Brock Turner, Rape and the Left’s Giant Blind Spot
The left's anger at situations like the Brock Turner sexual assault case doesn’t go far enough.
Last week I called for a stronger reaction from conservatives to the Brock Turner sexual assault incident. Not just the event per se, but its aftermath: the fact that Turner stonewalled his victim — changing his story from the police report he gave on the night of his arrest to the testimony he gave at the hearing in 2016, the letter from Turner’s father which downplayed the severity of sexual assault, and the minimal remorse shown by Turner after the conviction.
I’ll admit that my motivation was somewhat partisan: I don’t want the Left to own this issue. Let’s be honest, most of what Joe Biden said about Brock Turner could have been said by Paul Ryan. Eloquent condemnation of sexual assault from a conservative leader like Ryan could cut into the “gender gap” in the polling, which consistently shows young and/or single women tilting to the Left.
Conservative Women/Conservative Men
My article was unanimously well received among conservative women. But I did receive some critique from right-leaning men. The first was that I was an “ambulance chaser,” blowing hot air on a hot issue in a sophisticated attempt at click bait. “We all know Turner is a dirt bag, no need to pile on.” Others pointed to the fact that “talk is cheap” and that conservatives have been more inclined to pass tough anti-sex assault legislation. If I had to choose, I’d agree that deeds are more important than words. But words also matter.
What leaders say sets the tone of their movement. Does anyone on the Right complain that conservative politicians speak out against abortion on every anniversary of Roe v. Wade? Or that many of us shared the videos that David Daleiden’s team produced, painstakingly documenting Planned Parenthood profiting from the sale of body parts? On the contrary, it’s often the case that talk — tough talk, from lots of people — is a necessary precursor and catalyst for action/legislation.
The other critique I heard was that Turner’s lifetime sex offender status is itself an enormous punishment and that a longer jail sentence would only have adverse effects (e.g., increase the likelihood of recidivism). I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m more sympathetic to this concern, since I would not put Turner on the same level as a serial pedophile, though both have lifetime sex offender designations. I truly want to see Turner rehabilitated. Yet I also see this in Emily Doe’s lengthy testimony:
Had Brock admitted guilt and remorse and offered to settle early on, I would have considered a lighter sentence, respecting his honesty, grateful to be able to move our lives forward. Instead he took the risk of going to trial, added insult to injury and forced me to relive the hurt as details about my personal life and sexual assault were brutally dissected before the public.
In other words, if the sex offender designation is life-destroying — and it’s long-lasting ramifications are probably why prosecutors often use it as a plea bargaining chip — Turner’s lawyer should have advised his client to, in the words of Jesus, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge…” (Matthew 5:25 ESV). That’s certainly how I would have advised him. Instead, at great legal expense, Turner peddled a concocted story that his victim was a happily consenting participant.
The Left’s Blind Spots
But let’s move on and address those on the Left. I don’t doubt for a moment the sincerity of outrage from progressives. But their anger is myopic — it doesn’t go far enough; it doesn’t get at the true source. Here’s the problem: As Mona Charon argued, campus sexual assault grows in the petri dish of the alcohol-fueled hookup culture. Remove the hook-up culture and you’d greatly mitigate sexual assault. Why? Because men are more likely than women to want sex with strangers, drunk men are particularly lacking in restraint (though that doesn’t excuse their behavior), and drunk women are less likely to say no or be sufficiently conscious to remember what was said.
The alcohol-fueled hookup culture is about empty seduction and conquest. It’s the perfect recipe for sexual assault, or, at the very least, after-the-fact allegations of sexual assault along with abundant misunderstanding of what precisely was “consented.”
Of course men shouldn’t take advantage of women. But if liberals really want to be angry about campus sexual assault, they wouldn’t merely crusade for men to “establish consent” at every stage of a crass, alcohol-enabled, casual sexual encounter. They’d go two steps further:
- They’d encourage sobriety or, at most, the moderate consumption of alcohol. Emily Doe’s extreme drunkenness didn’t justify Brock Turner’s assault, but it certainly enabled it. That’s not victim-blaming. It’s just being honest.
- They’d encourage college students, both men and women, to regard sex less as an itch to be scratched and more as a serious act to be reserved for committed partners. They’d acknowledge that casual sex often results in hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and remorse, particularly when fueled by alcohol, as it usually is.
When the Left calls on men to behave themselves and protect women they should be reminded that such virtues are part of what they jettisoned when they ushered in the anything-goes, women-are-just-like-men, sexual revolution, which gave us the hook-up culture, which led to the increase in campus sexual assault (both real and alleged).
A sure way to kill a tree is to take the axe to the root. If you really want to protect women, condemn the selfish, soul-depleting hook-up culture and all that goes with it.
Alex Chediak’s book Thriving at College, now in its 9th print run, 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 and Preparing Your Teens for College.