A few months ago, Brock Turner, a former Stanford University student convicted of rape, started trending across social media platforms. The public was forced to face rape culture at the beginning of this case, and continued to as news of Turner’s early release from jail due to good behaviour summoned an internet-wide upset yet again. Rape culture is a social construct that breeds predatory behaviours by asserting that men are entitled to women’s bodies, while also excusing these behaviours. Integral components of the latter are victim blaming and rape apology, which is when someone acknowledges that sexual assault took place, but uses positive information about the rapist to alleviate public contempt for said rapist.
Turner’s case began in Santa Clara, California when the 19-year-old Brock Turner was arrested on 18 January 2015, ten days after the night two eyewitnesses biked by the dumpster where Turner was assaulting a completely unconscious woman. By 30 March 2016, Turner had overturned two of the five original charges, but the remaining three were still punishable by up to 14 years in prison. But Turner was not given those 14 years. He was not even given time in prison. The rapist of an unconscious 22 year-old girl, who woke up in an emergency room with her clothes taken off her back for evidence, was given just six months in a county jail. A county jail is an exclusively short-term facility meant for those who have committed minor offenses and misdemeanors. The decision implied that the rape of this young woman was no more of a nuisance than a local teen buying marijuana.
This verdict was the ultimate manifestation of victim blaming and, even more prevalent in this case, rape apology. Rape apology surfaced in many mainstream media articles, including the Stanford Daily’s “A case against Brock Turner’s incarceration” and US Weekly’s “Brock Turner Released from Jail after Serving Half of his Six Month Sentence.” While the Stanford Daily article criticized the fact that a sentence could ruin Turner’s future, and the US Weekly article engaged in typical rape apology by highlighting that Turner was a swimmer in its subheading, both articles are examples of how rape culture appears in the media. By playing up the fact that Turner was not only a Stanford student, but a swimmer there on scholarship, media outlets as renowned as The Washington Post strengthened practices that make rape culture possible, like judging a woman by what she’s wearing and a man by what he accomplished before raping someone. Stories made claims about Turner having too much promise to be prosecuted, or only mentioned the young woman whose life he changed so gravely when explaining how she was intoxicated, yet failing to fully commit to this notion by stating she was actually unconscious.
From judges like the one in Turner’s case and judges in places like Calgary and Spain, who told the victims they should have kept their legs closed if they did not want to get raped, to politicians like Todd Akin claiming that a woman who has been “legitimately raped” will not get pregnant, misinformation and misunderstanding spread like an incurable disease. Turner’s case and the way it was reported fit into this pattern of rape apology all too neatly, and are yet another red flag alerting the public of an unjust “justice system.” The fact that this disturbing pattern has yet to change proves just how deeply ingrained rape is in the media, the justice system, and university administrations.
So what happens when what seems like every other reporter, judge, and school administrator seems to think rape is okay under certain circumstances, or that certain rapists should be excused, leaving the victims without justice? As always, women are affected negatively. They use as much courtesy as they can with even the creepiest of men and carry whatever object in their possession could possibly do an assailant some damage, just in case their sweetest words and politest pleas to go on with their days are not enough, or are interpreted as “asking for it.”
This needs to change, and here are a few ways it can. There has been an app introduced to allow friends to virtually walk each other home at night. A device that can be inserted into a pair of shoes takes this idea further and can control multiple smartphone functions, such as phone calls, GPS, and messaging, when the shoes are tapped together, similar to how the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, for which they are named, gets home. There are many other new technologies to help women live safer lives, but what is not being introduced is a better method to ingrain into the minds of men that women are human beings and not sexual objects.
These are noble efforts, but they are for the most part driven by the knowledge that rape and rape culture are not going to vanish overnight, so not much more can be done by those with little power. They are effective short-term solutions to increase women’s safety. However, it is the institutions that wield lots of power, like the media, justice system, and the administrative bodies of educational institutions that can really make a difference in the long-term. The justice system is the one that must provide justice to sexual assault survivors without tolerating the glorification of the perpetrators, and this glorification can only be stopped once the mainstream media re-evaluates their reporting and realizes that calling Brock Turner a former swimmer in their headlines devalues the trauma of the victim, who only knows him as her rapist. Schools, especially universities, are slowly moving toward proper education on consent, but the bar must be set higher and the process of males unlearning entitlement, ingrained in them by a skewed society, must begin at an earlier age.
The fight for justice in a culture teeming with rape cases has certainly not come to a conclusion, as indicated by the aforementioned articles, judicial bias that holds that women do not have to be treated equal to men, and the fact that most students who bring their case of rape to the administrative bodies of their schools will not only leave feeling ignored, but humiliated. While it is true that Stanford publicly stated that they did everything in their power to ensure justice in Turner’s case, would they have done the same if there were no witnesses and the case had not gained such an extreme media following? Certain sexual assault scandals, like one at McGill University, suggest that university administrators are apathetic towards rape. In the McGill case, the survivor could accomplish nothing to feel safe on campus knowing their rapist was there; because the rape had not occurred on campus, the administrators claimed they were not able to do anything. University administrators may not actively victim blame, but to never wholeheartedly advocate for sexual assault victims at their respective institutions allows a victim blaming culture to become even stronger. These powerful institutions are not condemning rape, but are instead implicitly excusing the rapists as soon as their institution can not legally be at fault.
Despite evidence, witnesses, heartfelt pleas for help, and the statistic that only 2-8% of rape allegations made exclusively to the police are false, the justice system evidently continues to want more, as a study shows 97 of every 100 rapists receive no punishment. At this point, women need to be wearing body cameras at all times and constantly have a rape kit handy to stand a marginally better chance at getting their rapist punished. We as individuals cannot do much in terms of policy, but together we must keep fighting the issues that arise as a result of almost every popularized sexual assault case within our flawed system; it is not enough to only talk about these problems when a case like Brock Turner’s trends on Twitter. Powerful social systems must finally acknowledge how harmful careless language, accusations, and negligence can be for survivors. Blaming victims and putting rapists on a pedestal impedes moving towards a genuinely equal society for all genders.