Monday, 20 June 2016

Brock Turner Case: Why It Won't Go Away

Brock Turner
I thought the Brock Turner case was dead and buried with a bit of hysterics at the wake, but I was wrong. His six-month sentence is but the beginning of an unfolding nightmare in which the black hole of rape culture is sucking people in, chewing them up, and leaving their reputations crunched to rubble. So far this iteration has claimed a band and a judge, with lawyer and blogger Andrew White getting a hammering on the Mimesis Law blog for trying to call the mob off of Judge Aaron Persky.

What's going on and why won't this just quietly fade away?

I can think of three reasons why the Turner case is rumbling on:

  1. Anti-rape activism
  2. Anger has reached critical mass
  3. People want to bash the boogeyman

1. Anti-rape activism

Remember my earlier post about violence being a Patriarchal thing, the idea being to "correct" non-conformist behaviour and attitudes? Well it turns out that sooner or later the people on the receiving end get fed up of wondering if today's the day the rapey guy comes to visit.* That constant buzz at the outer edge of your consciousness where you can just about feel the fingers of fear brushing the hairs on the back of your neck is a horrible thing to live with and people have finally had enough. A sustained campaign of activism to raise awareness of the suffering of victims has resulted in a public debate over how to deal with reports of rape and how to treat the people involved.

Victim support

Victim support has greatly improved since the bad old days when women were accused of lying unless they were either dead or badly beaten. I know of two cases where a black woman showed up at a police station with her clothes torn and muddy, trying to report being raped, only to be turned away because the police thought they'd had an argument with their boyfriends. One incident was in Kidderminster, near Birmingham, England, and the other was in Islington. Both involved multiple offenders. This was many years ago. I've also heard from a policewoman how she works to help victims of "roofie" attacks where the victim has had a drug slipped into her drink to make it easier to rape her. We've come a long way from the bad old days but there's more work to be done. It doesn't help that not all victims act as expected and many cases are hard to prove.

2. Anger has reached critical mass

On the flip side of the growing goodwill and understanding towards victims of rape and sexual abuse we have an increasing desire to punish the people responsible for hurting them in case they decide that one of us is a "legitimate" target.

People are becoming more proactive

This anger is making people proactive: at a restaurant called Fig in Santa Monica, California, one of a trio of women noticed something amiss with a fellow diner and reported him to management. He's been arrested and is facing trial. Bystander intervention courses are being increasingly adopted as a rape prevention measure and it's seeing some success. Of course, stories like these tend to encourage and empower people to "do something" when they see something that doesn't look right to them, whether it be reporting the situation to authority figures or attempting to distract a potential abuser.

3. People want to bash the boogeyman

The only way I know of breaking the paralysis of fear is to get angry. As I've said, we're all getting sick and tired of the barely-there sound of the footsteps of fear echoing at the back of our consciousness, so for many of us it's time to kick ass and take names. It's the way we're going about this that's caught my attention.

They're shaming everyone involved

What people often don't seem to understand is that it's normal, right, and good to stand by your family and friends and to try to protect them. It's entirely reasonable to support them. Put it this way: if Brock's dad had emerged from the courtroom dragging Brock by the scruff of the neck and thrown him down the steps, saying, "Help yourselves, people, he's no son of mine," what would you have thought of him?

If his family and all his friends had written to the judge saying, "You can hang the toerag for all we care," would you have invited any of them to dinner?

What if they'd said nothing at all in support of him. What then? Would that make them suitable tennis partners? Of course not.

While Brock's dad made a tone-deaf plea to the judge on his son's behalf, the overall sentiment was "My son wouldn't do tha-a-at. And if he did, it can't have been that bad." It may have been outrageous but it's what a loving father does. For that, he and his entire family and friends and all their associates are getting an almighty hammering on the internet. Their reputations have been shot to hell.

Coercive shaming

The point of shaming is to apply force to make people change their attitudes and behaviour. The shaming of Judge Persky has been so intense, jurors refused to serve on a case he was to preside over. He's been pulled off a similar case. He's being threatened with recall (whether that proves to be effective or not is another matter) and is vulnerable since he's up for reelection this year.

Leslie Rasmussen's band Good English has had gigs cancelled because of her support for Brock. She has also been absolutely vilified for statements along the lines of "Well this stuff happens at parties where people get drunk."

Brock's parents have taken a bashing for dad Dan's statement in support of his son. While he's tried to walk it back it seems he's unable to fully accept the enormity of what Brock did on that fateful night.

Personally, I doubt that beating people into conformity will change their attitudes. What it actually does is drive them underground. If, however, the idea is to rob the perpetrator of public support, job done. It's actually very hard to stand up in support of a rapist in case you get tarred with the "enabler" brush.

Trolling to destroy credibility

Per the report Dan and Carleen Turner have been soliciting funds to help pay for the legal fees racked up by defending their son. The page has since been taken down, presumably because they received abusive responses. That's not the worst of it, though: a troll page purporting to be about the family contesting the case against their son, replete with conspiracy theories, libelous statements and pleas for support, has been set up on Facebook. The comments range from damn rude to outright abuse as people chuck rocks at this effigy of Turner's family. He will be in prison for three months. The page takes the information presented in news reports and reposts it as if it's something the family has learned. There's actually a campaign page to close it down.

This is a disturbing development. When a family member commits a crime you're presented with a choice: chuck Johnny under the bus or stand with him no matter what. It's not wrong to want to stand with your family member; I'd want mine to stand with me if I needed them. Brock's reputation is shot to hell, he'll be paying for this for the rest of his life because the internet will see to that. That people take pleasure in torturing the family and insist that everyone who doesn't stick pins in a Voodoo doll of Brock is taking sides with him seems very wrong to me.


Quite frankly I think Judge Persky should have recused himself citing personal bias as a Stanford alumnus. He took Brock at his word. The victim, not so much. But why? I'd say the answer is "Stanford." As we say in my native Ireland, "aithníonn ciaróg ciaróg eile," i.e. one beetle knows another beetle. That should have automatically disqualified him. Well since it didn't, the internet has taken it upon itself to deal out the justice it felt that the victim was denied. It's my personal opinion that a three-to-five year sentence would have done the job. Brock could have continued his studies in prison and got out in half the time. Best of all, he would have been able to resume his life and his family and associates wouldn't be going through this firestorm of opprobrium.

Brock embodies rape culture

Brock Turner isn't an exceptionally bad person, nor is is crime egregiously evil. He, his family, and everyone who appears to support him are taking flack because he embodies rape culture. He's the golden boy with his whole life ahead of him which shouldn't be disrupted overmuch just because he spent twenty minutes doing something inadvisable with some drunk girl. That this kind of thinking even needs to be debated shows we have still got a long way to go before we can say we've dismantled rape culture. And it does need to be dismantled, one trope at a time.

Let's lay off his family, friends, and associates

The desire to rag on people who appear to be supportive of people who behave badly, particularly where the victimisation of others is concerned, is understandable, but we're not going to change hearts and minds by adopting a mob mentality. Challenge the attitude, not the individual. I understand these people have been receiving death threats, etc. That's not okay. As I said already it's good and right to stand by your family and friends, there's nothing wrong with that. We do, however, need to challenge wrong attitudes and behaviour in a way that addresses them effectively. Punishing people just because they stand with people we're annoyed with doesn't balance the books. If we really want to see justice done let's be doing more to promote the kind of bystander intervention that prevented Brock from going further with his sexual assault against his unnamed victim.

*Yes, I did sing that to the tune of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic."

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