Brock Turner: How social media remedied court failures

by Soffi James

Brock Turner

Brock Turner. The name now synonymous with sexual aggression, white privilege and denying culpability. The name that the world has come together to condemn.

Brock Turner’s case sparked outrage after receiving a pitiful six month sentence for the brutal rape of a young woman on the Stanford University campus.

Six months in jail is facile. But it’s also more jail time than most rapists will ever receive. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 97 out of 100 rapists will not even see the inside of a cell for their crimes. It’s abysmal to think in comparison to this, Brock’s sentence seems like a small triumph.

Infogrpahic: Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free

Image source: rainn.org

We’ve heard the excuses: ‘it was a misunderstanding’, ‘it was a bit of fun’, or a consensual “twenty minutes of action,” as put by Turner’s father. In this context, it’s unsurprising that victims often don’t find justice. All signs point back to a culture that continues to downplay and in turn perpetuate sexual assault.

Outside the constraints of the court room, rapist Brock has simultaneously been subject to trial by social media where furious narratives have played out online.

The 23-year-old victim, referred to in this case as “Emily Doe”, released a statement detailing her harrowing attack, giving her side of the story from the moment she woke up, to the news of Brock’s paltry conviction. Her account is striking, brave and powerful and the outpouring of compassion on her behalf and fury at the system has rippled throughout the world.

Perhaps this is what struck a chord with the public, passively absorbing details of the case through the screens of devices. The victim, who by default is protected by lifetime anonymity, chose to speak out – her voice singing free. Survivor and activist Winnie M Li explains it this way:

“Like the recent Stanford victim, I found myself Googling news stories on my assault, and felt the surreal displacement of reading what complete strangers were saying publicly about something very personal which had happened to me. And yet, nowhere in any of that coverage was there a place for myself, the victim, to speak.”

The 7244-word statement has been read by thousands – bypassing expensive column inches in print and the soundbite reportage of 24/7 broadcast – published in full online. The statement deserves to be read in it’s full unabridged entirety, to allow the victim to take her space in the ether among those discussing her personal suffering.

The 7244-word victim statement has been read and shared by thousands and because of this, Brock Turner’s case has become one of the most talked about rape cases in history.

petition to recall the judge who issued the sentence has gathered more than 1 million signatures, and three top political consultants have now joined the effort. Stanford graduates also protested at the university’s graduation ceremony on Sunday.

Student protesting against campus rape at her graduation, Stanford University

Students have used their graduations to protest the apparent leniancy of Stanford university against rapist pupils. Image source: Sky news

Even US Vice President Joe Biden has written an open letter to the anonymous victim expressing his empathy: “I am filled with furious anger – both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth.

“It must have been wrenching – to relive what he did to you all over again. But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.”

Twitter user Jez Kemp repurposed the sickening letter written by Brock Turner’s father, shifting the focus from the impact the rape has had on Brock, back the victim he attacked:

Image source: Twitter

Image source: Twitter

For all the good it’s done, social platforms are by nature accessible to all and many have exercised this right to undermine and diminish Emily Doe’s voice in the debate of this case. ‘Meninists’ and rape apologists have taken to their keyboards to wield their unwavering hubris. 

Just take the Brock Turner For 2016 Olympics page, full of rape enablers sharing juvenile sexist jokes, sickening memes and misogynous hatred. The page is littered with offensive and controversial hashtags such as #STANDWITHBROCK and #RIO2016. 

And a post seemingly written from Brock himself, expressed an insidious message inciting victim blaming: “The outpouring of love and supportive emails I continue to receive is amazing and reaffirms my faith in the good people of this country. We MUST continue to teach our girls about the dangers of binge drinking and promiscuity. Keep control of yourselves and don’t dress like sluts and everything will be fine.”

Since viewing these posts, the Facebook page has been shut down. In reality, policing these people won’t stop rape from happening, education will. Free speech is a right we must fight for, even if it does give airtime to individuals who use it to spread hatred and fear. As JK Rowling expressed in a recent speech about Donald Trump:

“He has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted. His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine.”

In the Brock Turner case the internet has acted as an aide, helping to shape and inform the public where the proceedings failed. A justice was borne out of the failings of our own legal systems.

I’m moved deeply by the global chorus of voices speaking out for this anonymous woman, showing not only a compelling sense of empathy but also a deep understanding of consent and its violation.

This vile, viral story will inevitably fade into darkness, overtaken by new stories and events grappling for our attention.

And in that darkness, Brock may think about this “Emily Doe’s” generous advice to rewrite his story. “The world is huge, it is so much bigger than Palo Alto and Stanford,” she writes, “and you will make a space for yourself in it where you can be useful and happy.” In the absence of tweets, petitions and blog posts, like mine, maybe Brock can take some time to reflect.

Maybe he will realise why the voice of his victim has carried so strongly – because she’s not speaking for herself. She’s speaking for the 656/1000 girls who couldn’t report the crime. She’s using her suffering to shine as a brilliant beacon for them. Perhaps her letter will move him to admit, apologise and take action to reform himself into a role model for young men, to think twice about how “20 minutes of action” could affect someone else’s life, not theirs.

