Why the Stanford campus rape case is not exceptional

Current Events / Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Sexual assaults, on a college campus or in general, are under reported, under prosecuted, and under convicted.  When it comes down to a “he said she said” case, one side tends to be just as good as the other in a court of law.  The process of going through a trial, testifying in open court, and telling the world what happened to you is often enough to make a victim decide not to report their assault. So it’s not hard to see why rape cases remain both under prosecuted/convicted and under reported – you can’t raise one number without the other.

Last week, a judge sentenced Brock Turner to six months in jail after being found guilty of rape.  The usual sentence for a case like this in California is 14 years. The minimum is two years. So how did the judge manage to go below the minimum sentencing requirement? It’s complicated, and is sparking outrage and recall efforts for the judge himself. Essentially, if the judge determines the case to have “mitigating circumstances” or for some reason different than usual rape cases that would fit the sentencing requirement, the rapist can be given a lighter sentence.

This case is not exceptional.  In fact, the only thing remotely exceptional about it is that the victim testified in court and there was a guilty verdict.

The victim testified in court, reading a letter she wrote to her rapist (reportedly looking at him for most of her testimony). The letter is emotional and quite detailed, it’s hard to grasp how any jury would not convict based on her words or how any judge would not lock him away for as long as possible.

The father also wrote a letter to the judge when it was time for sentencing, asking him not to overly punish his son for “20 minutes of action.”  This is appalling. First, it was not action.  His son committed 20 minutes of criminal activity – violent criminal activity.  The length of time makes no difference here – it doesn’t matter if it was two minutes or two hours.  It was rape.

While the victim in the case woke up next to dumpster with pine needles on her that she had no recollection of getting, the rapist could be out of county jail in time for the next semester (though he’s been removed from Stanford’s campus).

Instead of creating an exception or “mitigating” circumstance because Turner went to Stanford and was a star athlete, shouldn’t we hold him to a higher expectation because of those things?  Shouldn’t one of the world’s most prestigious universities teach their students, especially their athletes, about consent?  Shouldn’t all universities teach all of their students about consent?

The outcome of this case, despite having a guilty verdict, does nothing to encourage other victims of sexual assault to come forward and pursue charges against their attackers.  This judge sent a message to victims that even if you get the conviction, they may only serve half of a year in jail.  The judge also sent another message: if you are athletic enough, rich enough, and white enough, you can get away with a slap on the wrist for even the most awful and violent crimes.

The Stanford case is not exceptional. Campus rape is, unfortunately, common across the country on campuses of all types and sizes.  This is nothing but an unacceptable display of white privilege that sets us backward on the path to combatting sexual assault.

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