What the Stanford rape case says about privilege in America

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This past week I was finally able to see the movie Straight Outta Compton. I know that it’s been out for a while now but between movie theater prices, school, graduation, time just got away from me. Anyway, as a lover of music as a whole and hip-hop specifically, I found the movie to be wonderfully done. Even Paul Giamatti surprised me. Besides thinking it was an all around good movie, it left a pretty significant impact on me. Even though I knew how terrible black people were treated (especially poor black people) in the ’80s and ’90s, actually seeing the way police officers harassed these men for no reason other than the fact that they were black, made me sick. What made me even more sick was realizing that not much has changed, even though I wanted so desperately to believe that it has. It always feels like we’ve come so far and then I realize that no, we haven’t. Which leads me to the Stanford rape case. (I’ll get to how the two are related later.)

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If you’ve been on the internet in the past few days, chances are you have seen stories about Brock Turner, the student from Stanford who was found guilty of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after leaving a frat party. Two grad students biking past noticed the woman wasn’t moving and after confronting Turner, they had to chase him and hold him down while calling the police. After seeing several sexual assault cases where the victim is repeatedly blamed for her outfit or lifestyle choices, you might have thought, “Finally, a rapist is being held accountable for what he did.” Unfortunately, the judge in the case decided to overrule the minimum two year sentence for rapists and give the student just six months because jail would just be too severe for a promising young swimmer.

In other words, jail is no place for a white athlete from a prestigious private university.

Thousands of people have taken to the internet to express their disgust and I’ve seen several petitions going around to get the judge ousted. Thanks to the impact social media can make, I do believe the life of this “promising young athlete” will be forever altered, even if he won’t be spending a significant amount of time in prison. Just today I saw that USA Swimming has banned him, meaning he can never swim in the Olympics for Team USA.

After being found guilty, this man never admitted to or apologized for his actions. Instead, he blamed the binge drinking culture of college. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never gotten drunk and felt the need to violate someone.

While there has been a ton of support for the victim whose powerful letter has been shared thousands of times, there have been two other letters that have sparked some attention. The rapist’s father said that his son’s life will never be what he worked so hard to achieve and that that is a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” I could throw up just reading that. But if you want to chalk that up to a father loving his son no matter what, fine. What about this: A character reference written by a childhood friend of Turner has also gotten some well-deserved backlash. Below is a quote taken from her letter:

“I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.”

If rape doesn’t happen because people are rapists, then why does it happen? It definitely is not because women drink or wear sexy clothes or engage in hookup culture. If you murder someone, you’re a murderer. If you rape someone, you’re a rapist. Even if you only do it once. Even if you never committed a crime before.

And to her comment on political correctness: I am the first to say this world is too sensitive. Not every comment is racist or sexist and sometimes jokes are just jokes. However, you cannot be a terrible person and then use the excuse that people are too PC.

(After a few of her band’s performances were cancelled due to her support of rape culture, this friend claims her letter was misconstrued.)

I said that Straight Outta Compton and this case have something in common. It is that white privilege in America is as real today as it was in the time that movie portrayed and in the decades prior. I recently read a story about another promising athlete, Brian Banks, who was convicted of rape in 2002 and sentenced to six years in prison. After serving five years, the accuser came forward and confessed that Banks did not actually commit the crime. His case had no evidence and yet, the court was quick to sentence him to six years, a term that makes sense for a rapist. There is concrete evidence in the Turner case, so what was the difference between this promising athlete and Turner? Well, Brian Banks is black. I obviously do not know if the judge in his case was harder on him because of his race or if he/she was simply disgusted by rape, as most people should be. But, as Banks put it: “It seems like the judge based his decision on lifestyle,” Banks said. “He’s lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious in his life that would prepare him for prison. He was sheltered so much he wouldn’t be able to survive prison. What about the kid who has nothing, he struggles to eat, struggles to get a fair education? What about the kid who has no choice who he is born to and has drug-addicted parents of a non-parent household? Where is the consideration for them when they commit a crime?”

This brought to mind another infuriating case: the affluenza teen.

Ethan Couch was driving while under the influence of alcohol when he hit and killed four people and injured nine others. The teen’s attorney used a defense of affluenza, meaning he grew up too privileged to know right from wrong. The judge agreed, sentencing him to 10 years probation. For murder. Meanwhile, a man in Louisiana is currently serving a 13-year sentence for having two joints on him. Let that sink in.

If being too rich to know right from wrong is a logical argument, is it not logical that someone can be too poor to know right from wrong? I don’t agree with either. Your class should not dictate how good of a person you are. Whether you’re rich or poor, you should know things like rape and murder are wrong.

The issue here is that it’s 2016 and white, prominent males are easily forgiven for serious crimes and black men are killed for walking down the street. As Bernard Noble, the aforementioned man from Louisiana put it, “we live in a world where people who are living in disadvantaged environments face challenges and situations that seem to never turn out as they do for people in more privileged and un-challenged neighborhoods.”

I can go on for hours about all the times the justice system got it wrong and about the issues in the Stanford case specifically, but instead I will leave it at this: We need to stop teaching girls all the things they need to do to avoid rape and instead teach men that rape is never ok. We need to teach people that the color of someone’s skin or their gender does not make them any better or any less than someone else. We need to teach people that just because you’re an athlete, it doesn’t make your life more important or your actions excusable. We need to teach people that social class does not equal worth. We are all humans; we are equal, rich or poor, female or male, black or white.

When did we stop moving forward and start moving backward?

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2 thoughts on “What the Stanford rape case says about privilege in America

  1. Hey! Stumbled here through browsing. Great read, but I just wanted to add to something you’d said. If you murder someone while drunk, you’re still a murderer. Drunk isn’t an excuse. I’ve been sick while drunk and cleaned it up because it was my fault. And you can argue that getting sick is a natural bodily reaction, but rape just isn’t.

    • Great point. I just read another article about a Vanderbilt football player who encouraged his friends to rape the girl he was dating while she was unconscious and he filmed it and he is trying to claim the same case, that drinking culture did it to him. It makes me sick.

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