‘This is how you raise a rapist’

Madeleine Holden at The Spinoff has a good look at the Brock Turner rape issue in the US in ‘This is how you raise a rapist’: on the culture which created Brock Turner

The statements of Stanford student athlete and rapist Brock Turner’s family and friends point to the poisoned atmosphere which helps prominent men believe they are entitled to rape, says Madeleine Holden. Trigger warning: this opinion piece addresses rape and sexual violence.

On January 17, 2015, Stanford student athlete Brock Turner raped an unconscious women behind a dumpster. In March this year, judge Aaron Persky handed down a six month sentence to Turner despite the maximum sentence of 14 years for three counts of sexual assault, saying that he thought “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him… I think he will not be a danger to others.” This, in itself, isn’t news: rapists avoiding jail time for their crimes is nothing new, and it’s not unusual for young, white male athletes from prestigious universities to be treated leniently by their schools and the legal system.

Holden shows what initiated widespread interest in the case, the court statement of the victim, and then goes on to detail what sparked a furore.

In the face of widespread backlash about his sentence, Turner’s father issued a statement defending his son, arguing his life will be “deeply altered” by the court’s verdict and that “He will never be his happy-go-lucky self with that easygoing personality and welcoming smile.” Turner’s father went on to describe the worry, anxiety, fear and depression his son now faces, before stating that “His life will never be the one that he dreamt about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

20 minutes of action. That’s how Brock Turner’s father described his son raping an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster. Action. As though it was harmless sexual fun – the kind young men are wont to seek out – and only 20 minutes of it, as if his son was cheated by having to face all these pesky consequences for a mere blip of a good time. That “good time,” of course, robbed Turner’s victim of her dignity and wellbeing and permanently altered the course of her life, too. The only difference is she had no say in it.

Mr Turner went on to say that his son should not be sent to jail because of his lack of prior offending, and also because “he has never been violent to anyone, including his actions on the night of January 17, 2015.”

Mr Turner’s comment here portrays a fundamental misunderstanding of rape. Rape is always violent, and it is always a violation. Turner’s victim was left with bruises inside her vagina and scratches and lacerations on her skin. Turner also left her with lasting feelings of despair, difficulty with trust, an inability to eat or sleep, depression, isolation, difficulty working, and continuing fear. Turner’s “actions” on the night of January 17, 2015 were violent, because that night, he raped someone. Rape is always violent.

Incredibly, Mr Turner went on to say that his son could become a role model for young people.

“Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity,” he wrote. “By having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.”

It’s disheartening, to say the least, that Mr Turner thinks the problem here is alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, neither of which are the same thing as rape. The mention of drinking is a convenient scapegoat for Turner and his father, because they can point the finger at the victim, who was drinking – the implication being that she was partially to blame for her predicament, which she wasn’t. But the mention of “sexual promiscuity” is startling.

And it gets worse:

In case you think Turner’s father was a rogue influence in his life, his friend has come forward to blame the conviction on political correctness, and, bafflingly, said that “rape on campus isn’t always because people are rapists.”

“This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot,” she said. “That is a rapist. These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgement.”

Idiot boys, and girls. The implication is clear: idiots, these girls, for getting themselves raped because they drank too much; not like real victims, who are simply walking to their cars alone at night, before they’re whisked away by real rapists. Again, this statement betrays a severe misunderstanding of what rape is. Most survivors of rape are raped by people they know. Turner’s friend manages to stuff two damaging rape myths into one statement: the idea that women and girls contribute to their own rapes by drinking, and that rape that happens on college campuses or between acquaintances isn’t real, like stranger rape is.

This all illustrates a much wider problem.

Mr Turner believes disturbing things about rape, “promiscuity”, drinking and college culture. At the age of 19, his son raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. It is, of course, impossible to know why exactly Brock Turner became a rapist, but one thing is for sure: the attitudes held by his father – and many, many other people – about rape aren’t harmless or isolated; they directly feed into how young men decide to treat women.

If you’re not convinced, there’s mounting evidence. A survey of 379 college-aged men revealed that, of the athletes surveyed, more than half reported coercing a partner into sex. Furthermore, those who reported coercing partners into sex – that is, raping them – were more likely to believe in rape myths (“If a woman doesn’t fight back, it isn’t rape,” for example) and hold traditional views of gender roles such as “Women should worry less about their rights and more about becoming good wives and mothers.” In short, believing common, dangerous ideas about rape and women’s roles is more likely to mean that you are a rapist.

I don’t think that most men are rapists. Some men,  are, and because some of them are recidivist rapists it can appear as if there are many male rapists.

Holden illustrates more alarming public attitudes of some males and sex, including this from “one of hip hop’s most prolific stylists” (who faces multiple accusations of rape):

no choice.jpg-large

That’s a seriously sick attitude, on public display.

Holden concludes:

You don’t need to be a father to help raise a rapist. You only need to be an active participant in a culture that already treats rape alarmingly lightly. Rapists are around us, and they listen to jokes about rape and rape myths – ideas that women can dress or behave in ways that invite rape, that if they don’t fight and scream they must have “liked it”, that if they were drunk then they got what was coming to them – and they are fortified by them.

Real rapists are absorbing our cultural attitudes about rape, and then they are raping actual women. It’s not an academic exercise, and we have enough evidence to show that our dialogue around rape isn’t harmless or separate from the real world in which rape takes place. Perpetuating rape myths contributes towards a culture in which rape happens often and is punished little; a culture that believes, on some level, that men are bound to rape and women invite rape by acting in certain ways.

That is the real problem.

Now I happen think that a conviction and a 6 month prison sentence (out in 3) will have a major impact on Brock Turner. But relative to the offence it is a lenient sentence.

His ’20 minutes of action’ has had a profoundly damaging effect on the whole life of a woman.

At least his case has highlighted a serious issue. If a few men (‘man’ may not be a suitable description for people who think it’s ok to have sex with an unconscious stranger) like Turner get disproportionately punished (in comparison to past educated white offenders) then so be it.

This was a very sleazy sexual attack that deserves condemnation publicly and by the court.

And the only way of making it clear that the attitudes that contribute to this sort of offending have to change is by punishing offenders in a way that change the entrenched attitudes of people like Turner’s father and friend, and many other men and women

Including in New Zealand, where many attitudes to women and to sex and to rape are far appropriate.

I’m aware that some men get annoyed or offended by rape culture being mentioned. Many men are not rapists, many men do not promote cultures that excuse and in some ways encourage sexual assaults and inappropriate sexual attitudes and behaviours.

But this is one issue where remaining innocent silent is not enough. Good people, good men, should speak up more to make it clear to those who abuse and sexually assault and rape women – and men – that it is abhorrent behaviour that a modern society should not tolerate.

Change requires effort. Silence isn’t sufficient.