Outcry over the Stanford University sex assault case has hit home in New Zealand. There has been condemnation of the sentence handed down to swim-team member Brock Turner, who was jailed for six months for raping a 22-year-old woman in an alley after a party; there has been praise for the victim's articulate and emotional 7000-word statement on the assault; and there has been outrage over the father of Mr Brock defending his son's actions.
Here, the Herald presents the views of two New Zealanders who have been moved by the case - one a victim of rape, and another whose father routinely objectified women. Both authors have asked for their pieces to be published anonymously.
A rape victim's response
My ex-boyfriend's best friend raped me in the bushes at a high school party when I was very intoxicated and semi-conscious. I don't remember very much of the incident. I remember crying, waking up without my underwear, and going to the gynecologist for an operation to fix the damage he had done.
It happened six years ago, and I think about it most days.
I also think that the Stanford "rapist's" sentence isn't quite the violation of justice that so many are claiming it to be.
People across the country, and all over the Western world, are outraged by the six-month prison sentence given to Brock Turner, the young Stanford student who was convicted for sexually violating an unconscious woman at a party. I have read hundreds of comments on social media, news websites and various blogs espousing the view that the sentence given to Brock Turner is concrete evidence of a "rape culture"; of the fact that we live in a society that condones and accepts rape.
I wish to espouse the contrary. I don't deny the existence of a "rape culture"; a society in which sexual violation is not dealt with adequately. But I am of the belief that a society that demonises "rapists" in the way it has done to Mr Turner may, in fact, perpetuate this culture far more than his six-month sentence will.
So much moral panic has surfaced in the wake of this sentencing, and so much stigma has been attached to what Mr Turner has done. One only needs to look to the comments section of any article published on the matter to see hundreds of comments referring to Mr Turner as a "rapist", as "disgusting", as a "scumbag" who deserves to "rot in his cell", to be "castrated" or "drowned".
This kind of panic and stigma blinds us to the prevalence of sex offending, and prevents us from truly addressing the problem. Panic and stigma means that we don't see exactly how frequent this crime is, and we don't realise that the incredibly punitive measures that some people are demanding, are untenable, in the light of its incidence, and undesirable, in terms of the longer-term, and wider impacts of these sentences.
Statistics have shown, time and time again, that rape is far more frequently committed by an acquaintance, a family member, or an intimate partner than it is by the paradigmatic "stranger in a dark alleyway".
The more that society typifies perpetrators as "evil", and as deserving vengeance and vitriol, the harder we find it to report what these people have done to us. They may, after all, be someone we love, someone we work with, or someone we know. We may not feel as though we can report it to police, or we may not feel that we want to report it to police, for fear of social or familial shame or humiliation. We may find that, in spite of what they have done, we still love them. Or, based on society's portrait of the "evil rapist" who deserves nothing other than to rot in jail, we may not even be able to acknowledge that what they have done really constitutes "rape".
Not only does rape happen within these contexts, it happens a lot. It is also estimated that one in five women in New Zealand experience some form of serious sexual assault during their adult life.
That means there's an awful lot of men out there who have over-stepped the boundaries of consent, at one stage or another, to varying degrees.
If we want to address the problem, we can't keep demonising this behaviour. We have to accept that this is something that happens in society, and that it happens far more often than we care to acknowledge. We also have to accept that it is not something that will be solved by vitriolic hate-commenting, or sex registers, or harsher punishments. We know that prison is ultimately criminogenic, and we know that harsher penalties may deter offenders from accepting their guilt and discourage victims from reporting.
What we need is pro-social, pro-active acknowledgment, management and prevention. Young men need to be taught not only about consent but about how to manage and control their impulses. Rape happens, and it happens a lot. Before we can address it, we need to accept it as an element of the human condition, and something that could ultimately happen to, or by, any one of us.
The offence of sexual violation in New Zealand is second only in its seriousness to murder, and those who do get convicted receive the longest sentences of any kind of offender (other than those convicted of murder). Brock Turner's sentence may not have been high enough, and it was certainly an aberration from ordinary sentencing laws. But that's not the point. The point is that there are many Brock Turners in our country, and in our world, and we won't solve this problem by treating every single one of them as evil social aberrations who deserve to be locked away forever more.
Very few of these Brock Turners are receiving any sort of reprimand at present, due to the incredibly low rates of reporting, prosecution, and guilty verdicts in rape cases. Although these statistics have been attributable to a number of factors (including police practices, the harrowing trial process and various evidential difficulties in proving the offence), I can't help but consider there to be a clear nexus between the incredibly harsh penalties that society demands, the context in which the offending is most likely to occur, and these huge problems with our criminal justice system.
