There Will Be Brock Turners

Brock Turner

Convicted rapist and sex offender Brock Turner, who was found guilty of three felony counts of sexual assault after raping an unconscious twenty-two-year-old-woman, is demanding a retrial.

In January 2015, Turner was discovered by witnesses in the act of assaulting a young woman, known as Emily Doe, who was unconscious behind the dumpster of a fraternity house. Upon being discovered by several students, Turner tried to flee the scene and was held by witnesses until the authorities arrived. He was found guilty and faced a maximum of fourteen years in state prison for the assault. The judge in the case, however, feared that an appropriate sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, so instead sentenced him to six months in jail. Unsurprisingly, he was released after only serving three months due to “good behavior.”

And now Turner is appealing. In a 172- page brief filed last week, Turner’s attorneys argue that the original trial excluded character witnesses who could have “attested to his honesty and veracity.” (Because the countless articles that described him as a star swimmer studying at Stanford weren’t enough?) The appeal also states that Turner was “deprived of due process and a fair trial by prosecutorial misconduct in repeatedly portraying certain evidence in a false, misleading, and prejudicial manner,” namely, the prosecutor’s use of the phrase “behind the dumpster” to describe where Turner sexually assaulted Emily Doe. The appeal goes on to say that the prejudicial manner of the prosecution “implied moral depravity, callousness, and culpability on the appellant’s part because of the inherent connotations of filth, garbage, detritus, and criminal activity frequently generally associated with dumpsters.” According to the New York Times, about sixty pages focus on how intoxicated Doe was the night of the attack (as if that doesn’t make his crimes just as, if not more so, callous).

This is the same person who played all the cards he could muster to discredit Emily Doe (and as a hetero cis white male he held a lot of cards). His family hired a powerful attorney, called on expert witnesses, and deployed private investigators to further violate Doe’s private life in attempt to find any information that would discredit her. In a powerful letter read to Turner at his sentencing, she described the attempts at character assassination she faced at the hands of the rapist’s attorneys— further perpetuating the abuse Turner inflicted upon her:

Instead of taking time to heal, I was taking time to recall the night in excruciating detail, in order to prepare for the attorney’s questions that would be invasive, aggressive, and designed to steer me off course, to contradict myself, my sister, phrased in ways to manipulate my answers. …The sexual assault had been so clear, but instead, here I was at the trial, answering questions like:

How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.

Let’s get something straight. This has nothing to do with Turner’s “good” character, nothing to do with Doe’s drinking habits (FYI—a drunk and unconscious person cannot give consent), and nothing to do with the dumpster. Behind the dumpster, in front of the dumpster, on top of the dumpster, or not near the dumpster at all, Brock Turner undressed and sexually assaulted a person who was unconscious. That is the only fact that truly matters.

But still, Turner has received every consideration possible. The media lamented the demise of the “star Stanford swimmer,” and the judge felt that more than six months in prison would be too much on “poor” Brock. That he only served three months is a mockery of the seriousness of his crimes and their effect on Doe. Emily Doe continues to be re-victimized by this man whose only care is to clear his name and “get his life back” at her expense. He did not get the sentence reflective of his crimes, and now he has the audacity to appeal that ruling. But it shouldn’t be surprising that Turner received a shortened sentence and only served half of it. Just like it isn’t surprising that he’s appealing the ruling.

Victims of sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence are often dismissed, and their claims are heavily scrutinized. Like Turner, perpetrators are typically recognized by their accomplishments, but only to an extent. White suspects of crime are typically portrayed more positively than black suspects and black victims. Research has shown that members of marginalized groups are more likely to be incarcerated and serve longer sentences than white offenders in similar circumstances. For example, Brian Banks was a standout high school football player who was falsely accused of rape by a classmate. He spent more than five years in prison until his conviction was overturned. And Raul Ramirez, an immigrant from El Salvador, was sentenced to three years in prison for rape by the same judge that sentenced Turner. Although the specific offenses vary slightly, Turner’s sentencing was no doubt more lenient. Turner has benefited from his white male privilege, and his privilege has given him the audacity to demand a retrial.

As long as we continue to ignore the privilege of these men and applaud their accomplishments by consuming their art or keeping them in office— there will be Brock Turners. #MeToo, the movement founded by Tarana Burke, won’t go far if we continue to selectively ignore or excuse these crimes when it’s convenient to do so.  These issues are systemic, and they won’t go away so long as we are willing to look away.