The recent events at Stanford are horrifying and tragic. A freshman, varsity swimmer, Brock Turner, was arrested and charged with five felonies for allegedly attempting to rape an unconscious woman outside of a fraternity. He was stopped by two cyclists that saw him on top of the woman and then held him until police arrived on the scene. Now, at the age of 19, Turner faces up to a decade in prison. As the campus reels and the story unfolds, there are important lessons to be learned.
Rape happens everywhere, even at Stanford. Sexual violence affects men and women of all races and socioeconomic classes, but it more frequently affects women. One recent survey out of the University of Oregon found that 35 percent of female respondents and 14 percent of male respondents reported having at least one sexual experience without their consent, and 10 percent of females reporting being raped. Other estimated put the number somewhere around 20 percent of female college students are the victims of attempted or completed rape.
The numbers can be shocking, but as we have just seen, Stanford is not immune to this epidemic of sexual violence. Even at one of the world’s finest academic institutions, there exists a belief that sexuality is to be claimed and conquered.
The person down the hall is a rapist. It’s easy to be horrified that Brock Turner was “the boy next door” and literally an All-American. It is important that we internalize and accept the uncomfortable truth we cannot simply reduce rapists to “monsters.” They are morally repugnant, but they are not the stereotypical monsters that hide in the shadows and lurk in the bushes. When we call them “monsters,” we distance their identities from reality. Rapists are friends, significant others, roommates, classmates, coaches and parents. They are normal people seeking power and control.
Having this mindset will also help us to stop victim-blaming. Right now, people often find it hard to believe that a victim could have ever trusted their attacker, even though the majority of the time, the victim knows their attacker. This explains in part why reporting numbers are so low: It is very difficult and socially isolating to report one of your friends or someone you know. We have all made fun of the “tattletale” at one point in our lives, and the same social stigma carriers over into rape and sexual assault.
Rape is not a “women’s issue,” it’s a human rights issue. Rape disproportionately affects women, but it is not a women’s issue; it is a human rights issue. Rape and sexual violence violate a human’s right to bodily integrity. Thinking about the issue through a human rights lens makes it less polarizing and a more inclusive conversation.
The victims of violence are diverse, but there is never a single victim traumatized by sexual violence. Victims have friends, significant others and family that are also traumatized. Rape affects everyone.
Rape is about power, privilege and entitlement. Before any of the details about the victim start to leak, and the defense attempts to sully the image of yet another innocent woman, it is important to remind ourselves why rape happens. Rapists engage in sexual violence for power and control. Rapists do not think what they do is rape and continue to rape because they feel a sense of entitlement to a victim’s body of sexuality. They feel that the way someone acts, dresses or looks gives them the right to their victim’s sexuality. This is completely flawed logic, but it is essential that we understand the power dynamic of rape to understand the nature of the crime.
There is hope. On Tuesday, two ex-Vanderbilt football players were convicted of rape, and both of them face up to a decade in prison. The defense argued with the classic rape myths, stating that it was a campus culture of binge drinking and casual sex that allowed the rape to happen. The prosecution won by pointing out that it was the athletes’ sense of entitlement and belief that they were above the rules that led them to rape a young woman. The jury only took three hours to deliberate.
We are changing minds and opinions.
Taylor Brown ’16
Contact Taylor Brown at taybro13 ‘at’ stanford.edu.