In addition to what this tumblr post points out, the crime of rape is also the only crime where the victim is condemned equally, if not more, than the perpetrator. And look at domestic abuse, where victims will be prodded with unfair questions from the law about what they did to “provoke it” and even by their family and friends, who may ask the equally humiliating question of “well, why are you staying if you don’t want to be hit?” This creates a system that condemns victims of sexual and physical violence, forgives or ignores perpetrators, and generally creates a climate of fear that says that if you are a woman, violence will be done to you, but don’t look for justice because it will not come. This is rape culture, a system that “condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.”
This system refuses to condemn convicted rapist Brock Turner for longer than 6 months of jail time, despite his actions in 2015 of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at Stanford University. This system refuses to believe actor Amber Heard when she accuses spouse Johnny Depp of domestic abuse, despite having both pictorial evidence of violence towards her and eye-witness accounts from friends. This system led to one of the notorious perpetrators of the 2012 Delhi bus gang rape saying that the victim deserved it, for being “out late at night.”
What woman didn’t grow into puberty being told that danger lurked around every corner, that the only way to avoid violence was to basically not exist at all? We women grew up, walking home after nights out in nervous groups, crossing the street to avoid men when we were by ourselves, tugging at the hemlines of our skirts as men hooted at us, crossing our legs, crossing our arms over our breasts in the fear that someone would shout something about the fact we’d dared to have a physical body in public. Dry-mouthed, we’d still try to remain polite to the man demanding we go for a drink with him, inventing a fictional boyfriend, even apologising for daring to not be interested, internally praying that we’d be okay, that he’d leave us alone.
And even when those in privileged positions claim to be fighting for the rights of women, they do so at the expense of other marginalised groups. Think back to the horrific Cologne incidents of January this year, where numbers of women were sexually assaulted and robbed on the street. And think of all the people who suddenly spoke out for women’s rights and protection from these attackers – just as long as they were allowed to condemn primarily the fact that the men looked like North African immigrants. And look at the North Carolina bathroom bill – banning transgender people from their preferred choice of bathroom; ostensibly this bigoted rule is to protect women from potential “bathroom predators,” but so far has just added extra misery to the lives of transgender people who also need the loo. In both cases, people claim to be fighting for women’s safety; in both cases, bigotry against another group took centre stage.
Brock Turner’s father decried the sentence as punishing his son for “20 minutes of action,” like Turner was guilty of watching one episode of an illegally downloaded TV show and not of brutally violating another person as she lay unconscious on the ground.
In response to Turner’s father defending his son, Pastor John Pavlovitz wrote a powerful open letter to him, father to father. “I understand you trying to humanize your son in your letter; talking to the judge about his favorite snacks and swim practice and about the memories that are sweet for you as his father—but to be honest I don’t give a damn and if his victim was your daughter I’m quite sure you wouldn’t either.”
In one of the most striking sections, Pavlovitz condemned Turner’s actions, stating “The story here, is that young men have choices to make and these choices define them, even if those choices are made when temptation is great and opportunity is abundant.” He followed this with: “we choose integrity and decency; when we abstain from doing what is easy but wrong.”
Whilst I commend him on his strong support of the survivor, I still take issue with the fact that Brock Turner was expected to do what was right and not what was “easy.” Raping an unconscious woman should not be considered an “easy” wrong choice to make, like grabbing your housemate’s last cookie or ignoring an important email. What kind of a world are we in when an unconscious woman is a “temptation” for a young man and not a cause for alarm and concern? But I’m not surprised Pavlovitz phrased it this way, because that is exactly the world we are in. Where sexual assault is “easy,” where “opportunity [to commit it] is abundant.”
This is a world where violation of a person’s body and soul results in a slap on the wrist to the perpetrator and even an impassioned plea to think of the perpetrator’s feelings.
One of the most telling statements regarding the case comes from Turner’s friend, Leslie Rasmussen, who spoke to defend him and blamed “political correctness” for the conviction.
“Where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.”
“Not everyone who rapes is a rapist”? Despite her later retracting her statement and publishing an apology, it still proves salient in pinpointing how we often refuse to condemn the perpetrators of violence against women in rape culture. Brock Turner rapes someone but he isn’t a rapist, Johnny Depp beats his wife but he isn’t an abuser.
Collectively, we as a society seem to have a real problem with condemning individual acts of woman-hating for what it is; we’re happy to say sexism is a problem but refuse to see its direct effects, or condemn our peers or leaders for it, or ourselves even. We see rapists and abusers as sociopathic strangers in ski-masks jumping out of the darkness, not as our friends or our heroes. Rape culture doesn’t come distilled in a few individuals who only exist to hate women – Brock Turner is not the cause, he is a symptom. He might blame his actions on “party culture,“but that is the wrong culture he is looking at. (Also, can we just look at the ridiculousness of the logic that says that alcohol condemns a victim and excuses a perpetrator.)
It is not individual men who are the problem. As much as I might groan like any feminist when someone jumps into a discussion of male privilege with “not all men are like that,” empirically speaking, they are entirely correct. Think of the two men who rescued the unconscious Stanford victim from her attacker – one tackling Turner to the ground as he attempted to escape, one so horrified at the situation he wept. They are both men, but so wildly different in nature from Brock Turner that it seems ridiculous to even compare them. But we should – they show that rape culture is insidious, but not a terminal diagnosis by any means.
Therefore we can see that whilst Brock Turner deserves the full extent of the law, it is not enough to merely condemn him as an individual. We must condemn both the culture that validated his desire to rape a woman and the culture that refuses to condemn him for his actions.