Posted by Aditya Venkataraman
[Note: This piece contains accounts of personal experiences which may be disturbing]
Most of you have read about Brock Turner and his ridiculously light sentence for committing sexual assault. Turner dragged an intoxicated woman behind a dumpster, disrobed her and attempted to penetrate her before thankfully being caught by two good samaritans who didn’t just ignore what they saw.
Turner then went on the aggressive. Knowing fully well the normal tendency of survivors to internalise their trauma, he used the justice system as a weapon to attack her. He hired the slimiest lawyers, who engaged in the most disgusting character assassination possible. He was also partly successful. A sentence that would’ve otherwise clocked 14 years was reduced to 6 months, based ludicrously on Turner’s ‘ability to swim’.
The survivor wrote out an impassioned plea on her experience. Leaks point now to correspondence to the exceptionally lenient judge by family and friends, including rather shockingly a father who’s appalled that his son is on trial for ’20 minutes of action’ and a friend who swears that ‘Brock Turner isn’t the type’ and this is just ‘an incident’.
But here’s the deal with rapists. There is no type. And there are no ‘incidents’. Sure, rape is more likely to occur when alcohol is involved. Rape is also more likely to occur when there’s roofies involved. I don’t see anyone hiding behind the latter claiming those are ‘actually responsible for the rape’ and the individual isn’t. Intoxication does not get rid of coercion.
In fact, it’s hard to think of a single crime besides sexual crimes where the same yardstick applies. Nobody ever asks someone who’s robbed if they ‘asked for it’, ‘provoked it’ and if they ‘shouldn’t have been cautious’. Why the hypocrisy when it comes to rape and harassment whose base is also plain physical violence and lack of consent?
The answer lies in our own perceptions (or lack thereof) of the role women play in a society. Where the only one who has a future, and a ‘glorious’ one like Brock’s is a man. And women are merely obstacles to be handled along the way.
I strained to finish the victim’s letter. It choked me up. I felt terribly sorry that the corridors of an impossibly hostile court were a damning reception for something as terrible as this.
I could relate too. I’d been through something similar. Not as a victim. Just as someone who stood up against rape culture. Though not nearly as exceptional as the two Swedish men who saved her on that day. For my part, I’d counselled someone far less ‘talented’ than Turner and yet far more harmful.
In his own words, he told me how he used co-curricular competitions (the Model United Nations) as fodder for an insatiable fetish. Coercion excited him. Part of it was forcing himself on someone. Another, and the most scarring, was his sexual attraction towards minors and those who looked the part.
In the MUN circuit, school-goers interact with college students and partake in their social activities. They often look for a mentor to develop themselves. Many had never tasted (or handled) alcohol. This shouldn’t normally be a problem. But here, it was.
Our subject would assume the role of a mentor to these kids. Gaining their trust, he’d encourage them to imbibe alcohol and other substances. What occurred after, when they lost their senses, was little better than rape. He protested that all these ‘incidents’ and ‘encounters’ were consensual, actually arguing that a minor was capable of consent. He even knew the illegality of his actions and their consequences. Minors eventually do grow up.
Believing as I do in closure. I advised him to be honest about his actions. Even giving him the calling card of a psychiatrist who could treat deviancy. Initially, he appeared to go along. But after realising the short-term ramifications of going public, he took to an onslaught of threats to cover it up.
Eventually, considering the victim’s sensitivities. I did the reasonable thing and caved. To this day, the perpetrator looms large in this circuit. Doing untold damage with his mere presence. He too pleaded for his future, calling everything a ‘mistake’. Sure. The ‘mistake’ is saddling all the survivors with the burden of their past while not even giving him therapy.
I don’t relate any of this to tell you the world is fair. As Turner’s case tells us, it’s anything but. Every single one of us has a future, and it isn’t within anyone’s power to call them ‘bright’ or otherwise. Even a ‘bright’ future cannot burn so bright as to engulf and burn down everything around it.
It scares me to think of those stories that don’t get this same attention. The media shouldn’t be the arbiter of who gets justice and who doesn’t. Think Jisha, Delta and a million voiceless victims.
It scares me to think that as objective as a judge should be, he too is biased towards the privileged. For the very same offence, a man of meager means or people of colour would have been dealt with a lot harsher. Think any minority that suffers stigma and not leniency as an institutional practice.
It scares me to think that people are so bound by ties of family or friendship that they’d even actively shelter a rapist. To me, it seems a good father would think more of reforming his son rather than saving him his due punishment.
But as one heartbreaking story after another rolls out, if there’s anything I can say, it’s this.
Don’t get disheartened.
All tragedy tells us is that there’s something worth fighting for. And if it’s truly worth fighting for, it’s worth it at any price.
What’s inevitable isn’t rape, harassment and injustice. What’s inevitable is a progressive, kinder society. Skeletons are better outside the closet than in it. It doesn’t matter whether these voices are whispers or anguished screams. History doesn’t discriminate. Within its hallowed corridors, every cry for justice will combine into a rousing crescendo of freedom.
Till then. The best we can do is help those around us and those within our reach. Just as we wouldn’t let anyone die of hunger in the struggle against poverty, we’re duty bound to protect survivors in our struggle against inequality.
It’s easy today to turn everything into a statistic. Resist it with your own humanity. They can’t take that away till you let them.
Aditya Venkataraman is a lawyer based in Bangalore who has co-founded an organization engaged in public advocacy. His views have ‘consistently’ been more left than right and more right than left.
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