Brock Turner and Sexual Assault: Where Is the Conservative Outrage?
The sexual assault trial of former Stanford student-athlete Brock Turner and the sentencing issued last Thursday have riveted the attention of the nation. They come in the wake of intense scrutiny of universities all across the country for the handling of past allegations of sexual assault.
By now you’re probably familiar with the facts. On the evening of January 17, 2015, Turner encountered his victim (“Emily Doe”) at a frat party. Later that night, Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson discovered Turner behind a dumpster on top of a half-naked Doe. The fact that Doe appeared to be unconscious prompted Arndt and Jonsson to stop. When questioned, Turner ran. After verifying that Doe was alive (breathing, though unconscious), Arndt and Jonsson chased Turner and held him for questioning by police.
Doe pressed charges. After a jury trial, Turner received three sexual assault convictions: assault with the intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person. Prosecutors requested that Turner receive six years of jail time (he faced up to 14 years). The judge handed down a jail sentence of six months — and he may only serve half of that — to be followed by three years of probation. Turner was also required to be registered as a sex offender.
Some have argued that Turner did not technically commit rape — that consent is too murky to discern when two highly inebriated people are having a spontaneous sex encounter. This coheres with a growing instinct among some conservatives to be leery of campus rape claims, since some feminists have suggested there is a “rape culture” in America — as if rape is somehow a cultural norm, with every man a potential villain. This idea that rape is rampant is actually rejected by the leading voice for sexual-assault victim advocacy, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
In fact, California law distinguishes rape from sexual assault. And in this case a jury, not a campus committee, unanimously found Turner guilty on three counts of sexual assault. This was far more than a typical college hook-up in a dorm room. Two eyewitnesses testified that Doe was unconscious, on the ground, covered with pine needles — hardly a typical location for consensual sex. Moreover, Doe was passed out, and thus could not have been actively consenting.
Even if she passed out during the interaction with Turner, shouldn’t he have stopped? If Arndt and Jonsson noticed she wasn’t moving, shouldn’t the much-closer Turner have noticed? Turner attempted to flee the scene rather than tell Arndt and Jonsson to buzz off while he and his gal had fun. Even Turner’s excuse that alcohol impaired his decision-making faculties seems weak: Arndt and Jonsson testified that Turner’s speech was not slurred and he was able to run (quite unlike Doe).
As for the sentencing, many defendants would not have had the financial or social means to secure the aggressive legal representation and family and friends PR campaign that benefitted Turner. The judge who sentenced Turner to one tenth (10%) of the prison time that prosecutors requested is himself a former Stanford athlete, and thus may have identified with the defendant. Lastly, note the excuse-making, blame-shifting tone of the letter from Brock’s father. If Brock was so contrite, as his father claims, why didn’t he plead guilty to any of the charges, or at least seek to settle out of court? Doe would have been receptive to such candor and contrition (and Brock’s consequences would have been even less severe).
So here’s my question, and it’s what prompted me to write this piece: Where is the conservative outrage on this issue? Vice President Biden wrote an open letter to the assault victim, praising her bravery over the last 18 months. It’s mostly left-leaning bloggers who have lit up social media, sharing Emily Doe’s heart wrenching 12-page impact statement (over 5 million views), a statement Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen called “the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy that I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor.”
Just a few weeks ago we conservatives were (rightly) concerned about Target’s new bathroom policy and the danger to women and girls that it represented. We were concerned, we said, not so much with the small number of transgender females — who dress, look, and otherwise act like women — but with imposters, with men who would see this as an opportunity to prey upon women. In other words, we didn’t want to harass transgenders, we wanted to protect women. And that was appropriate. But when we fail to speak on issues like Brock Turner’s sexual assault conviction, we inadvertently give credence to the view that we’re really just a bunch of transphobes who don’t actually care about protecting women from sexual assault.
Oh, and there’s this: We’ll have a Presidential election in less than five months. Conservatives will be opposed by the first woman in American history to win the nomination of a major party. Her most likely (main) opponent? A man known for his history of misogynistic statements and his glorification of adultery.
I have a feeling this movie does not end well.
Yes, I know. Not all campus rape and sexual assault claims are legit. The UVA rape story was a hoax. And some feminists persist with overstating the frequency of rape. Nevertheless, there comes a time for calling a spade a spade. Setting aside arguments over technical definitions, Turner clearly took advantage of this woman, and would have continued doing so had Arndt and Jonsson not interrupted him. Then Turner leveraged his money and clout to stonewall his victim for over a year, voicing a weak statement of remorse only after being convicted on three charges for which he had originally pled not guilty.
Is it fair to say that a libertine, quasi-animalistic sexual ethic may have contributed to Turner assuming that Doe was there for the taking? Yes. Is it fair to say that college students shouldn’t binge drink, because it lowers inhibitions and impairs mental faculties? Yes. Are there lessons we can tell our daughters about how to stay safe at parties? Of course. But being drunk doesn’t justify a man taking off your clothes and violating you. Doe’s intoxication and unconsciousness makes Turner more responsible, not less. Conservatives need to unequivocally stand with the dignity of every woman who finds herself as a victim of abuse.
Alex Chediak’s book Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011) is a roadmap for how students can best navigate the social, academic, and professional challenges of their college years. His other books include Beating the College Debt Trap (Zondervan, 2015) and Preparing Your Teens for College (Tyndale House, 2014). Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com.