T Nation

Brock Turner and Rape in General

I’m putting this here rather than PWI because I think more of TNation’s few women read and post here, and I’m curious as to whether the responses to this case will divide along gender lines. Did the drinking, on either of their parts, excuse in any way what happened? For the record I think not, and am outraged and disgusted.

I just wonder what everyone thinks. My Facebook feed is full of this guy, but maybe that’s the company I keep? Is everyone seeing this guy everywhere?

By “excuse” do you mean he’s less culpable because he was drinking and/or she contributed to her own rape because she blacked out?

I think in both cases the answer is no.

Regarding sentencing, I like this article by Ken White:

Brock Allen Turner: The Sort of Defendant Who Is Spared “Severe Impact”

June 8, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Ten years ago my firm represented a kid on a minor drug charge. This kid played an instrument – for the sake of this story, let’s call it a xylophone. He approached the xylophone like he approached geometry, by which I mean he often showed up for it and probably wouldn’t fail it. But by the time we were done writing about that kid in the sentencing briefs, he was the most xylophone-playing motherfucker ever to walk the Earth. He was the YoYo Ma of xylophones, someone whose skills would make angels weep and the doors of fame and success slam open.

We didn’t do that because people who play xylophones are less criminally culpable than people who don’t. We did it because a defense attorney’s challenge is to humanize their client at sentencing. Judges process dozens of defendants a month, or a week, or even a day. If judges confronted the defendants’ individual humanity as they caged them one after another, they’d go quite mad. It’s impossible and inadvisable.

The trick is to light a spark that catches the judge’s eye, that transforms your client even momentarily from an abstraction or a statistic or a stereotype into a human being with whom the judge feels a connection. Judges are people, and people connect with each other through commonalities – family, hobbies, sports, music, and so forth. At sentencing, a good advocate helps the judge to see the defendant as someone fundamentally like the judge, with whom the judge can relate. It’s harder to send a man into a merciless hole when you relate to him.

Empathy is a blessing. But empathy’s not even-handed. It’s idiosyncratic. Judges empathize with defendants who share their life experiences – and only a narrow and privileged slice of America shares the life experiences of a judge.

That’s one reason that justice in America looks the way it does.

Last week Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Allen Turner to six months in jail. Turner will probably do half of that – about the length of a single quarter at Stanford University, where he was a student. Most people think that was an appallingly and unjustly lenient sentence for what Turner did: brutally sexually assaulting a drunk, unconscious young woman behind a dumpster outside a party.

Judge Persky clearly empathized with Brock Allen Turner. Turner was a championship swimmer and a Stanford student; Judge Persky was a Stanford student and the captain of the lacrosse team. Judge Persky said that sending Turner to prison would have a “severe impact” on him, that he did not believe that he would be a danger to others, and that he was young. Turner’s victim was not spared a severe impact, despite her youth and lack of criminal record. Her statement was harrowing. Her sentence is lifelong.

Judge Persky’s empathy fell so far into tribalism that he rendered good defense attorney practice irrelevant. Dan Turner, the defendant’s father, offered excuses to the court that were frankly repulsive; he suggested that Turner work to warn students about the dangers of “promiscuity” and characterized the attack as “20 minutes of action.” Turner’s friend, Leslie Rasmussen, indulged in loathsome victim-blaming, suggesting that a Stanford athlete thrusting his hand into your vagina as you sprawl passed out in an alley is the predictable and somewhat justifiable consequence of drinking, and that to pretend otherwise is an example of “PC culture.” Under normal circumstances such letters would be potentially catastrophic for the defense, which is why careful attorneys take pains to prevent them from reaching and enraging the judge. But Judge Persky’s empathy required no caution or moderation.

Despite what Hollywood would lead you to believe, we criminal defense attorneys do not advocate lenient sentences for all wrongdoers as a matter of policy. Many of our clients are frequently victims of crime themselves, and their lives are circumscribed by criminal environments. We don’t believe, in the abstract, that people who tear the clothes off of young women and violate them in the dirt next to a dumpster should go free. Our role is to stand beside our clients, no matter who they are or what they did, and be their advocates, the one person required to plead their case and argue their interests.

This is the closest our society comes to grace or humility. It’s grace because we give this support to defendants whether they deserve it by any objective measure, and it’s humility because we know the system is so capable of grave error in accusing and punishing. So we stand up and talk about our clients’ xylophones. We don’t worry about whether it would be good for society if our arguments win the day, because that’s supposed to be the judge’s role.

Here’s the problem: the judges are human, and they’re humans who have enjoyed enough good fortune to become judges. The quality of their mercy is strained through their life experiences, which don’t resemble the life experiences of most of the defendants before them.