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Has ‘positive action’ to balance gender in politics worked?

 

by Jamie-Lee Cole

(l-r) Party leaders: Carwyn Jones, Andrew RT Davies and Leanne Wood

(l-r) Welsh leaders: First Minister Carwyn Jones, Conservative leader Andrew R T Davies, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams and the leader of UKIP Wales, Nathan Gill

Beyond the white noise of Westminster, the devolved forces in Wales and Scotland have been busy boosting gender equality in politics, through party policy for several years. Being Welsh, and a woman, I’m keen to find out if balancing representative politics is a matter for policy and whether formal ‘positive action’ has been effective.  

POLICY

The National Assembly for Wales became the first legislative body to achieve equal numbers of male and female representatives – the first in the world – by 2003. 

How was this possible? The 2001 Sex Discrimination (Election of Candidates) Act was a national legislation change that allowed political parties to select candidates based on gender; an attempt to balance the UK’s male-dominated political arena. 

In practice, it meant political parties could undertake a policy of ‘positive action’, allowing all-women shortlists (AWS) during elections. 

However only parties on the left seemed to best utilise this, which had a substantial effect in Wales and Scotland because the left tends to dominate in those regions. 

The effect did not snowball in Westminster due to more competition in constituencies from parties without all-women shortlists and Labour restricting its use to their ‘safe seats’ onlyIt suggests that national party representatives saw positive action as more of a risk than devolved party leaders. 

DOES THIS STRATEGY WORK?

http://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/uk-news/video/2016/may/18/neil-hamilton-leanne-wood-kirsty-williams-political-concubines-speech-video

The 2001 Act was due to expire in 2015 but the Equality Act 2010 extended all-women shortlists until 2030 – so it may appear more nationally yet. 

Thirteen years on however, positive action policy has been watered down within many of the devolved parties. Has this affected gender representation at the Senedd? 

At the time of writing, 50% of leaders of the mainstream Welsh political parties are female; showing a trust in women to deliver party policies within mainstream politics.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-08-at-19.01.48

The 2016 Senedd election saw 25 women elected as Assembly Members – just under half of seats, a backwards step. However, First Minister Carwyn Jones was rattled by the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, who stood against him and won equal support from assembly members, creating an unexpected deadlock. Despite coming to an agreement that reinstated Jones, Wood’s tenacity goes from strength-to-strength as a high-profile political character. 

Leanne Wood

Leanne Wood has been described as a force to reckoned with having single-handedly exposed excesses at the Wales Audit Office including a £750,000 payout for former CEO and was arrested in 2007 for protesting against Trident missile programme at a Scottish naval base

Wales is yet to appoint a female First Minister, but in Scotland this was achieved in 2014. The SNP powerhouse and defender of all-women shortlistsNicola Sturgeon, has now left a distinctive mark on Scottish and UK politics. 

What’s the status of gender balance across the board? In 2016, Scotland houses 60% female Members of Scottish Parliament. Wales: 41%. In comparison, 29% of national representatives in the House of Commons are currently women. 

This is standout proof that positive action achieves female attendance – the challenge is encouraging them to stand in elections. 

HAVE ATTITUDES CHANGED? 

When all-women shortlists were at their peak in the mid 2000sa small backlash saw protests on the grounds of fairness, damaging the credibility of the women elected. 

Since winning their seats, several women elected under positive action felt they had to work much harder on their reputation than their male counterparts to prove their worth. They also found their private lives focused on more intensely in the media. 

Unfortunately we’ve seen a much deeper-rooted misogyny in Welsh politics, particularly from the right, despite an increase in female representation. 

In a shocking incident, a UKIP assembly member recently made disturbing comments about Leanne Wood and Kirsty Williams during his maiden speech referring to the two party leaders as political concubines’ in Carwyn Jones’s ‘harem’. 

http://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/uk-news/video/2016/may/18/neil-hamilton-leanne-wood-kirsty-williams-political-concubines-speech-video

There are two layers of unsettling sexism to the above commentfirstly, it displays an opinion that women, even experienced politicians, have no independent agency and rely on male leadership. Secondly, the degrading language associates women with sex and submission – which would be shocking in any profession. 

In conclusion, it’s probably too soon to tell how effective the Act has beenthough I think the best indicators of its success has been the support shown for female leaders within their parties and the public. 

The results of a recent ITV opinion poll showed popularity of leaders in the UK, where women shone over male leaders like David Cameron and Carwyn Jones. 

Positive action puts women on the ground but expect a slight decline when the policy reduces in rigidity. However, exposure and results from all-women shortlists should help to balance political disparity on a deeper, more sustainable level and eventually the electorate will come to trust female politicians on their own. 

In the bigger picture, re-balancing our political culture through positive, progressive change, and not through fear, should discourage greater socio-economic inequality, such as poverty and discrimination – and who wouldn’t be in favour of a mechanism that supports that?