When Rape Suddenly Becomes an Issue

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When Rape Suddenly Becomes an Issue

Emma Komar, Asst. Opinions Editor

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“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

These haunting words began the victim’s letter in the case People v Turner, which charged Brock Allen Turner with the sexual assault of an unconscious victim behind a dumpster.

On September 2, Turner was released from prison. He served only half of his six-month sentence.

During the ruling, Judge Aaron Persky decided on this short sentence due to a number of factors, but two in particular stuck out: 1) because going to prison would have “a severe impact” on Turner, and 2) because Turner showed “genuine remorse.”

So…Turner got off with a miniscule sentence simply because the impact of prison on his life was greater than the impact of rape on the victim’s? And because he said sorry?

Turner’s father Dan also released a personal statement which sheds light on how Brock turned out the way he did. It contains descriptions of his son’s heartbreaking inability to eat steak or pretzels since the conviction, which he believes is comparable to the victim’s terror.

Rape culture in America is becoming increasingly dangerous as criminals like Turner continue to face such light penalties. It not only sends the message that women are never truly safe, but that men can take advantage of them with minimal punishment.

And while a great deal of anger was directed at Persky, he was merely following an existing set of laws and probation recommendations that are clearly the larger problem. Why are rape laws not taken seriously in this country?

For example, although rape should be considered a much more serious offense than drug trafficking, we prioritize drug crimes much more. According to Prison Policy Initiative and RAINN, drug related crimes take up 20% of jail cells, while only .06% of rapists are ever incarcerated. This systematic problem allows sex offenders like Turner to receive lighter sentences to make room for drug-related crimes.

We also fail to consider that the system is made up of individual people–and people are biased. According to civilrights.org, people of color are more likely to be incarcerated than white people, and tend to have sentences that are 10% longer. It’s really no wonder that Turner, a white male from a very privileged family, would receive such a minimal sentence.

And even with that light sentence, some have argued that Turner’s punishment of a lifetime on the sex-offenders list is enough or even excessive because it makes him basically unemployable. However, they fail to recognize that besides his insufficient prison sentence, this is his only real punishment (assuming you don’t count his inability to eat steak anymore; how is he coping with his loss?). We are showing women that violations of their bodies aren’t even worth a concrete reprimand.

The detriment also lies within human judgment; specifically that people can’t see the victim’s losses. In her letter, she writes that it’s apparent that Turner’s life is shattered because his losses are visible; titles, Stanford, his spot on the swim team. But the victim’s losses are harder to identify with because they are internal and invisible.

Fortunately, people are working towards positive change to cases like this one. Jeff Rosen of the Santa Clara County District Attorney recently fought to eliminate the law that makes sexual assault of an unconscious victim more acceptable than when the victim is conscious. His fight was successful, and victims of sexual assault are safer because of it.

This is definitely a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go if we want rape to be treated as a more serious offence than smoking weed.

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