Brock Turner’s lenient sentencing is evidence of the racist, classist rape culture within which we live

Photo by Ella Milburn (https://www.instagram.com/ellamilburn/)

TW: rape, sexual assault, rape trial

Amy Hills-Fletcher

The letter that the Stanford victim of Brock Turner’s rape read aloud to him at his trial has gone viral this week and outlines the disgusting ordeal she was made to go through during his trial for her rape. Her letter is a deeply moving and harrowing account of the way survivors have come to be expected to be treated by the court system. There is one major difference in this case, however, to the vast majority of sexual assault and rape cases: Brock Turner was caught red handed committing the assault.

The usual victim blaming narrative in rape cases of ‘her word against his’ is therefore utterly irrelevant to this case. Turner was caught committing the crime, there were two witnesses and forensic evidence was gathered immediately. Many people would have the expectation that the survivor of Turner’s assault could go into the trial 100% certain of his conviction and of an appropriate sentence. What this view does not take into account, however, is that Brock Turner is not just any man, he is a rich, white man who also happened to be a ‘champion swimmer.’

Convictions for rape and sexual assault are criminally low, but if there’s anything that’s going to make a conviction with a fair sentence even more difficult, it is being a rich, white, male member of the ruling class.  Women are being systematically failed by courts that favour these rapists above survivors of rape. What is also evident is that working class and BAME men would not be given the same leniency had they been the attacker in this case. The ‘correct’ kind of man, or in other words white and rich, is protected by the system. Turner’s father had the audacity to lament the punishment his son had been dealt after only “20 minutes of action.” Would Turner’s father be saying the same if a similar attack was committed by a poor, non-white man in his area? Would that man be given the same pathetic 6 month sentence as Brock Turner after being caught red handed?

Just when you thought the narrative surrounding Brock Turner’s rape conviction couldn’t get any worse, reports emerged of Facebook removing posts that discussed Turner’s conviction. A meme of a picture of Turner with the words ‘My Name is Brock, I’m a Rapist’ was reported to have been removed by many users. (http://gizmodo.com/facebook-removed-a-stanford-rapist-meme-and-users-are-p-1781108907) This is yet another layer of protection being afforded to Turner as a white, rich man. As one angry user highlighted:

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Despite the obvious protection that Turner was offered as a rich, white male, the sad truth, ultimately, is that Brock Turner will spend more time in jail than 97% of rapists. Jezebel reported that ‘according to an analysis of Justice Department data by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), only three out of every 100 rapists will ever go to jail.’ In reality, the conviction he got is probably proportional to the leniency that is granted to rapists across the board, most of whom are never even taken to trial, let alone convicted. Despite the very obvious racism and classism that would have applied to Turner had he not been rich and white, it is essential to highlight the reality that most rapists go totally unpunished.

This is not to deny the clear web of protection that surrounds privileged white men who commit rape and sexual assault. This kind of protection is systemic – it is racist and classist. However, the point must be made loud and clear that there is currently not any legal system in place that guarantees justice for survivors of rape. We do indeed live in a rape culture and Brock Turner is evidence of this; his defence team employed the usual tactics of blaming his victim’s alcohol consumption.  It is the rape culture in which we live that encourages men to pray upon women who are legally unable to give consent, often times this means women who are actually unconscious. It is the rape culture in which we live that encourages the lamentation of Brock’s ruined life and which totally de-centres the female survivor from the narrative and ignores her unimaginable losses. It is the rape culture in which we live that allows for a white man to go to jail for only 6 months for rape where African American men are incarcerated for non-violent drug offences at epidemic levels.

Race and class play a key role in the leniency of this conviction in a case where there is hard evidence of the crime committed, however, this racism and classism are part of the wider rape culture within which we live. It is vital to remember that thousands of women are raped every year with not even a chance of a conviction – this is not just a US problem. We must tackle rape culture head on through grassroots movements globally in order to put a stop to this systemic, sexist disease that has been allowed to permeate society, facilitated by the ruling class through the court system and its failure to convict rapists, give out fair sentences and its contempt for female survivors.

Amy HF

 

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