A few months ago, The Stanford Rape case was all over the news. Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, was caught raping a women outside a fraternity house by two bicyclists after a party. This case seemed like it would be pretty simple as he was basically caught red handed, sadly that would not be the case. Yes, Brock Turner was convicted of sexual assault, but he would only be given six months with three years probation of his potential fourteen year sentence, and wouldn’t even serve the full six months as he was releases from jail within three months for good behavior. This case was thrust to the forefront of public attention because of the two letters associated with this case: A letter written by the rape victim and a letter written by the rapists father.
In the first, the victim describes just was being a victim of assault does to some one. She describes how she didn’t really learn what happened to her until she read the paper, and how she was only described as an “Unconscious intoxicated woman” while Brock Turner, her rapist, was described as an All American Swimmer who’s bright future and potential Olympic career was on the line. She wrote about how that one night had irreversibly changed her life forever, and how her life had been put on hold for a year while she waited for this case to be solved. She portrayed just how difficult it is for some one who is assaulted to press charges against her assailant, and just how mentally draining and potentially scaring the process can be. She had to sit in a court house and be mercilessly questioned. She recounted how Brock turner had suggested that she liked what was happening to her, how invasive the procedure was to gather the evidence for rape, and how, because she couldn’t remember what had happened, there was no real proof that she didn’t enjoy it. Brock’s attorney constantly restated that Brock was the only one they could trust because she couldn’t remember anything. Every question was aimed at invalidating her claim and proving that it was all a misunderstanding. The second letter, written by Brock’s father, tried to portray Brock as a victim in this situation as well. He described how Brock could no longer eat how his life is now consumed with anxiety and depression. The part that seemed to anger the public the most though, is when his father pleaded to the judge to lessen the sentence, claiming that the torment his son was going through was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life”. In Brock’s own statement, he tried to make himself into a victim as well, blaming his actions completely on alcohol and his inability to make good choices under the influence.
This case is a horrifying example of how we treat rape in our society today resulting from an imbalance of power shifted towards to rapist. This power originated from, and is justified (as by the second rule of power) by patriarchal ideas about the role of men and women especially when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships. In our society, a women who is coy and says no, at first, is seen as a challenge. This game of cat and mouse is romanticized popular culture. It creates this narrative that while a woman might say no, they really want the person to keep asking and keep pressing, and eventually they will give in. This story goes back even to medieval days wherein the idea of a virgin who was coerced into sex discovers halfway through how much she enjoys it and is sexually awakened was popularized. This has complicated our ideas of consent, as through this viewpoint, even though a no should mean no, how does one really know if it’s a serious no or all part of a game? There has been a huge movement against this as many in the field of sex education and many schools have started to have conversations about the topic of consent that send a very clear message: Only a clear an emphatic yes is consent. This movement has the mission of deconstructing the narrative set by many years of stories that have solidified the idea of cat and mouse, and the idea that women want to be coerced and dominated. They are changing the story. I think this is an important first step. We have to acknowledge where this narrative and, in a way, social norm came from that allows for victim blaming. Once acknowledged we can begin to change the story towards the clearer version of consent.
Another reason that many rapists tend to get off with easier sentences, is because of the first rule of power, that power compounds. In many cases of rape, the person who is assaulted in drugged, or in the case of the Stanford victim, under the extreme influence of alcohol. This impress memory and as seen in how the case played out, this loss of memory can be played to the assailants advantage. The court system is not very forgiving in this case. Without any clear evidence as to wether the victim consented, the advantage is in the assailants court. This is helped by the fact that there is really no law that outlines just what consent means. I think this is how one would change the game. First there needs to be laws in place that would define consent. For example, if some one is unconscious, as the Stanford victim was, there is no consent. If there was no verbal yes, there is no consent. California Governor Jerry Brown took the first step by passing the Yes Means Yes law. It removes the ambiguity of the previous No Means No law and requires that schools must teach consent and emphasize that some one who is intoxicated cannot give consent. Another part of the game that must be changed is the sentencing for those convicted of assault. Brock turner was convicted on all accounts of assault that were brought against him, yet he still received a pretty measly sentence. There must be change within the legislature tat guarantees that those convicted get a certain amount of jail time, instead of just a comparable slap on the wrist. This would ensure to those who are victims that if they come forward, they will receive justice, and the psychological damage they may go through in the process will be worth it.
Next, in order to change the equation and show that this change is positive sum, we must show how it would also help men, who are also often victims of assault. There is a narrative out there that men always want sex, so even if they don’t ask for it they should always be happy. In changing the narrative on consent for women, we are also changing the consent for men. They also must provide and emphatic yes. This will help them come forward as well and be sure that their assailant is put behind bars and punished accordingly.