Reflecting on The Stanford Rape Trial

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Brock Turner – Student, Swimmer and Rapist

The Stanford Rape Trial (People vs. Turner) that came to a head earlier this summer sparked massive controversy when the convicted rapist, Brock Turner, was sentenced to a miniscule six month sentence. It raised many questions about rape culture in sport, as well as both racial and class biases in criminal prosecution.

For those who aren’t familiar with the case, Turner, a 20 year old American student, was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind the bins at a Frat party back in January 2015. The victim was saved from any further assault by two men who pulled Turner away from her, and, when he attempted to run away, chased and detained him until the police arrived. Consequently, as one would expect, he has been under trial since, yet has pled ‘not guilty’ on his five charges.

Over a year later, Judge Aaron Pesky gave Turner a six month sentence for his crimes, with only three of those months to be spent in a county jail; for the remainder of his sentence, he is to be under probation.

The instant reaction for many hearing this was pure disgust at the atrocity and denial of his actions and further confusion as to why the judge gave him such a short sentence. Especially considering that the average sentence for rape in the US is between eight and nine years, and in the UK, an average of five years.

But let’s put this into context. Following the guilty verdict, the judge claimed that a longer sentence (and apparently the release of his mug shots) would have a “severe impact” on Turner, who, by the way, is also a model student at Stanford University, from a wealthy white family and a swimmer. His father also claimed that it was a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action”.

Seemingly irrelevant details? Of course they are. In no way can they justify or lessen the severity of his actions. Yet, disgracefully, were focused on throughout the entirety of his trial and are what turned the case in his favour.

Judge Pesky, an alumnus of Stanford University himself (yes, let that sink in), faced a very similar trial recently when Raul Ramirez, a man from El Salvador, pled guilty to a similar incident of sexual assault. The difference? He was given a three year sentence. Many questioned whether Ramirez would have also been given a shorter sentence had he not been of Latino descent, especially considering he took responsibility of his actions, which Turner did not.

This example alone highlights the incredibly flawed American judicial system and the racial biases that still penetrate American culture, which, with all the black lives matter campaigns currently going on, further exemplifies the need for racial equality.

Whilst some may question the impact of his swimming career on the sentence, the case of Brian Banks suggests that whilst it may have contributed, it played a significantly smaller role than his race. Banks, a black American footballer, was sentenced to six years in prison for a suspected rape with no evidence that he committed it. Yet he was found to be innocent having already spent five months in jail.

Banks has commented on the People vs. Turner case, feeling that it was heavily influenced by race and privilege. “He’s [Turner] lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious… he wouldn’t be able to survive prison” Banks said when interviewed by the New York Post.

Privilege further influenced the outcome of the trial by the lawyer the Turner family provided their son with. Rather than Turner being interrogated for his actions, defence attorney, Michael Armstrong, inflicted this on the victim, attempting to vilify her, as if what she suffered had not been enough.

Whilst the impact of rape culture within sport is unclear from this trial it is still something to consider. The trial overall shows the overarching influence of white privilege in the law and is something that needs to change.

Students’ Union President, Natasha Barrett, commented on this case.

“As if hearing that a man violently raped an unconscious woman only received a six month prison sentence was not hideous enough, comparing this case to similar cases that involved immigrants or people of colour becomes even more distressing. People who have pointed out the bizarre nature of Raul Ramirez or Corey Batey, who was sentenced to fifteen years, are not suggesting that these people should receive less time. They are simply pointing out that all rapists should receive harsher penalties and there is a tangible difference in punishment dependent on race. Turner’s sentence is disgustingly short and the case was so sympathetic towards him it makes my skin crawl. But what adds insult to injury is how obvious it is that if he wasn’t a middle class white boy at a good university, things would have been very different.”