We have, arguably, become uncomfortably numb to the archetypal rape scenario, where—without the benefit of witnesses—even if an accusation makes it to court, the proceedings often degenerate into a repulsive spectacle of he said/she said in which the victim must, essentially, explain why and how she allowed the violation to happen in the first place.
The Brock Turner case certainly has elements of this too-familiar tale: the sickening details of forced entry, violence, abandonment and lack of accountability, only more so. Much more so. In this case, the raped woman was in fact unconscious, dragged behind a dumpster and then left, mostly naked and alone. One would never want to rank such attacks by severity, but the heartbreak of this image would likely be over-the-top even for the most unimaginative and sleazy movie director. It’s that bad.
In a twist that should have brought clarity and finality to the sentencing, two Samaritans (Swedes, actually) saw the crime-in-progress (or before it was completed, anyway), and overtook Turner as he fled the scene. So…without these two, it wouldhave been a felony with unidentified perpetrator. Visualize that, and recoil accordingly: this frightened young woman waking up, knowing she’d been demeaned and left outdoors with her clothes balled up beside her, not having any idea exactly what happened or who did it.
What happened next is predictable as it is appalling: Turner’s parents hire an experienced and aggressive defense attorney (naturally) and in addition to the usual blame-the-victim antics, much hand-wringing occurs as to how the consequences of this indiscretion will impact…wait for it…his future (naturally). It’s almost impossible to imagine what a victim of rape experiences during and especially after the ordeal. It’s instructive that this victim was brave enough to document, for posterity, what she endured. Of particular note are the specific questions she was forced to answer as the defense angled for any possible opening to impugn and implicate her.
But at least, for a change, there’s some justice, right? After all, there were eyewitnesses, who chased down Turner, which is enough to prove beyond any reasonable doubt he was very aware of what he did, how wrong it was, and what the aftermath might entail. Turner was found guilty of three felonies: assault with the intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person.
Here then, an opportunity to remind would-be predators that—beyond being morally repugnant, unacceptable on any societal level and just plain one hundred percent wrong—this is a crime, with consequences. The kind that will change your life forever, for the worse. And, in this instance, depending upon Turner’s capacity for reflection and remorse, sufficient time to meditate on the ways the victim’s life has been irretrievably impacted.
The sentence? Six months in county (not state) prison.
(If you want to understand what male privilege is, consider that sentence. If you want to consider what white male privilege is, calculate what the sentence would likely be if the assailant were an African American student. If you want to consider what our society unconsciously condones, imagine if the assailant were an African American male not affiliated with the university.)
Six months. Lenient to the point of insult. And that’s assuming this sentence is not successfully appealed.
Even in the most charitable quid pro quo formulation, you’d figure that the minimum exchange would be one year—the same amount of time the trial took and the days Turner stole from his victim as she and her family struggled to not only piece together a shattered life, but to effectively defend themselves in a very public trial, where her sexual history, decision-making and so many trivial aspects of her life that would be no one’s business except for the fact that she was raped behind a dumpster while unconscious were all dissected as if she were an etherized butterfly on a lab table.
Certainly one advantage to our civility and civil rights is that we can’t be convicted without a trial. At the same time, anyone who insists the American Dream is an equal opportunity proposition and we’re largely a classless society needs to contemplate the travesty of a rape victim compelled to answer—if not rebut—incriminating questions from a determined attorney (just business as usual; besides did we mention this young man is a promising young athlete? There’s more than just another white male life to salvage, he has the potential for remarkable things, and let’s consider how detrimental an extended prison sentence would be for his prospects…Business. As. Usual.).
So far, and unfortunately, there’s not much about this particular case that seems unfamiliar: bad guy (key word: guy) has ways and means to do everything in his (key word: his) power to get away with it. With the full support of his family, naturally.
And speaking of that, it’s the letter Turner’s father wrote—which demands to be read in full—that puts this atrocity at a whole other level. In a beyond-parody instant classic of the worst sort, Turner addresses the judge who felt six months, not 14 years, was appropriate. With four words that should—and must—henceforth become a permanent part of our cultural lexicon, Turner’s father laments “(six months) is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
Twenty minutes of action.
Reading this made me think not of cartoon characters representing evil, like Gordon Gekko, or our national treasure of satire The Onion (because, my first and then second reaction upon seeing that letter was to think: there’s no way that letter was really written; there’s no way that’s actually real, is there?), but of the very human and peerless reprobate, Lloyd Blankfein. As the economy cratered and tax-paying citizens’ 401(k)s were evaporating—courtesy of the intentional (and still inadequately disciplined) malevolence of these so-called masters of the universe—Blankfein revealed the disgusting depths of his sociopathy when he wryly demurred that bankers were merely doing “God’s work”.
Let’s face it: life seldom offers up such stark, such unambiguous occasions where, once they’ve occurred, they become immediately and eternally unforgettable. Even in the most clear-cut cases of depravity, there’s typically some nuance, some room for alternative interpretation, some slight possibility of misunderstanding. Thus, as enraging as it is to behold such brazen and pitiless sincerity (connecting the dots, as usual, between men, sports, money and “winning”), it’s nevertheless edifying.
Shame on Mr. Turner for so many things and so many reasons, but shame on us if we let father or son not be reminded of this for the rest of their days. More than the proverbial teaching moment, this anti-epiphany (twenty minutes of action!) is sui generis; it’s so wrong it’s a paradoxical but perfect gift. Finally, a sentence about the sentence that henceforth, in one sentence, can serve to illustrate cause, effect, and accountability (or the lack thereof), all from the father of the felon. In addition, it’s a reminder of our responsibility to protect one another, to elevate awareness, and push back against the narrative—empowered by money and the influence it buys—that all too often confirms a very human outrage: if you can get away with it, it’s not a crime. Or, if you can own the narrative, you can revise reality.
I am in no way intimating that any portion of this victim’s anguish is justifiable or worth the opportunity for others’ enlightenment. But considering how often these transgressions occur, how seldom they are reported, and how unusual it is to see anything approximating penance, this case (in general) and Mr. Turner’s letter (in particular) supply us a concise synopsis of the violence done to women. And more, the circumstances that too often accompany it. More still, the ugly one-two gut punch of silencing and rationalizing that serves to leave victims even more broken and without recourse.
That injustice of this magnitude is tolerated, or even overlooked as part of an imperfect system, should be overdue impetus for resolution: hold ourselves and our system more answerable, and do much more to eliminate the shame and suffering forced on guiltless survivors of these traumas.
And in the meantime?
I’m not particularly proud of this wish, equal parts uncultured and clichéd. And yet, if we’d like to imagine a sentence a tad more commensurate with the crime, perhaps some willing inmate—presumably one bigger and stronger to facilitate a sense of symmetry and perspective—will give Turner a taste of his own intrusion and let him see, smell, taste and feel what it’s like to have a most private orifice energetically penetrated.
Never mind the humiliation, belated accountability and comprehension for what all this involves; let’s see how quickly Turner moves on, physically and especially emotionally. A case study of sorts. In a sense it would only be appropriate, poetic in a way, for one hackneyed situation (the frat house rape) to be repaid with a correspondingly overwrought one (the prison rape).
Six months, way too brief by any criteria, still contains 4,320 hours. Is it too much to hope that Turner gets “twenty minutes of action” that he’ll never forget?
*This article originally appeared at The Weeklings on 6/7/16.