What the Stanford Rape Case Reveals
For the left, it's the 'rape culture.' For the right, it's missed signals and regret. Both sides need to take off their blinders.
The phone has been ringing off the hook at Judge Aaron Persky’s chambers at the Santa Clara County court for the past several days. “Tell your judge he can go to h***, and I hope his kids get raped and he rots in h***,” said one caller. The judge and members of his family have received death threats — which seems to be the way America rolls these days. Just a suggestion: If you disapprove of something strongly, consider the words “shame,” “scandal” or “debacle.” Try not to commit a crime yourself in protesting a lenient sentence.
Judge Persky sparked outrage when he sentenced a former Stanford student, Brock Turner, to six months in county jail, registration as a sex offender, and three years’ probation after Turner was found guilty of three felonies: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman; sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person; and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person. It was a light sentence.
The case should remind us of something important: Don’t think in categories. The left slips into this all the time: Men are guilty; women are victims. The right has its own categories: Campus rape is ginned-up hysteria based on missed signals and regretted sex. Both sides need to remove their blinders.
Many on the right have noted — correctly — that the left has gone berserk on the subject of what it calls “rape culture.” According to the left’s overwrought account, 1 in 5 female college students is the victim of “sexual assault.” The solution, imposed by the Obama Justice Department and endorsed by the bien pensant, is a massive sexual adjudication bureaucracy that dispenses with centuries-old protections for the accused, like the presumption of innocence and the right to confront witnesses, while denying that women ever make false accusations. Many innocent young men have faced star chamber disciplinary proceedings (one young man was banned from certain parts of campus because he resembled a man who had raped a student).
But any insight can be ridden into the ground, and the Stanford case is a reminder that the right’s perception of what’s happening has limits, too. In my research, I have met too many students who recount rapes and sexual assaults for all of it to fit within the category of morning-after regrets. Women have been assaulted by men they’d just met, by men they thought were friends, by men who slipped drugs into their drinks and by multiple men at once. It’s not all the Duke lacrosse case and “Jackie” from the University of Virginia.
By its nature, rape is a crime that rarely generates witnesses. The Stanford case did. According to testimony at the trial, Turner was “thrusting” atop a half naked, unconscious woman near a dumpster when two young men happened to ride by on their bikes. When they shouted to Turner, he attempted to flee, but one of the men chased and tackled him. They held him until police arrived.
Turner’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit that night. He changed his story, at first claiming not to remember what happened but later (doubtless with a little prodding by attorneys) he “recalled” that the sex had been “consensual.” Turner said later he was at fault for drinking and wrong not to simply ask for her phone number. As the victim put it in her emotional statement:
I’m not mad because you didn’t ask for my number. Even if you did know me, I would not want (to) be in this situation. My own boyfriend knows me, but if he asked to [particular sexual act] behind a dumpster, I would slap him. No girl wants to be in this situation. Nobody.
Turner is a criminal, something liberals as well as conservatives should be able to agree upon. One can understand the judge taking the defendant’s age and lack of priors into account in sentencing, but to cite his drunkenness as a mitigating factor is peculiar. Oh, you were drunk when you robbed the liquor store? Reduced sentence.
Here is the truth that the left will never acknowledge — the hookup culture they celebrate and defend is the greatest petri dish for enabling rape and sexual assault imaginable. It does women no favors to tell them that the way they drink is irrelevant. It may not be a crime to get blind drunk at a bar or party — but it’s reckless. The Stanford woman’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. Again, that doesn’t make her a criminal, but who can doubt that, but for that, she would not have become a victim?
Here is what the right must come to grips with: Some of the women “crying rape” were truly raped, even if their attackers were not knife-wielding assailants jumping out from behind trees.
The anti-constitutional adjudication system erected by universities to hear sexual assault cases is a disgrace. The judicial system isn’t the whole answer either. Most cases of rape have no witnesses. They reduce to he said/she said. Those who care about innocent young people of both sexes whose lives have been blighted by the current mess need to step back. The problem is hookup culture.
Stream update: Since publication, the Stream has discovered that Brock Turner is scheduled to be released from Santa Clara County Department of Correction, according to their website, September 2, 2016 — serving half of his six-month sentence.
Mona Charen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
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