Before Brock Turner’s trial, I didn’t really understand rape culture. I knew there was a dire need to change the way we approach and teach consent. I also knew that our judicial system is in dire need of reform, but I wasn’t quite sold on the fact that we, as a society, seem to sweep sexual assault under the rug.
However, when I wrote an article about my mixed feelings after Carleen Turner physically shielded her son from photographers while he registered as a sex offender, I was surprised by one particular response I got from several friends.
I expected some to agree, and some to disagree with my perspective on the heart of a mother and how it might be natural (though not necessarily appropriate) to want to shield your child from the harsh consequences of their actions.
I didn’t expect so many Facebook comments and text messages from my friends on the day that it was published that said things like this:
“The same thing happened to me. I got drunk and blacked out and I was raped. I barely remember what happened.”
“I was sexually attacked when I was in college.”
“I was also sexually assaulted in college and I don’t think the penalties are harsh enough.”
“He wasn’t a stranger that attacked me out of nowhere. I didn’t know it was rape until I read the letter that Brock Turner’s victim wrote.”
Throughout that day and the days that followed, I exchanged messages and shed tears with some friends I knew very well, and some I hadn’t spoken to in years. I’m glad that they felt comfortable, unashamed, and justified in speaking out and sharing with me, but the sad truth is that I should not have been surprised that so many women that I know have experienced sexual violence. If you take a look at statistics on sexual assault, unfortunately, it makes sense.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women are raped at some point in their lives. Until recently, I’ve never taken the time to really mull over this statistic. It’s uncomfortable to put the term “sexual assault” with a face you know and love. Take a look at the women around you the next time you’re at a social gathering, a special event, or anywhere out in public. Think of how many women you see and realize that one fifth of them have endured this type of trauma. Think of the little girls you know– which one will grow up to fit this statistic? Which one of them already does?
These statistics are far too high for us to point fingers of blame on the Carleen Turners of the world. Upbringing and childhood are not the sole determining factors of a person’s capability to choose between right and wrong. We’ve all heard about crimes committed where the response of the perpetrator’s friends, family, and colleagues is that of shock and disbelief. This begs the question: if one in five women are raped in their lifetimes, what are the statistics on perpetrators? How many perpetrators walk among us if twenty percent of my female friends have been sexually assaulted and 63 percent of these crimes are not reported to police?
Who are they? Are they all repeat offenders? There is no evidence that suggests that every person who is accused of rape is a product of a coddled childhood. After reading about and thinking about Carleen Turner’s actions, I realized that Brock Turner’s choices had very little to do with the mistakes his mother might have made while raising him. I couldn’t seem to shake this thought:
If so many people are victims of sexual assault, this means there are so many people who are committing this crime. There are SO MANY people walking among us who have raped or sexually violated someone.
Because so many assaults go unreported, these rapists don’t even get three months in jail. They don’t have to register as a sex offender. Their parents aren’t scrutinized over what they failed to teach, or how hard they try to defend their actions, because no one even called the police. We stand in fiery-hot harsh judgement of Brock Turner and voice our outrage and disgust for how small his punishment is in comparison to his crime. We cry out for his victim and abhor the fact that she must live with this trauma for the rest of her life. We mull over the letters his parents wrote to the judge and cite that the reasons a young man like him would commit such a crime are clear and obvious since his parents seem to defend and deny his actions! We want the Brock Turners of the world to stand trial, to get lengthy jail sentences, to suffer just punishment for their crimes.
But what about the people who raped my friends and got away with it? They get to live among us. They are not psychotic strangers lurking in dark alleys. These rapists shop in our grocery stores and teach at our children’s schools. They sit with us at church and they live in our neighborhoods. Some were never confronted. Some denied or minimized what they did. Some justified their actions. Of the friends that told me about their experiences, some reported their assault, but none went to trial.
Saying that victims need to go to the police more often is not enough. Saying we should “teach our boys to be respectful” is not enough. Proclaiming that our peers, friends, children, loved ones would NEVER do such a thing because they’re “good people” is not enough. The statistics aren’t lying to us. They’re a blatant display of a culture that doesn’t want to get uncomfortable and talk about sex, sexual violence and consent with young people. If nearly two thirds of all sexual assaults go unreported, that means there’s something wrong with how victims perceive what happened to them. How can we erase their shame and replace it with with the kind of bravery shown by Turner’s victim, who inspired so many others to speak out? If only 20 percent of sexual assaults are committed by complete strangers, this means we dwell among people who have committed some form of sexual violence and gotten away with it.
It’s time to make some big changes.
What will you do to make sure your child is neither a victim or perpetrator?
If you have been sexually assaulted and need help, please reach out. You can live chat at Rainn.org or call 800-656-HOPE.