The recent case of Brock Turner, former Stanford swim team member and now-convicted rapist, is an incredibly illustrative case, and therefore a valuable one, for anyone who is concerned about crime, justice and equity in our society. It’s an object lesson both in what rape culture actually means and the power of privilege, and an indication of how both of these issues tend to be intertwined in American society.
Turner raped an unconscious woman. He fled when he was caught by two students, indicating malice and criminal intent. Turner then fought the conviction in court. He didn’t take a plea deal. No: Turner lost his case, and forced the victim and the public to go through the time, expense and trauma of a trial.
Yet when it was time to sentence Turner, the judge, Judge Aaron Pensky gave him a measly six months in jail, with the possibility of release after three months for good behavior (which seems likely to occur). Thanks to Pensky, Turner won’t even go to prison: he will be sent to county jail.
For those of us seeking to explain what “rape culture” is to those who are skeptical of its existence, Turner’s light sentence is an ideal case study. The judge didn’t say that Turner’s victim deserved to be assaulted. The judge didn’t minimize the crime Turner was convicted of, per se. But what he did do was act like Brock Turner’s crime was far, far more minor than the crime of Patricia Spottedcrow, who sold $31 worth of weed and got a twelve year prison sentence, and James Cox, who served five years out of a fifteen year sentence for smoking marijuana to deal with his testicular cancer when Demerol would not suffice to manage the pain.
And it’s not just the judge, who chose to treat Turner’s crime (a crime that is called by its victims “soul murder” because of the damage that it does to the core of one’s identity) so lightly, but the legislative and judicial context around rape. There were no mandatory minimum sentences that constrained Pensky: no, those are only for some crimes, like the drug crimes that we use to control the poor and black.
Even the Santa Clara County Sheriffs and the Stanford Department of Public Safety protected Turner by failing to release the actual mug shot when Turner was arrested.
I have met, and spent my time trying to help and comfort, hundreds of rape victims. Whether or not they knew their assailant(s), whether or not they fully remembered their assault, whether or not they were conscious at the time of the attack, every single one of them felt ripped apart. They could no longer feel beautiful in the mirror; they could no longer trust themselves or any men they met in public.
But to Pensky, the suffering of his victim, of her family, and of the community mattered less than the fear that Brock wouldn’t survive in prison.
Judges like Pensky rarely show such consideration for black defendants who may have a mental illness, for whom prison could be a literal death sentence. People in prison routinely are thrown into perpetual solitary confinement, no matter the damage it will do to their psyche or their pre-existing conditions.
Want proof? Brian Banks.
Mr. Banks was a football star who was falsely accused of rape. He pled guilty, unlike Turner who fought to the bitter end, facing forty-one years. After being assured that he would only face probation by his attorney, he was instead sentenced to jail for six years.
Need I mention that Mr. Banks was black?
Mr. Banks and Mr. Turner both had the respect of their community as athletes. What mattered was that Mr. Banks was black and from a different socio-economic background.
Brock Turner’s light treatment is rape culture incarnate. It is emblematic of a society that would rather protect the needs and prerogatives of a privileged son than stand up for a victim. Judge Aaron Pensky was willing to look at a victim condemned to a prison of pain and tell her that the person who willfully did this to her deserved to suffer less than she did,
The only way that we will correct such injustices is if men like Aaron Pensky lose their jobs when they so drastically fail the needs of justice.
I urge all readers to show solidarity with those who have been violated by supporting the community’s demand for a recall of Judge Aaron Pensky.
This article was written by Frederic Christie, a writer for dusk magazine.