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The Irony of Brock Turner

September 4, 2016

The reaction to the Turner case has, in general, been the usual combination of hysterical, irrational, and harmful. Everyone understands that the perpetrator should be punished and no one, not Leslie Rasmussen, not anyone, supports rape culture. Unfortunately, the hysteria surrounding this case and the mindlessness that seems to be de rigueur these days has hurt many people, including the victim herself.

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In case you’ve been living in a cave, Brock Turner is the white, wealthy, absurdly privileged Stanford swimmer who decided to use an unconscious (comatose, actually) woman’s body to help himself masturbate one night at a campus party. He put his hands where he wanted and was grinding away on top of the victim in the early hours one morning when a couple of bikers noticed the movement, realized Brock’s “partner” was unconscious, and then held the pretty drunk pretty-boy until police and an ambulance arrived. The victim woke up three hours later with an intravenous tube in her arm and no memory of anything that had happened.

Brock’s thin story — he and the victim were engaged in consensual, barely conscious sexual activity when she suddenly passed out completely — was not believed by the jury. No one is questioning the verdict. Even Brock and his family have given up claiming innocence. Brocky-boy was sentenced to six months and was released after just three months because he didn’t rape anyone while he was in jail (good behavior). Brock can now enjoy his September as a free man if not as a college student. But there is a lot more to this story than a light sentence. Trigger warning: The story is not 100% about rape.

Every 4 years, a medium-sized college with 2,000 or 3,000 students is selected at random and every student in every major, every freshman, every sophomore, every junior, every senior is summarily executed. That this dark image is not literally true is beside the point: just because people are dying quietly doesn’t mean they aren’t dying.

But wait! Drinking deaths are things that happen to other people, right? If you are reading this, that is undeniably so. Still, have a look into Shelby Allen’s eyes and see if you don’t feel the grim specter of our favorite social poison tap you on the shoulder.

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Skull-crushing car accidents, alcohol poisoning (“I thought she was sleeping it off”) and other nightmarish consequences remove from the rolls of the living upwards of a hundred thousand people in the U.S. alone every year, year after year. More than a million people will seek treatment for alcohol abuse this year — they will be the lucky ones.

100,000 dead. How does this carnage translate to colleges, exactly? We don’t know, exactly. You may wish to do some statistics and translate the overall number of deaths to the college student demographic; please let me know what you come up with. My niece recently lost her friend to alcohol — instant translation for me.

Is it 600 students a year? Or is it the 1800 cited by a National Institutes of Health website? Again, I don’t need to know. Shelby’s dog misses her and even the best case scenario is terrible news; that’s enough for me.

Imagine a whole college of Shebys dying every four years. Imagine the funerals. Imagine parents burying their children. On the other hand, you don’t have to imagine anything. You can go to the funerals. So go. If, for some reason, you don’t believe me, if you aren’t sure college drinking is a real problem, go to the funerals. You’ll never have enough time to attend them all, but it’s worth a try.

Back to the night in question. The soon-to-be-victim of a terrible crime was slurring her words into the phone with her deeply alarmed boyfriend on the other end. The man was beside himself because he didn’t understand a word she was saying. “Find your sister,” he told her again and again. But her sister had left the party to help a friend who had been — you guessed it — drinking too much.

Now the woman who could no longer speak hung up and wandered outside. She collapsed near a dumpster. She wasn’t unconscious, comatose is a more accurate descriptor. No one thinks this absolves Mr. Turner nor does anyone think it qualifies as an extenuating circumstance nor does his own intoxication make him any less guilty. But. Are you prepared to say alcohol wasn’t involved at all? I certainly hope not.

A young, wasted woman lays on the ground, drowning in alcohol, without an intravenous tube in her arm, without a friend or a doctor or a heart monitor. Her blood alcohol punches a dangerous multiple of the legal limit. The gibberish delivered to her worried boyfriend fades — just an ephemeral disturbance in the ether.

