Oh Irony: Brock Turner and the White Male Syndrome

I’m sure most of you have heard of the Stanford rape case, how a boy named Brock Turner sexually assaulted a girl known as Emily Doe in an alleyway while she was unconscious. I’m sure many of you have already read countless articles about it by far more credible sources than me, including the victim’s letter to Brock and Pastor John Pavlovitz’s open letter to Brock’s father.

Maybe you know that Brock Turner got six months—three for good behavior—instead of the usual state minimum of two years because the judge thought “the prison sentence would have a severe impact on him”. Maybe you know the only reason he was convicted in the first place was because of the two Swedish grad students who intervened while the police were on their way. Maybe you heard that even though this happened in January of last year, Brock’s mugshot wasn’t released until last Monday and instead his Stanford yearbook picture and swimming photos were the only depictions provided.

There’s a lot of privilege in this case, and it’s hard to tell which factor is the most influential. Maybe it’s the fact that Brock was a swimmer with Olympic dreams, or that he’s young and people think this is just a childish “mistake”. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s affluent and can afford a good lawyer. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s white and male. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Emily Doe, however, wasn’t afforded any of that privilege.

While Brock gets showered in sympathy—he shouldn’t have his life ruined over this, or that evil media’s making poor Brock into a monster—no one wonders if his victim had dreams, too. While Brock gets a light sentence for his athleticism, Emily Doe gets told she’s “a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank” and that she was probably flirting with Brock at that party, anyways. While Brock Turner’s father laments about how awful it is for his son’s life to get ruined over “twenty minutes of action”, Emily says she has to sleep with a light on because she gets nightmares of being touched in the darkness.

Brock Turner’s father might think it’s awful that his son’s life is irreversibly changed, but did he ever think about how irreversibly his son changed his victim’s life?

Yes, Brock has been made into a pariah. Yes, he has to register as a sex offender now. Yes, he’s been banned for life from USA Swimming. And yeah, maybe that sucks. But this isn’t just some little oopsies. The thing Brock Turner and his father and Judge Persky and everyone who feels sympathy for Brock doesn’t realize is that none of that matters. Brock didn’t call someone a name or start a fight. He violated someone when she had no way of fighting back.

Not saying no isn’t consent. A backrub or dancing together isn’t consent. It doesn’t matter if she’d been drinking or if she’d flirted with him. It doesn’t matter what she was wearing, or how much she’d had to drink, or if she’d made a comment in a voicemail to her boyfriend that could be interpreted as sexual. It doesn’t matter. If she didn’t say yes or was unable to for any reason, it’s rape.

Brock Turner can’t be the victim here. He’s not the one who has to live with the consequences of someone else’s selfish and deliberate actions. He made the decision for himself. And that’s something the media still needs to grasp.

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