I’m sorry if you’re tired of hearing about the Stanford rape trial. I have heard and read a lot of stories and opinions as well, but I’m also tired of the frequency with which women are sexually assaulted, and with the fact that in this particular case, excuses tied to alcohol and drinking culture have been used to push blame off of the attacker and onto the victim.
In case you already forgot about the story that rocked headlines before the worst mass shooting in American history unfolded in Orlando, or if you somehow managed to miss the important lessons that emerged, here’s a snapshot of the media attention on the outcome of the case, and on the sentencing of Brock Allen Turner:
- On June 6, CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield read, on the air, the letter that the survivor read in court to Turner, who was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault, yet only sentenced to a slim six months in jail.
- If you haven’t seen the video or read the survivor’s letter (which at this point I feel is impossible), it’s available in full on BuzzFeed. Vox explains how the letter rocks assumptions about sexual assault, while the impeccably written indictment itself kills the myth that an intoxicated woman who is violated may have been irresponsible.
- Let it be remembered that in the wake of the Turner case, men had the privilege of shrugging off his actions by saying, “But I’m not like that.” Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that while not every man is a predator, every woman is a potential victim of sexual assault.
Turner’s ridiculously short sentence sparked outrage and intense conversations. In addition to his victim’s letter going viral, his father’s letter to the judge (“As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever … now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist”) has been dissected, while petitions to recall and sanction presiding Judge Aaron Persky gained serious momentum.
But how long will it last?
Hopefully the conversation continues as long as it needs to, because women everywhere following this case, and seeing the insultingly inadequate sentence Turner was handed, are thinking, “That could have been me.” That’s what I thought when I first read about the Stanford rape trial: I’ve had too much to drink at a party. I’ve flirted with men I had no desire to sleep with. But I didn’t wake up in a hospital covered in scrapes and bruises, or learn about the fact that I’d been sexually assaulted on the news.
Men are blissfully absolved of having to see themselves in Turner. Some are saying to themselves, “Thank god I didn’t get caught,” or “I didn’t force myself on someone because I know it’s wrong.”
Meanwhile, this case affects all women, regardless of their social scene, drinking habits, or sex life. We can all identify with Emily Doe.
Free Radical is a biweekly column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Copyright 2016 Haley Hamilton. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.
Haley is an AAN Award-winning columnist for DigBoston and Mel magazine and has contributed to publications including the Boston Globe and helped found Homicide Watch Boston. She has spearheaded and led several Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism investigations including a landmark multipart series about the racialized history of liquor licensing in Massachusetts, and for three years wrote the column Terms of Service about restaurant industry issues from the perspective of workers.