Judge Aaron Persky empathized with Brock Allen Turner and could easily imagine what it would be like to lose sports fame (as Persky enjoyed), to lose a Sanford education (as Persky enjoyed), to lose the sort of easy success and high regard that a young, reasonably affluent Stanford graduate (like Persky was) can expect as a matter of right. Judge Persky could easily imagine how dramatically different a state prison is from Stanford frat parties, and how calamitous was Turner’s fall. That’s how Judge Persky convinced himself to hand such a ludicrously light sentence for such a grotesque violation of another human being.

But most people fed into the criminal justice system aren’t champion athletes with Stanford scholarships. Most aren’t even high school graduates. Most are people who have lived lives that are alien and inscrutable to someone successful enough to become a judge. Judges might be able to empathize with having to quit their beloved college, but how many can empathize with a defendant who lost a minimum-wage job because they couldn’t make bail? How many can empathize with someone more likely to sleep by a dumpster than exit a frat party next to one? They can conceive of the humiliation of being on the sex offender registry after getting into an elite university, but can they conceive of the humiliation of being stopped, frisked, detained, and beaten with impunity because of the color of their skin? Experience teaches that the answer is usually no.

This means that the system is generally friendly to defendants who look like Brock Allen Turner and generally indifferent or cruel to people who don’t look like him. No high school dropout who rapes an unconscious girl behind a dumpster is getting six months in jail and a solicitous speech from the likes of Judge Persky. Judges take their youth as a sign that they are “superpredators,” not as grounds for leniency. If you tell a judge that they aren’t a danger to others, the judge will peer over his or her glasses and remark that people who rape unconscious girls in the dirt are self-evidently dangerous, and don’t be ridiculous. Judges don’t think that a good state prison stretch will have too severe an impact – after all, what are they missing, really?

So you won’t find defense lawyers like me cheering Brock Turner’s escape from appropriate consequences. We see it as a grim reminder of the brokenness of the system. We recognize it as what makes the system impossible for many of our clients to trust or respect. And we know that when there’s a backlash against mercy and lenient sentences – when cases like this or the “affluenza” kid inspire public appetite for longer sentences – it’s not the rich who pay the price. It’s the ones who never saw much mercy to begin with.

There are two ways to see good fortune and bad fortune. You can say “someone who has enjoyed good fortune should be held to a higher standard, and someone who has suffered bad fortune should be treated with more compassion.” But America’s courts are more likely to say “someone who has enjoyed good fortune has more to lose, and someone who has suffered bad fortune can’t expect any better.”

Judge Persky and his ilk can’t stop being human. But they are bound by oath to try to be fair. When a judge says you are very fortunate and therefore it would be too cruel to interrupt that good fortune just because you committed a crime, they are not being fair. For shame.


Excellent article. It speaks to a lot of things that are hard to stomach.

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I haven’t even heard of this story. Granted, I’m a bit of a hermit. I’m curious, is your FB feed full of people supporting the short sentence or supporting this dirtbag at all? I think the overwhelming majority of people, both genders, would consider the taking advantage of an unconscious person in this way a reprehensible act that would only be committed by an evil person who should be put away. I really don’t think there’s rehabilitation for this type of person.

The light sentence makes me suspicious of this judge. Maybe the judge and the dirtbag are of the same ilk.

Dr. P’s article does a good job explaining the judge. My FB feed is all outrage, with the intent of spreading the rapist’s face and info along with calling for the judge’s head. Social media seeks to make them both pariahs, and is doing so pretty effectively, I think.

I haven’t forwarded or shared Turner’s photo and information because I get all anxious about being a part of the utter ruination of someone’s life (what if he suicides?) but at the same time I’m glad he’s not going to get away with this in obscurity so he can live his happy, consequence-less life.

Do sociopaths like that commit suicide?

Even if he did commit suicide I don’t think anyone should sweat it over something they said in social media. A person who is both so desperate they resort to such depravity and they are that predatory in their nature, that’s the type of person society doesn’t need.

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I know. I have mixed feelings. Obviously I’m more comfortable with others doing my dirty work. Which isn’t very courageous of me.

As for his sociopathy, who knows? Maybe that’s how he was raised to think. Maybe his father, Mr. “20 minutes of action” poisoned him.

I actually think people are reading too much into the father’s “20 minutes of action” statement. I don’t think he meant “action” in the context of get’n some. I think he meant it to come across as ‘activity’, in other words “a mistake my son made in 20 minutes of his whole life”. At least that’s how I hope he meant it.

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Oh, that’s absolutely how I interpret it! “He spent twenty minutes making this mistake, and shouldn’t have to pay for a lifetime.” However, something in his life made this guy think that revolting behavior was okay.

