The Stanford Rape Case Exemplifies The Privilege At The Heart of Rape Culture

Brock Turner, a top swimmer at Stanford who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after a party, was sentenced to six months in county jail on Thursday. The presiding judge felt that a full sentence "would have a severe impact" on Turner, discounting the severe impact his victim described at his sentencing. This ruling sparked national outrage, which only grew after a letter Turner's father had written diminishing his son's crime and demanding probation was published.

Tl;dr, there is so, so much wrong with the Stanford rape case. While the backlash against Turner and his father has been swift and vicious, both the sentence Turner received, as well as his father's response to it, exemplify the privilege that perpetuates rape culture.

Let’s be honest here: Had this crime occurred at a different school, had Turner been a different race or from a different tax bracket, this case likely wouldn't have made national headlines in the first place. The judge’s sentence would probably have been swift and damning, too. But this white, affluent, promising collegiate athlete got six months in county jail and his father felt comfortable writing a tactless, insensitive, and downright offensive letter dismissing his son's actions as outside of his control — as part of the dangers of binge-drinking and promiscuity. He easily and thoughtlessly drew on the same gross, misogynistic, and totally false logic that justifies the idea that girls who wear short skirts deserve to be raped or that girls who walk home alone at night have it coming.

Turner's sentence and his father's defense are ultimately created and bolstered by a culture of white, male privilege. It's a culture that reiterates that group's power and authority over all others — and, therefore, their right to absolution from any wrongdoing towards others. One of the most villainous lines from Brock Turner’s father's letter particularly exemplifies this: In his aforementioned letter, Dan Turner refers to rape as "20 minutes of action" that would have a detrimental butterfly effect on the rest of his son's life.

By calling this rape "20 minutes of action," this man fails to understand that there is no designated point of time at which a rape becomes an act that violates someone's privacy, autonomy and right to their body — that that occurs the moment it starts. Moreover, he fails to understand that time itself is irrelevant: the same way it takes about thirty seconds to pull the trigger on a gun and shoot to kill, the short time it takes to rape — the “20 minutes of action” that Dan Turner is justifying and minimizing to protect his rapist son — causes irreparable damage on a level that transcends the length of time it took to commit that action. It’s not “20 minutes of action.” It’s 20 minutes that changed a woman’s life forever, that stripped her of her body, her esteem, and her mental health and stability.

This letter, this plea for sympathy, has thankfully inspired the exact opposite response. Within hours, the letter had gone viral, with tweets mocking the tone-deaf, privilege-ridden nature of the letter.

This case is about so much more than Turner himself. Perhaps Brock Turner has at some point managed to feel some sort of remorse for what he did, but he is just one person in a system that allows certain offenders — offenders who are privileged, white, collegiate athletes, for example — to avoid the fullest consequences of their horrific crimes. It's a system that stubbornly refuses to understand how pervasive rape culture in America still is — or anything about it, for that matter. It's a system that persists despite the tireless efforts of countless individuals, groups, artists, and activists — from The Hunting Ground to Emma Sulkowicz's Mattress Performance at Columbia to the efforts of KYIX.

The system is fundamentally broken. Brock Turner is living proof of that.

More articles by Category: Feminism, Misogyny, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Rape, Sexualized violence, Discrimination, Gender bias



David Guirgis
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.