by Soffi James
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.
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.
A 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.
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:
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.