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I don’t know the case in its entirety, but from my own deductions and what little I’ve read, I don’t think it helps women in these cases when they’re passed out (either from roofies/drinking too much/other?) and unable to remember anything that led up to the alleged assault. When the only evidence/testimony of what happened prior to the two guys showing up and seeing Turner with his hands inside the victim is from the defendant, it doesn’t help the victim at all. Legally imo, this becomes a he said-she said case, where two guys saw some guy fingerbanging a girl that was passed out.

I think the anti-“victim-blaming” crowd has done a lot more harm than good it minimizing the role of alcohol in these situations that keep occurring. In the victims letter, she even minimizes the role that alcohol played. I’m not saying drinking too much = deserves to be violated, but when it comes to trial, and you don’t have any testimony to provide of the events leading up to the alleged assault, you’re at a disadvantage.

It’s easy to be outraged because it’s an outrageous situation, but suppose she was coherent and is unable to remember that she consented to it. After the fact, she hears what happens and is disgusted/ashamed, and becomes a victim.

Ultimately, I think if young people became more responsible in their drinking habits, eg practice defensive drinking, buddy system, have someone sober with you, there’d be a lot less of these situations occurring, but then that’s victim-blaming. I think it’s just good advice.

If anyone has more info on the evidence that was provided and I’m incorrect in my assumptions, let me know, I’m all ears, but based on what I’ve heard and read, I can see why he got (what seems like) a light sentence based on the evidence that was available.

He admitted to it, @MattyG35. He essentially says he interpreted consent based on her lack of non-consent, and also says that at some point she was rubbing his back. However, that’s not what the two male witnesses saw, called out to him about, and then chased him down over when he ran.

So not a lot of question about what happened. She made incoherent phone calls prior to the rape, and people were looking for her for that reason while she was behind a dumpster suffering abrasions, etc, while unconscious according to witnesses.

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My girlfriend and I were discussing this and my thoughts and “feelings” on this subject kind of surprised me. I’m not shocked by this guy, and almost don’t care, because he’s a piece of shit, and there are a lot of pieces of shit in this world. They are a significant portion of the population, definitely more pieces of shit out there than there are tranny’s for example.

What bothers me is how miserably the justice system failed. The article posted above was great, but I wouldn’t discount that good old fashioned bribery probably still plays a role in such cases.

What exactly can we do about this judge? Or the prosecutors who hide evidence that would have helped innocent defendants stay out of prison? I like the fact that people are putting his name out there. I hope his face appears on a thousand internet memes.

Thinking more about this, I agree that the danger of being drunk to the point of incapacitation is an issue that should be addressed as well, and I do hope this case will bring attention to the issue. I just don’t think Turner should be allowed to hang his defense on that factor. YES, it increases danger for women if they’re so drunk they can’t operate effectively or wisely. Because you COULD run into a stone cold rapist.

Girlfriend, Gabby? Congratulations!

I can relate to what you’re saying, sort of. Every time there’s a mass shooting I get all twisted up about what I see as the encouragement of mass killings on the part of the media and politicians. Want glory unending? Shoot a school up! I think the shooters’ names and details should be withheld, thus reducing the motivation to enact that kind of public display of disenfranchisement. So for me it’s not about the killers themselves, it’s about the media behavior that motivates them to public immolation. They should live and die in obscurity, IMO. That at any given moment there are 6 people in the world capable of shooting a classroom full of children doesn’t disturb me as much as the millions of people wanting to view video of it.

Whereas with this case, while I agree with you that the system is dirty, I worry more about the early development of these particular pieces of shit - the messages they’re given that allow this behavior. Because there are so many of them.

I do hope the judge in this case will be made an example of, however.

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Thanks! She’s a keeper, as long as she doesn’t kick me to the curb.

I understand what you’re saying about early development. I see little kids running around playing in the fucked up neighborhoods I work and wonder how one of them could grow up to rape or murder.

I can’t imagine that she would - you’re a keeper, too. I’m glad you’ve found someone.

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it is an outrage the justice system is completely flawed to let a rich white guy get 6 months for rape should be a mandatory 10 year sentence imo. Also I too just find stories like these depressing and try to avoid if possible.

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Getting blackout drunk is irresponsible and date rape is a terrible thing. The woman in my eyes exercised poor judgement and consequentially had this terrible thing happen. Im not saying it is right, but I wouldnt walk into harlem wearing a KKK uniform and expect to not to get the shit beat out of me.

However, because she is a woman the law would normaly give her a pass for lacking common sense. I think the judge did the right thing in this regard.

Young women today have a sense of entitlement, that they can do anything and if something happens to them it isnt their fault. Sorry, thats bullshit. Im not saying rape is right, what I am saying is you cant act stupid and expect life to accomodate your poor choices.

In a perfect world this eouldnt happen, but we dont live in this fantacy disney movie some people seem to believe.