On January 17, 2015 two Swedish Stanford University students biking around the campus saw a man thrusting his body on top of a half-naked, unconscious and visibly hurt woman behind a dumpster. Next we know, the survivor wakes up in a hospital with her clothes and underwear missing and no memory of the incident the previous night.
Brock Turner, then student at Stanford university, brutally sexually assaulted and raped an unconscious woman on the night of January 17, 2015. He was arrested on January 18 and rusticated from the university on January 20. After more than a year of ongoing trials where he refused to commit his crimes, on March 30, 2016 Turner was found guilty of three felonies: assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object – a maximum of 14 years in a US state prison.
Now, one would expect Turner to at least spend 6 years in a state prison if not 14, the initial sentence that the prosecutors recommended, but NO, the given sentence slaps you so hard in the face that ‘rape culture’ is stamped on one side of your cheek while ‘white male entitlement’ on the other. Turner just got six months in county jail and 3 years of probation because prison could have a “severe impact” on his well-being, according to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who presided over Turner’s sentence hearing on June 2, 2016. Turner ‘s father wrote in his letter to the judge, he is appalled that his son is on trial for “20 minutes of action“. When we thought Turner’s father has covered all disgusting excuses, his childhood friend Leslie Rasmussen jumped right into the controversy. In her letter to the judge Rasmussen assured us that Turner is not the ‘rapist type’ and blamed his rape conviction on political correctness and too much alcohol.
However, things did not end here. Brock Turner, who was supposed to serve his already very short sentence, was released early for ‘good behaviour’ on Friday morning, i.e. September 2, 2016, after serving only half of his six-months long sentence. Yes, you read that right, only three months in jail for raping an intoxicated and unconscious woman and sexually penetrating her with a foreign object.
Now, what do we learn from these turn of events? That if you’re a white man with resourceful family and friends, a slimy lawyer and a ‘bright future’, you can basically get away with anything.
White Male Entitlement
Turner is a 20-year-old white man who studied at USA’s one of the most prestigious universities which also happen to be a private and élite university at a seemingly posh site – Palo Alto, California. Turner’s family also seem to be financially well-resourced, since they were able to furnish $150,000 bail the very same day he was arrested and were also able to afford an upscale defense attorney.
Turner’s survivor wrote a powerful 7000-word statement describing painfully the events of the night and the disturbing aftermath of the trials. She was silenced, discredited and personal details of her life were tactfully exploited to build a ‘loose’ character by Turner’s attorney – another white man.
Turner’s ‘potential’ as a Stanford student and possible Olympian swimmer has been used widely by the police, by media, by his father, by his attorney as well as by Judge Persky in his defence. However, potential has got nothing to do with how easily he got off, here, potential is basically whiteness. The entire narrative around Turner is how well a swimmer he is, a misguided man with one drunken night a small mistake which will make him lose everything. In our victim-blaming society, we are programmed to question the survivor, but try to find ‘good qualities’ in the accused.
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, black men were six times as likely than white men, to be incarcerated in federal, state, and local jails in 2010. Vox also released a graph on arrest rates for marijuana possession by race from 2001-2010 and the numbers clearly show how much effect your skin colour can have on your criminal life.
— Deanna ♡ Vargas (@slylingualdina) January 20, 2016
Turner’s whiteness is seen as the ‘norm’ and any white criminal is a ‘lone wolf’ suffering from ‘mental health’ issues as we have seen in many cases. While people of colour and/or Muslims are ‘others’ and hence automatically stamped as ‘terrorists’. This internalized racism further influences how media reports crimes committed by white men as opposed to people of colour (detailed in the section below).
Initial media coverage of Brock Turner’s case reeks of race, class and gender bias.
For 18 months, Turner’s mugshot (picture in the featured image) from Santa Clara County’s Sheriff’s department was hidden by the authorities. Many mainstream news media channels like NYMag used his smiling, suited yearbook photo to build his image and reputation. Not just that, The Washington Post introduced him as ‘All-American Swimmer‘. The same article went into a lot of detail about his life, basically acting as Turner’s defense, highlighting his ‘glorious’ swimming career and how ‘suddenly’ he was accused of rape.
— Kelly Ellis (@justkelly_ok) June 6, 2016
— Kelly Ellis (@justkelly_ok) June 6, 2016
Last year in November 2015, I designed a campaign on Misrepresentation of Gender-based Violence in Media, where we analysed how (mostly Indian) media reports cases of gender-based violence, the kind of images they use, the bias in language, the headlines they write, how they caricature the survivor and describe the evnt and lastly, how they can implement ethical journalism. Guess, the whitest of the white and the most ‘developed’ of the West need to go back to journalism school and learn ethical and gender-sensitive reporting.
To follow live updates of the campaign, see the hashtag #GBVInMedia.
Featured Image Credit: Mugshot of Brock Turner from Santa Clara County’s Sheriff’s Department