to offer--can ruin his life with one bad decision? Maybe because neither Brock nor his dad ever had to worry about being raped, being racially profiled, or having a single societal obstacle placed between them and limitless success. The world rolled out the red carpet of privilege and opportunity for Brock and Dan on the day they were born. And guess what? It's STILL rolling it out today. Six months in a county jail? An expensive appeal of that sentence? That's privilege at work. 20 year-old poor black boys routinely go away for YEARS for smoking a joint on the street.

2. "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life": The logical fallacy in this statement is so profound, it's hard to even know where to start. Incarceration is plainly NOT "a steep price to pay" for rape or sexual assault. The focus of Brock's defense was on-campus drinking and "hookup culture." But intoxication is not an excuse when you're drunk driving and kill or maim someone, or when you commit murder, both of which can happen in a single second, anywhere. So why is intoxication, the location of the crime, and the number of minutes it takes to commit it any different when the crime is rape? Two word answer to that: It's not.

3. "The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations.": So let me get this straight. All of a sudden, Brock, by his own felonious conduct, undid a tiny bit of his privilege. No longer will he have the chance to live, visit, and work wherever he wants. Boo fucking hoo! That puts Brock in exactly the same position as most women, gay people, trans people, people of color, and others who don't have privilege to squander in the first place, and who don't have to register as sex offenders. Society automatically limits them simply for existing. So Brock slightly reduced the level of privilege the world gave to him, unbidden, by committing a violent felony. Why should anyone--least of all a judge--be sympathetic to that?

4. "What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock": Again, why is incarceration "not the appropriate punishment" for rape or sexual assault? At least here in Alaska, Brock's conduct is first degree sexual assault. It's an unclassified felony (the law's most serious class of felony) punishable by up to 99 years in prison. 99 YEARS. In Brock's case, the maximum sentence according to varying news reports was 10-16 years. Brock got six months and is likely to serve three. Again, less time than the average black kid in this country does for smoking pot or public urination. Why is incarceration "not the appropriate punishment" for Brock? That's easy. Because kids like Brock get the benefit of society's doubt and its second chances. That's why.  

Not once does this statement so much as acknowledge that another human being is involved here; namely a woman with hopes, goals, and relationships of her own. A woman who was sexually assaulted by Dan Turner's "non-violent" high-achieving son while unconscious, behind a dumpster. Not once is there any recognition of her victimhood, the impact on her life. 

What is she to Brock and Dan Turner? A mistake. An inconvenience. An obstacle. "20 minutes of action" behind a dumpster. A dehumanized and objectified source of "unfairness" destroying Brock's shining achievements through no fault of his own and with zero accountability.

And now what? Brock will serve a prison sentence for multiple sexual felonies that's slightly longer than the average juice cleanse. 

Because of course, bro! Of course. Shocking not shocking.

Brock Turner makes his way into the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse in Palo Alto, Calif. Turner was given a six-month jail term after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
Photo: Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group/AP

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