The United States Justice Department defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual conduct or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This seems like a fairly straightforward definition, and because it’s labelled as illegal, it should be easy to confirm occurrences.
But it’s not.
Sex is an interesting topic, in part because it’s so taboo. That feeling of the forbidden has crossed our cultural lines and invaded our justice system as well. The way assault and rape cases are treated in the US are heavily dependent on the individuals dealing with them. Some of the more shocking cases make the news, such as the infamous Brock Turner case, Bill Cosby, or even President Donald Trump.
However, the one prevailing facet of all of those cases seems to be the same: the victim faces the harsh reality of their abuser or rapist getting away with it. Many times, even if the abuser is sentenced, the punishment feels unbelievably light.
The United States has a serious problem with white male privilege – and this is especially prevalent when it comes to some of the most famous cases in recent years.
Case Study 1: The Notorious Brock Turner
Everyone’s heard about this case. It was the one where the media thought it was relevant to print Turner’s swimming scores next to the story about how he tried to rape someone.
Turner was, at the time, accused of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape an unconscious victim after a college party. For unknown reasons, the fact that he was a swimmer at Stanford was also a notable facet of the story. This betrays something insidious in our culture – that the perpetrator of a crime still has value to society, and therefore his crime is forgivable. Turner’s parents also made headlines when they wrote a letter to the judge, asking for a light sentence.
Turner, in his statements, blamed alcohol and promiscuity for his own actions. In other words, Turner, nor his family, ever felt the need to accept any kind of responsibility. It couldn’t be his fault because he was a good kid otherwise.
To top it off, Turner served 3 months of jail time, after being convicted of 3 charges of rape. He should have been in jail for years, not weeks. Meanwhile, the victim will deal with the repercussions for the rest of her life.
Case Study 2: Austin Wilkerson, Part-Time Inmate, and Student
A less heard-of case, Wilkerson was a male student from the University of Colorado who assaulted and raped a fellow college student. She drank too much at a party, Wilkerson told her and friends that he would help her, and then he raped her as she drifted in and out of consciousness.
He should have faced a minimum of 4 years in jail for this crime, but instead, he might only have to stay in jail on some weekends, as long as he isn’t working. Instead of being sentenced for jail the way most people are, Wilkerson will be on a jail time, work-release program.
Keep in mind that this man actually raped someone. He is facing almost no consequences for it. He will have to spend the night in an uncomfortable place and register as a sex offender. Meanwhile, his victim will, again, deal with the repercussions for the rest of her life.
Case Study 3: Donald Trump, President of the Freaking USA
Of all the people that could be on this list, and there are quite a few, there is no way to ignore the current President of the United States. A man accused of rape and sexual assault, and who was caught on video talking about sexual assault, has ascended to the highest position of power in our country.
Think about that.
Brock Turner was “just a kid”. Bill Cosby was “a troubled star with too much money and not enough discipline”. What did Trump have? What excuse could he possibly come up with to combat a video of himself where he stated that he would “grab ‘em by the p*ssy”? You would think that he’d have to prove that it was a fake video in order to get elected President, but he didn’t.
It simply didn’t matter that he had said that. It didn’t matter that numerous women had accused him of assault or that his former wife had testified in court that he had raped her (a statement she has since retracted). The outrage over his remarks, the alleged sexual assaults, and the rape absolutely should have been enough to prevent him from winning the Presidency.
Yeah, so? Think you’ve heard all this before?
I don’t care if you’ve heard this before – it must be said again. And again. Because honestly, things are only getting worse.
Take the recent Tennessee case in which a 15-year-old girl was kidnapped by her high school teacher, a Mr. Tad Cummins. Tennessee’s kidnapping law is incredibly loose in regards to girls that age. Why is this? Unfortunately, it’s possible that Cummins could be found not guilty if his victim, Elizabeth, says she left with him of her own accord.
Our culture has clearly done so little to make young people, both women and men alike, understand that these actions are not defensible or acceptable. Sexual assault can leave lasting emotional trauma that can even remain dormant until later in life. Yet, sexual assault and abuse cases oftentimes do not make it very far, and there is very little closure or comfort for the victim.
If anything, sexual abuse lawsuits should be heavier in cases like this one. It can’t change what happened, but imposing consequences on a criminal might at least spare others the pain of experiencing the same trauma. Our courts need to be taking these cases much more seriously than they currently do.
However, the best outcome that we can strive for is to stop sexual abuse and assault before it happens. We need to be talking to children so that we can raise a generation that advocates for sexual safety and respect. There’s still so much we need to do as a society, and we can start by shifting the focus of a crime away from the perpetrator’s consequences and towards looking at the consequences for the victim.
Check out The Tempest’s ongoing coverage on sexual assault nationwide and across the world.