Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Lessons of the Stanford Rape Case

It’s all over the news. A young woman went to a party at Stanford University and wound up being a rape victim. Her rapist, Brock Turner, was captured by two good Samaritans who witnessed Turner on top of her while she was unconscious and partially naked. Her statement in court has been viewed online millions of times, it was read in full on CNN, Representative Jackie Speier read it aloud on the House floor. Turner’s six-month jail term and three year probation has touched off national outrage at the lightness of his punishment, and Stanford students are planning a protest at graduation against the school’s handling of sexual assault cases.

It’s good that the rapist was caught and punished. It’s also good that the victim’s statement is garnering so much attention, and that students are concerned about the safety of their school. What’s not so good is that there are a couple of points I haven’t seen mentioned in the news, points that would do more to keep schools safe than any number of protests and tearful readings by newscasters and politicians.

The first point is that, unlike far too many times, the police were called in this case. Right at the outset, the police were brought in and were able to arrest the suspect, gather the evidence, get the statements, and ultimately put together a case that secured a conviction. Turner got a light sentence but will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Is that a fair punishment? Did the victim get justice? The truth is that no rape victim can ever get justice. Justice would be going back to the person that they were before the rape, the person who didn’t think rape could ever happen to them. That will never happen, and the harshest punishment of the rapist cannot come close to making things right for the victim. That’s not to say rape should not be harshly punished. My personal feeling is that a rapist should be imprisoned with no possibility of parole for the rest of their life, but that’s not how our laws work. Right or wrong, a first time offender with no criminal record is not going to get a heavy punishment.

Turner got off light, but he did get punished. He will be marked for life. Other women that he might have victimized in the future will be safer because this is one less unknown predator roaming the streets. The system worked. It didn’t work perfectly, it didn’t even work as well as it should have, but it did work. The victim may not want to call the police. The victim may be more comfortable going to the college authorities, who work from a very low standard of proof and will probably expel the accused without any evidence at all. However, the feelings of the victim are not the only consideration in a rape case. Those feelings are important, of course, but they can’t rule the case to the point that the police are not called, no investigation is done, and the accused is punished without a fair trial. And this is not just a concern with the finer points of law and order, or the Constitution, or the rights of the accused, all of which may seem too esoteric for some people. This is a concern for the safety of everyone. A young man accused of rape and expelled from college has suffered too harsh a punishment if he is innocent, and no punishment at all if he is guilty. Imagine Turner going free, completely anonymous, able to stalk and rape at will, because the victim didn’t want the police. First lesson. CALL THE POLICE. It’s better for the victim to take the attacker to court. The victim will know that everything was done to punish the attacker, and at the very least, there will be a permanent record.

The second point is harder, not to make but to take. The victim was drunk. She was unconscious when paramedics arrived, unresponsive to pain stimulus, and vomited without regaining consciousness. She didn’t even wake up until hours later in the hospital, with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.12%. Doctors estimated her intoxication level at the time of the assault to be 0.22%. If the good Samaritans hadn’t stepped in, she might well have been raped and left naked on the ground without ever knowing who had attacked her. Bringing up these facts will draw a charge of victim blaming, and shrill cries that no matter how drunk she was, that doesn’t give anyone the right to rape her, and those cries would be true. If a woman goes to a party and drinks until she passes out, no one has the right to touch her. Sadly, there are a lot of people in this world, a lot of people, who don’t care at all about the rights of others and some of them go to college parties just to find girls who drink until their judgement is impaired. So, second lesson. DON’T DRINK TO THE POINT THAT YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON. Like I said, a hard point to take. Women have been told they have the same rights as men to party and have casual sex whenever they feel like it, and for some reason, there seems to be a perception that having the right to do something means that you’re safe to do it.

The world doesn’t work that way. If every man at a college party was a nice fellow who would never ever take advantage of a drunk girl, it would be perfectly safe to drink until you’re face down on the floor. I don’t see the appeal in such behavior, but if that’s what a woman wanted to do, it would be safe. Everybody at a party is not a nice person who would never take advantage of such a situation. The vast majority of accusations are related to drunken hookups at parties, where someone wakes up the morning after regretting the night before. There was a time when a woman who regretted having drunken sex chalked it up to experience and resolved never to do it again. Now, two people getting drunk and doing the wild thing can turn into a rape case whether or not rape actually occurred. When I was a young woman in college, the girls would share safety tips. There was no entitled feeling that we could get drunk and everybody was supposed to treat us with the utmost respect. We were very conscious of the fact that if we were too drunk to know what we were doing, there was a guy around who would take advantage of us. Now it’s called victim blaming to say that women should be aware of their surroundings and take steps to keep themselves safe. It’s not victim blaming to say women should protect themselves.                                                                                                                                         

So there it is. If you’ve been assaulted, if a person has forced you to have sex either through sheer physical violence or with verbal threats such that you feared the consequences of your refusal, call the police. Go after the bastard with everything you’ve got. And protect yourself by staying sober enough that no one can take advantage of you. Remember, the people telling you that you have the right to drink until you pass out are not the ones who have to live with the consequences if you get attacked. You don’t want to wake up in the hospital with some sympathetic health care professional telling you that you were raped while you were unconscious. Avoiding getting drunk at parties, and calling the police if there is an assault-these are two things that can help make schools safer in the future.