Tuesday 25 October 2016

The sad fact is that the overwhelming majority of rapists can get away with it

Lorraine Courtney

Published 09/06/2016 | 02:30

Former Stanford student Brock Turner Photo: Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department / Handout via REUTERS
Former Stanford student Brock Turner Photo: Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department / Handout via REUTERS

In January 2015, a Stanford University student called Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a bin. They were both at a party on campus. Turner could have faced up to 14 years in prison but instead he will serve a six-month jail sentence.

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During Turner's sentencing, the woman read part of her victim impact statement. The statement, a powerful rebuttal of Turner's refusal to take any kind of responsibility for his actions and his decision to blame his violence on the university's drinking and hook-up culture, was initially released last Friday. It has gone viral.

Her statement is raw. It's heartbreaking. "For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am," she wrote. "That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster, while you are the All-American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake. I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, who waited a year to figure out if I was worth something."

On the other side, Turner's dad said his son should not have to go to prison for "20 minutes of action".

Judge Aaron Persky said positive character references, including Turner's own father's reference, had been factored into his decision. Turner's age, his lack of a criminal history and the role that alcohol played in the assault were other mitigating factors. "A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him . . . I think he will not be a danger to others," Persky said.

I wasn't surprised by the six-month sentence. I wasn't surprised because this is more justice than most rapists get. Brock Turner's short sentence is infuriating but what makes it worse is that Persky wasn't being particularly lenient on him. Turner will be punished more than the vast majority of rapists.

If you were sexually assaulted, what would you do? Report it to the gardaí? Take your attacker to court? Would you want to see him sent to jail? Well, be prepared for some shocking statistics. Our sad statistics about rape and domestic violence tell their own story.

The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report showed that only one in 10 victims of sexual crime in Ireland reports that crime. Of that one in 10, just 7pc secures a conviction. Ireland had the lowest rate of conviction for rape (1pc) among 21 European states.

Despite recent attention paid to the prevalence of sexual assault in our world, perpetrators of sexual violence are far less likely to go to jail than any other kind of criminal. This is what every rape victim is up against.

You wouldn't need to sift through much social media to find the rape-apologists and the perennial #NotAllMen brigade.

Last year, a survey of more than 1,000 men found that 41pc considered that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she is drunk or takes illegal drugs, that 37pc believe she bears some responsibility if she was flirting at the time and 26pc believed she held some responsibility if she was wearing a skimpy outfit.

There are too many Aaron Perskys out there in our world and there are too many Brock Turners who think they haven't done anything wrong.

There are too many men looking only for the preservation of the reputations of the right kind of men (here a blonde-haired, male athlete), who don't hear the victim asking for something as simple as justice.

This is what discourages women who have been raped from coming forward, allowing perpetrators to escape justice.

This is what often stops women who do report rape from being taken seriously.

This is what promotes feelings of guilt and shame among rape survivors.

And this is what is normalising rape culture among some men; it gives a rationale to the sick notion that women are somehow fair game in certain circumstances.

The woman in Stanford took a step that most people never do, she reported her assault and followed through.

We owed her more than allowing a life-shattering experience to be shoved aside and forgotten, like so many victims of rape are.

But unfortunately, even as an innocent victim seeking justice, the odds were always firmly stacked against her.

Irish Independent

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