We Don’t Know All The Details, But We Know Enough

Rape Culture is the real culprit in Stanford case

by Lauren Landau

You couldn’t ask for a more clear-cut example of the intersection of rape culture and privilege, not that anyone would ever ask for this.

On January 17th, 2015, a young woman agreed to a night out with her younger sister. The college graduate knew she’d be the oldest one at the frat party, but figured she’d cut loose and have a good time. She threw on a cardigan and headed to the party, where she let herself be silly, have fun, and drink. 

Plenty of people can recall a time when they drank too much or too fast, or both. Usually, that experience ends with a headache and perhaps some embarrassment. In this case, it ended with a hospital visit and confusion that soon turned to horror. At some point during the evening, the intoxicated young woman became separated from her sister. When a Stanford freshman spotted her, he saw an opportunity.

By now, most of us know the story and its awful details. “Jane Doe’s” victim impact statement is powerful, and it’s been read by millions of people since BuzzFeed News printed the full, 12 page document on its website earlier this month. Shared on social media and covered by national and international press, the letter initially addresses Judge Aaron Persky, but the majority of it is directed at her rapist, Brock Turner. 

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” Jane Doe writes. It’s a gripping introduction to the saga that’s been the last year of her life. She bravely shares the few details she knows and describes how the assault caused her to leave her job, lose weight, and has led to outbursts against family and friends. Notably, she calls out Turner for failing to take responsibility for his actions. 

She also thanks the two Swedish students who were passing by on their bicycles when they saw someone moving in the darkness over a motionless figure. When they approached and asked what he was doing, the young man ran away. 

Brock Turner would later claim that the unconscious woman he was humping in the dark had agreed to be undressed and digitally penetrated behind a dumpster. He would later claim that she liked it. He would later blame “college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.” 

We don’t know everything about what happened that night, but we do know that campus drinking culture isn’t the culprit here. Judge Persky isn’t either, though as a former sex crime prosecutor with a self-declared focus on “sexually violent predators,” he should know better.

What happened to Jane Doe, both on the night of her attack and during the months following, is the stuff of nightmares. Her attacker’s wrist slap of a sentence is just cause for anger. It highlights white, class, male, and athlete privilege. We as a society are right to be disgusted and angry, but let’s take a moment to channel that anger at the rapists whose names we don’t know. 

Turner’s sentence is a joke, but unlike the 97 percent of rapists who go unpunished, he still received one. The punishment is insufficient, and despite the administration’s best efforts in culture changing programs and our Vice President’s passionate efforts at awareness raising, so is our society’s general response to sexual assault. 

Women deserve better than seeing their rapists walk free. We deserve better than subjecting ourselves to a rape kit collection, only to have it gather dust with the thousands of other untested kits. We deserve better than a society that blames us for our assault while defending the men who attack us. Athletes shouldn’t get a free pass, and neither should white men, members of the upper class, or first-time offenders.

Brock Turner should recognize and acknowledge that responsibility for his crime rests squarely on his shoulders. If he wants to also raise awareness for any problematic societal trends, drinking culture should not be his focus.

We, as a society, must look in the mirror at the culture that blurs the lines of consent, trivializes rape, and blames victims. This culture doesn't excuse sexual assault, but it does allow those like Turner to go unchecked. Through effective education, conversation, and legislation, we can change that culture. Our country is beginning to grasp the vital importance of combating campus assault, but we need to do more and we must start sooner. We need parents to talk to their teens about consent, not equate rape to “20 minutes of action.” 

To quote Graham Nash, “teach your children well.” Every society needs a code to live by. Isn’t it time we re-wrote ours?