“In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel/
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level/
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded/
And that even the nobles get properly handled…” –Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan’s lyrics of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” —a song written from the headlines of a newspaper 1963—was the first thing that popped into my head when the news came down last week that Judge Aaron Persky in Palo Alto handed down a six months sentence and probation to rapist Brock Allen Turner after Turner was convicted of three counts of sexual assault.
The case, was not a ‘He Said, She Said.” The case instead was pretty damningly cut and dry. Witnesses had seen the Stanford swim team star raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and leaving her naked and for dead.
Turner’s father, Dan Turner, pleaded with the judge in a letter that has since gone viral on the internet, that says his son should not be condemned to the stigma of a sex offender for the “20 minutes of action” he got from his victim.
If you just checked your calendar, yes it is 2016 and yes, someone’s father called his son’s crime against someone else’s humanity “20 minutes of action” which means of course that the rest of us don’t have to wonder about where the former learned to be aggressive towards women from. That and of course, rape culture in general. The father had no problem writing that as a statement to the judge. The judge –who is currently running unopposed in an election for his job –seemed to have concurred.
I’m juxtaposing this right now with a man I know in Los Angeles who just served a three-year sentence for a fight in which no one was killed or raped. He’s been out for eleven months with an ankle bracelet whose battery is so iffy that he’s often tethered to an outlet charging it up between bus rides to and from work.
Which is to say: In California a broken nose from a street fight is worth three years in jail. But the raping of a woman in the same state is worth only six months and a little probation.
A male nose is worth more than a woman’s whole body.
A rich young man’s time is precious; a poor man’s time is not.
If we are outraged by this, then we are at the brink of giving into our despair. If we aren’t outraged by this, then we’re part of the problem. Is it any wonder we are so politically factionalized in this country when the lives of women and poor people mean so little? When the lives of some rich men mean so much more?
I stare at the rapist’s photograph on the internet. Fair-skinned, pretty blue eyes, blonde hair, athletic muscles. He is groomed him for charm. The 2020 Olympics. And rape. I’m banking that he doesn’t have a student loan either.
Sadly, this isn’t an anomaly of justice. Where youth and young adults are involved, rape too often –as we saw in the Stubenville, Ohio case— is downplayed and dismissed. The rapists are given leniency because they have “their whole lives ahead of them.” Rape culture says we believe in the young men’s futures and being a convicted felon will harm those futures in athletics and careers.
We don’t afford young women who are victims of rape the same courtesy of a future or a future of promise. We do not think of their careers or how this will affect the economics of their futures.
We do, however, look into their pasts. We look until we find something. A tight dress. A drunk night. A boyfriend or two. A one night stand. A women’s studies class.
Young men do not have a past; they have a pass.
At one of the graduations I attended recently, I watched as accolades were heaped on students about to graduate. At the same time a student whispered in my ear as the names of several young men were called about those men’s various crimes large and small.
We joked about the truth being underground as the graduates filed out. A network of whispers. That’s what women have. We give each other storm warnings.
I reported as a mandatory reporter once and the official told me nothing had occurred because nothing had been reported. I talked to a cop once after a neighbor threatened his wife with a loaded gun. The cop shrugged it off and told me it was just an argument between a man and his wife.
The victim in Turner’s assault wrote a statement to share with the court before sentencing:
“My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she wrote. And then he was given six months with the possibility of time off for good behavior. Persky could have given him 14 years.
In several articles about the case, after reporters had listed details of Turner’s crime—too heinous to write, but found easily enough online—they listed his swim times and his potential as an Olympic athlete. He put pine needles in her. Dirt.
Because leaving a woman unconscious and naked behind a dumpster is canceled out by extra curriculars? As if the reporters themselves were saying look he’s more valuable to Stanford than she is.
I like to imagine however, a world where the rapist goes on trial and not the victim. Where his past is looked into. Where his future isn’t a consideration for sentencing. Where the life-time sentence given to the victim is considered.
At least we have the internet on our side. At least Brock Turner’s photograph and his ‘action’ will follow him on to sex offender registries. His blank-eyes hopefully will be remembered long enough to block employment opportunities. Keep him away from children. Thanks to the internet, there will be aspects of life now he might not be able to have his father buy his way out of.
Hopefully judge Aaron Persky is relieved of his duties (there’s currently an online petition regarding him). Hopefully Brock Turner never rapes again and Stanford revisits its criteria for acceptance.
Most importantly, hopefully the victim of Turner’s crime heals mentally and physically from her ordeal. Hopefully she has a future ahead of her that’s full of the same promise and respect as what’s given to her rapist.
But for now? A rich young man in Palo Alto got away with rape—and his father and a judge helped him.
“Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.” –Bob Dylan