If your blood alcohol hits three or four or five times the legal limit (for driving) and there is no one there to measure it, do you still die?

As it happened, the two bikers saw the movement of Brock’s energetic hips. They did not see the victim. She was most likely invisible to them as they cycled in the dark. Human eyes are, after all, attuned to and exquisitely sensitive to movement. Without Brock’s desperate grinding, the two men might have rolled on, unknowing of proximate tragedy and unable to offer help.

But they didn’t roll on; they saw and they intervened. The police arrived. The victim vomited but did not wake up. Soon delivered to a hospital bed, the woman whose speech centers had been compromised didn’t stir for three hours as saline dripped into her bloodstream. Imagine her surprise when she finally opened her eyes, when she saw the tube in her arm and took in the strange surroundings. How did I get here? Am I okay? Will I survive?

What if Brock Turner hadn’t raped her? What does the alternate history look like? We’ll never know. She might have died. You want irony? There’s irony. Does this mean we have to think of Brock as a hero? No, of course not. If Brock had ejaculated into his jeans, he probably would have got up, stumbled home, and perhaps read with horror the next morning about a dead body found by a dumpster. The biker-heroes, Peter Jonsson and Carl-Fredrik Arnt, might well have saved Brock Tuner from himself in addition to saving the victim.

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And what about the general public? As usual, we are NOT heroes. We think we are but we aren’t. We don’t deserve medals or self-administered pats on the back. We deserve nothing but scorn. Truth be told, we’re a ship of fools, mindlessly wandering where-ever the wind takes us.

Consider this. We the people guaranteed that the victim of this terrible crime would suffer a long one-year trauma. Instead of a sensible system where Brock Turner can show remorse, do his time, pay some money, do probation, and do public service, we’ve set it up so that he is told, “defend yourself or your life is forfeit.”

Suppose he pleads guilty. He still gets a lifetime as a felon, a lifetime on the sex offender registry, and a lifetime ban from USA swimming. Like far less privileged youth who commit crimes and do their time and are nonetheless forever tarnished, Brock Turner too will have trouble getting a job for the rest of his life: he’s a convicted felon for the next ten thousand years. That’s how we do things in America.

It’s lose-lose-lose across the board and for what? For one brief hit of vengeance.

Fight or else. That’s our message. It probably took some lawyer all of 30 seconds to convince Turner to plead innocent. Then the victim had to spend a year making her argument: “NO, if I drink to the point of coma, call 9-1-1; do NOT rape me. Is there any part of that you need repeated?”

It must have been agonizing for her. In our lust for vengeance, we destroy the perpetrator and we go so far as to hurt the victim too. But even that’s not enough. The long knives want blood.

Leslie Rasmussen offered an opinion in a letter to the judge. She said she knew Brock Turner and she regarded his story that he was making out with the woman when she passed out in the middle of the encounter as not just plausible but likely. Echoing the president of Vassar College who worried, “Two drunk kids, both out of it. Is it always the male at risk [for a sexual assault charge]?” Rasmussen argued that drunken sexual activity may or may not be rape. Ms. Rasmussen also criticized the heavy-drinking party culture at colleges saying it can lead to terrible mistakes committed by ordinary, otherwise decent people.

Rasmussen’s letter is not perfect or perfectly sensitive; who of us is perfect in all that we say, in all that we write? Must we destroy her? Please read her whole letter and please, if you like long, gleaming knives, let them be wall decorations.leslie.jpgYou can argue, of course, that Rasmussen has it wrong, that while alcohol and impaired judgment and misunderstandings may sometimes contribute to horrifying events, it is actually a lack of respect for women as human beings baked deeply into our culture that makes rape so common. You can argue further that the evidence indicates Turner did, in fact, commit rape and should therefore face substantial prison time. I would personally argue along those lines.

