Thinking || Brock Turner: The Personification of Disrespect to Sexual Assault Survivors

Today, three months into a six month sentence, Brock Turner walked out of prison. Like many others, this rapist’s woefully short sentence was halved for ‘good behaviour’ in what cannot be interpreted as anything other than a slap in the face to his victim and to survivors across the world. TW: Rape and sexual assault.

For those who aren’t aware of the case, Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on 18th January 2015. Judge Aaron Persky presided over the case, and, in a stunning lack of respect for the victim, handed Turner a six month sentence on 2nd June 2016. Like Turner, Persky is a former Stanford athlete – perhaps he saw himself as needing to protect Turner, a younger naive version of himself when he said that Turner had already suffered enough. Turner’s father, meanwhile, stated that his son should not be held accountable for “twenty minutes of action”.

It was only when Turner’s victim, under the pseudonym Emily Doe, published a 7,000 word statement about the impact his actions have and will continue to have that the case was blown into the public awareness. Overnight, Turner and Persky became “globally reviled”; yet, to this day, Turner has shown no remorse for the impact on Emily Doe.

Yet, here we are. Three months later, he’s out. He may have some of his freedom restricted for the remaining three months, but then – hey presto! – he’ll be free by Christmas.

Global revulsion or not, come 2017, Brock Turner will be a completely free man. Thanks to the strength and tenacity of Emily Doe in writing her statement, he will not be as free as many others. He will likely still experience a lot challenges through his life, by virtue of just being Brock Turner. That Stanford lowlife who did that shitty thing and save for an unpleasant few months, got away with it, but wait – should we care about this? Fuck no.

Excuse my language, but as you might expect, this case brings out the anger in me. White hot rage, seething in the pit of my stomach every time I hear his name, or see his acne-riddled face thrown around the media. In one photo, I see the insidious culture that underpins our society, from our legal system to our media; a society that abandons survivors like me to pull ourselves through, while offering a seemingly unending mercy to our attackers and repeatedly bemoaning the impact that this will have on their lives.

Thanks to Emily Doe’s statement, Brock Turner may be the most famous so far, but he is not the only one. My rapist may have served years rather than months, but this was no doubt due to his being a non-white migrant rather than any true recognition of his crime, and is still paltry compared to the sentence that he handed me on that night.

Whether released after three months or even three years, the total disconnect between the experience of the perpetrator and the experience of the survivor in sexual assault cases is staggering. The survivor is almost always erased, the reports will be about the assailant and the impact his actions will have on his life. You might protest that it’s easier to put the spotlight on the guy standing trial when the majority of victims are kept anonymous in these situations, but the few that do come forward (or have their identities exposed) face tidal waves of abuse for daring to survive and seek justice for a crime that many still see as the fault of the victim. While Ched Evans’s conviction was later quashed, at the time of his conviction, his victim’s identity was repeatedly leaked by trolls; while five people have now been hit with harassment warnings after they leaked the identity of Adam Johnson’s victim. Seemingly, many survivors must face a choice between coming forward and being hounded back into silence, or preserving anonymity at the revolting cost of being forever known as “So and So’s Victim”.

The Brock Turner case is all about Brock Turner. Even this blog post is all about Brock Turner – this makes me angrier still. Everyone who’s heard his name will know he is a swimmer who attends Stanford. That he had a ‘bright future’ ahead of him. What do you know about Emily Doe?

To me, and many survivors like me, this man is the embodiment of the injustice many of us have experienced. Even for the few of us that get so far as reporting the crime, and daring to go to trial. Even for the smaller minority of us who get the guilty verdict we hope for, we are repeatedly and systematically robbed of justice.

Today, I came across an incredible video that simply and powerfully demonstrates what I’m getting at.

I know that it’s not just survivors who are angry about this case and the injustice of having a rapist walk free after three months (never mind those who never see the inside of a prison cell). However, I suspect that there are many who still don’t truly understand the impact that this type of crime has on its victim, because survivors are habitually shamed into silence. Even I, a person who has shared public blog posts about my experience,  will still hesitate before speaking about it. Even I still withhold details and fail to communicate the true extent of what survivors like me carry every day.

I hope that the outrage about this case signals a new era where survivors of sexual violence can begin to speak openly, without shame or stigma. I hope that one day, the severity of the sentence will reflect the true impact, not just some middle-aged, white, male judge’s perception of impact. Unfortunately, the realist in me suspects we might be a long way from that.

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