Rape is an intensely violating experience, and I do not, for one moment, wish to minimise the magnitude of harm that can flow from its occurrence, nor argue against its intrinsic wrongness (and the importance of punishment). But I do wish to stress that demanding "justice" and demonising offenders in the way that we have will not help us to address the immense social problem we have on our hands.
An open letter to Brock Turner's father
I was raised in a family where I often watched my father "joke" with my brother about the attractive women on television, or the girl walking down the street, call them names like "sugar" and "sweet ladies"; make comments about their bodies and what they were wearing. But the idea of myself or my sister verbalising such commentary on the opposite sex was a forbidden crime in my youth.
Joking about pretty girls is common in our culture. Every movie, television series and advertisement -- often created, written and directed by men -- is subconsciously drilling one message in our minds: how to get a girl in bed. Perhaps you joked with your son about that too, Mr Turner.
I have spent most of yesterday reading about your son Brock Turner's case, and to me, it is de ja vu of yet another convicted rapist being told an encrypted message by the judicial system: yeah you screwed up, but hey, it's not so bad.
Perhaps the biggest de ja vu came from our very own Roast Busters case a few years back, right here in New Zealand. I was in university when charges were dropped on two 15-year-old boys who video-blogged bragging on Facebook about how they raped intoxicated teenage girls. Although I was a psychology student, I had friends in law school who often engaged in a debate about the "harsh punishment" the Roast Busters now face by society, and how "unfair" it is that two young teenage boys were given such harsh public backlash for a "drunken mistake". A law student had the audacity to say, "they can't even walk into a restaurant without being yelled out by the public". He shook his head: "It pi**es me off." Drunken mistake, you say. Sound familiar Mr Turner?
Well, if you're pi**ed off, sir, wait until you hear how I feel about this. You defended your son's criminal actions, which brings me straight to my question: what exactly did you teach your son about treating women?
The idea that a man, at any age, can use alcohol as an excuse to violate a woman is the collective outcome of how we socially fail to teach young men about respect. As a teenager, I witnessed several of my girlfriends' fathers tell them that what they're wearing was too promiscuous, that "good girls" don't do that, "good girls" don't dress that way, "good girls" don't drink too much, and that "good girls" don't have sex. This "good girl" notion was placed under one dominant message in my youth -- girls need to have self respect. How about teaching your sons about self respect? To me, the failure to equally teach your daughters and sons about respect epitomises the failure of parenting your children equally. You, Mr Turner, are one of them. Your statement summarised your son's sexual assault as "20 minutes of action". You further criticised the judicial system by saying it was a "steep price to pay" for what Brock did in that moment compared to the 20-odd years of his life. Let me enlighten you, sir: when your son touches another woman without her consent, intoxicated or sober, he will be judged on that moment onward. Whether it be 20 minutes or 20 seconds, your son committed a crime, and whether he be your average child or Stanford's top scholar, your son violated another woman. He is no longer a diligent Stanford student. He is a criminal. You don't get to defend his actions. You don't get to bring sexual assault down to a mere "20 minutes of action". You don't get to be the judge.
Of course Judge Aaron Persky should sit in the naughty corner right next to you. He is yet another example of how our cultural fails to destroy rape culture. To those of you who think it's a myth, it's here, it exists, and it's real. The judge is a prime example of how he cared more about the future of your son than the future of the victim. His light sentencing of Brock seriously makes me question whether this kind of behaviour is a common occurrence on campus? Is Persky sympathising with the convict?
He stated that prison would "have a severe impact" on Brock. What about the severe impact on her? And her family? What about the impact this sentencing has on young impressionable men, and the poor message it sends out about rape being a forgivable crime? Is this a message a judge should be sending to society? That rape has a lower penalty than robbery? On good behaviour, Brock may be out of jail within three months, while his victim faces her own sentence: a lifetime of trauma. This isn't a "steep price", Mr Turner. This is an offensively low sentence for someone who took part in ruining a young woman's life. And here's another question: what if the victim was your own daughter?
It's a shame that the loudest voices in a rape case have been those of men; the judge, the defence attorney, the perpetrator, you. But that changed when the victim released a brave statement with all of the gruesome details: the aftermath of the rape, and how violated she was not just by your son, but by medical professionals, police, lawyers. I hope you read every word, and it filled your body with utter guilt with the realisation that you raised a rapist. If you read that and thought your son's "actions" are justified, then you belong in jail right next to him.