But even though I disagree with some of what she said, I can’t imagine attacking Leslie Rasmussen in such a scary and personal way, taking from her her right to express herself, and demanding she and her band be shunned. It’s barbaric. How could this have happened to us? Who are we that we would do this? The behavior of the online mob was a million times worse than any of the phraseology in Leslie’s imperfectly-worded opinion.

I know, we’ll respond to a horrific rape by hurting three more people! Great idea! Is this the new normal?

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Misguided weaklings who think they are helping women by choking off discussion of this serious issue gave us nothing but more violence and cruelty when they cancelled scheduled appearances of Rasmussen and her band. Some of these people positively dripped with that old, easy-to-recognize self-righteousness spewed by mindless witch hunters through the ages: We will not tolerate the support of rape culture.

We want, no, we demand, a culture in which women are respected, in which no man would even be able to imagine ever committing rape. So what do we do? We show monstrous disrespect for Leslie Rasmussen. We don’t consider the context of her (private) letter, her position as a childhood friend of the perpetrator, or the inevitable uncertainty about everything that happens that is a part of life that we must all accept. No. We destroy her. This is the exactly the kind of gross disrespect that created rape culture in the first place.

What were we thinking?

Rasmussen has of course prostrated herself and apologized for having an opinion about the dangers of alcohol-fueled college life (she didn’t mention alcohol-fueled college death). But her apology may not save her music career.

And so Brock Turner’s dick now claims a whole host of victims besides the woman he raped and besides himself. A woman in Ohio with the same name as the “real” LR apparently found herself targeted by the online mob as well! What a godawful mess: the victim, the perpetrator, a musician, the musician’s two sisters, a random woman — all are fair game for the righteous witch hunters.

Political correctness as fascism: the left-wing goes so far around it becomes right-wing. That’s where we are. Mob-mentality reaction helps no one, not women, not rape victims, not future Shelby Allens, no one. In a rational, decent world, we would be discussing our casual acceptance of almost drinking oneself to death. We would ask ourselves why we can’t find a way to bring sane, sensible justice to a perpetrator. Why must we sacrifice even the victim herself in our thirst for vengeance?

Who will ask such questions? No one. If you step out of line one millimeter, you shall be shouted down and forced to spend the rest of your life apologizing. So there’s no discussion at all. And that is literally deadly.

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2 Comments
  1. Andrew permalink

    I think that the solution should be to have different degrees of rape. Just as homicide is classified as first degree murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter, I think we should classify rape as follows:

    First Degree Rape – violent rape that results in severe physical injury to the victim.

    Second Degree Rape – violent rape that still involves use of force (such as pinning someone down) but does not result in severe physical injury to the victim.

    Voluntary Sexual Assault – non-violent rape where the rapist intentionally incapacitates their target, such as with excessive alcohol or roofies, or coerces them with violent or non-violent threats.

    Involuntary Sexually Assault – the rapist does not set out to commit rape or voluntarily choose a target, but takes advantage of someone who is already in an incapacitated state.

    First Degree Rape would be the stereotypical “stranger in a dark alley” scenario, while Brock Turner would be charged with Involuntary Sexual Assault. Peter Yu would not fit into any of these categories because he’s not a rapist.

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m sure our laws would benefit from some corrections along the lines you suggest. Many European countries have laws that sometimes seem a little lenient to me. On the other hand, they are more focused on rehabilitation which actually is possible. A good movie is The Widow of St. Pierre if you really want to dig into this issue. Amazing cinematography and a strong message.

      If Turner had been charged with Involuntary Sexual Assault, served a (let’s say) year or two in jail, did an alcohol monitoring program for a few years, did community service for a few years, and if he paid a significant reparation to the victim and if he was then given an opportunity to move forward with a clean slate, I think that would be better than what we actually did to him, to the victim, and to Leslie Rasmussen.

      I don’t have the background to know exactly what is appropriate, fair, what works in other countries and so forth. I’m far from an expert on this. I just know we can deal with it in a non-hysterical way that is kinder to both the victim and the perpetrator and that is more constructive and forward-thinking.

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