Brock Turner Is a Rapist, His Dad Is Wrong, and Justice Is Elusive

A sexual assault at Stanford results in a miscarriage of justice.


Brock Turner
Screenshot via Associated Press / Youtube

Who is Brock Turner? He's the former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an incapacitated woman behind a dumpster after a fraternity party in 2015. Turner raped her after she passed out from drinking, then fled the scene when two Swedish students caught him in the act. Turner did not get away—the Swedes chased him down, and he was arrested, charged, and convicted of three separate offenses. 

And yet Turner did get away, in a sense: he was given a mere six months in prison, and will likely serve only three. Contrast that with the 14 years he could have received. 

New York Daily News columnist Shaun King argues that Turner's privileged background helped him evade serious jail time, since the judge was worried that a longer sentence would damage Turner's aspirations. This is blatantly hypocritical, writes King: 

Do you know how many young black boys and girls, sometimes as young as 13 and 14 years old, are tried as adults in court rooms all across America and given mandatory minimums of 10 years and 20 years and even life in prison? Thousands. Tens of thousands. 

King's point is well taken. 

To be clear, this wasn't an ambiguous assault. The victim was fully unconscious, and the perpetrator ran when confronted. Turner changed his story: he initially claimed that he couldn't remember details of the encounter either, but at trial told a new story—that the woman had vocally consented to everything. Twelve jurors decided he was guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. 

Advocates for rape victims are glad Turner was convicted but furious about the light sentence, and it's easy to see why. The judge was unduly concerned with how the conviction would affect Turner, but Turner isn't the victim: the woman is. His privileged status shouldn't be a mitigating factor. 

Turner's father made headlines recently after a Stanford law professor, Michele Dauber, posted the man's statement in defense of his son. Critics were quick to attack the statement, which cast Brock as the victim and excused his criminal behavior. According to Jezebel

Pointedly, he barely addressed the nature of his son's crime, and instead focused on how the life of the former swimmer (and at one point a projected future Olympian) "has been deeply altered forever," and that he will "never be his happy go lucky self [sic]" again. 

I fail to see why this is newsworthy: of course a father is going to take his son's side, try to inspire sympathy for him, and aim for a lighter sentence. Dan Turner is wrong, but the fact that he advocated this view is not a scandal. The scandal is that the judge bought it. 

Yes, the criminal justice system is frustrating. It's far too harsh for some defendants, and far too lenient for others. The system needs reform. And yet, this is the only way to administer to Turner the punishment he deserves. Imagine if Stanford had tried to handle this case on its own. The worst thing that could happen to Turner is that he would be expelled. As insufficient as Turner's sentence is, months in prison and sex offender registry is still a much graver punishment than the most meaningful thing the university could do. 

Which is not to say that universities should be completely inactive. It's appropriate for Stanford to provide support to student-victims (the woman in this case was not a student). Stanford can educate its students about consent and reckless drinking. It can encourage students to watch out for each other—to practice bystander intervention, as the Swedish students did here. It can educate its future lawyers, judges, and jurors about the realities of sexual assault, so that they will not award undue sympathy to perpetrators. 

Turner's victim did not get as much justice as she deserves, and the process was, in her own words, re-traumatizing. She's very brave for sticking with it—she provided a public service by drawing attention to Turner's criminal behavior. Her case shows that the criminal justice system is in need of reform. But it's still the best vehicle for the adjudication of violent crime.

[Related: Baylor University Is a Perfect Example of Why Universities Shouldn't Police Rape]