Remember Brock Turner? The man who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and got barely a slap on the wrist? As in, sentenced to six months in jail, served only three, registered as a sex offender and is now just back to his normal life? Yeah, you probably do remember him, since his trial sparked national outrage over such a heinous crime carrying such a light punishment.
It’s frustrating to see yet another rapist go under-punished when they’re punished at all. No wonder so few people who are sexually assaulted or raped want to report it. Why bother reporting if it won’t be taken seriously? Light punishments for sexual crimes indicate how we as a culture do not take sexual crimes seriously. It shows we do not appreciate the trauma experienced by survivors or respect the severity of what has happened to them. Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, and despite what he claimed was making other women uncomfortable the whole night, and basically had a crummy summer as a result. Just because he didn’t technically use violent force as California law defined it.
But no more.
California has passed a bill to ensure the punishment for all forms of rape and sexual assault matches the crime. Assembly Bill 2888 will make sure that no California court will ever give probation to anyone convicted of raping or sexually assaulting someone who was unconscious or too intoxicated to give consent.
According to District Attorney Jeff Rosen, the bill was a direct response to Brock Turner’s case, and is meant to address a flaw in the legal system that treated rape or sexual assault of an unconscious or intoxicated person as somehow less serious. The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, stated that while he is generally opposed to mandatory minimum sentences, in this case he felt it was important to make sure the same crime got the same punishment.
This is a wonderful and necessary development in the fight against rape culture. It’s exciting to see powerful California politicians taking these issues seriously, and standing up to defend survivors who are often unable to speak out for themselves like the woman in Brock Turner’s case.
But it’s also important to remember that in 2016 we still had to change a law that would punish rapists less harshly if they attacked unconscious people, since they weren’t technically using violence. In what universe does that logic make any sense? Yes, technically if you rape or assault someone who is physically unable to fight back, there will be no violence, but that obviously isn’t the point.
It has been argued that the problem in many cases like Turner’s, the problem isn’t the rapist, it’s the alcohol they were drinking. That “party culture” or “hookup culture” or whatever you want to call it is responsible for rape, and not the individual who chose to violate another human being. Supposedly if college kids stopped getting wasted and hooking up, if all women stayed sober and on guard 24/7, if people went back to more conservative or antiquated dating norms, rape and sexual assault wouldn’t happen.
But of course that’s nonsense. Really what happens in these cases is that a rapist sees an easy target, or makes an easy target for themselves. DA Rosen even pointed out that the lighter punishments for unconscious rape and sexual assault could motivate rapists to find passed out women or use date rape drugs in order to secure lesser sentencing should they get caught. We aren’t going to solve this epidemic unless we start holding rapists accountable for the full extent of their crimes and change the conversation on consent and gender roles.
Hours before Governor Brown signed the bill into law, another rape was reported at Stanford University. There isn’t a lot of public information about this new case, but the woman reported that she was raped by a man she didn’t know on the East side of Stanford University’s campus. It’s more tragic than it is poetic that another crime of the same nature was reported at Stanford that specific day, but it goes to show what a common problem rape is in this country. Hopefully, this time around, justice will truly be served.