Brock Turner’s sexual assault case is a horror show. A 19-year-old man is found thrusting drunkenly on top of the nearly-nude unconscious body of a 22-year-old woman behind a dumpster outside of a frat house. She is only saved because of the heroism of two brave Swedish graduate students. It is a clear case of sexual assault. A passed out victim cannot consent—it is a violation so egregious, the entire country demands action.
We want justice. We want to see Turner spend far more than six months behind bars. Because for many women of my generation—the women who went to college in the late '90s and early aughts—Brock Turner is every blond-haired, blue-eyed jock who took what he wanted without thinking of the consequences. Because, back when I was in college, what happened to Emily Doe would have just been her drunken “mistake.”
I remember vividly stumbling out of a dorm room my freshman year. Not my own. I’d been drinking with friends in another friend’s room and somehow had ended up here. In the dark. In the room of another freshman man I only knew tangentially. We’d been in his bed. He’d repeatedly shoved my head toward his crotch and, at some point in the struggle, I’d lost consciousness and ended up giving him a blow job. At least until I regained consciousness.
Brock Turner is every blond-haired, blue-eyed jock who took what he wanted without thinking of the consequences. Because, back when I was in college, what happened to Emily Doe would have just been her drunken “mistake.”
“No,” I told him. As lucid as I could be given the approximately 12 Natural Lights I’d consumed the hour before. He told me to leave if I wasn’t going to finish. So I did. Hence, the stumbling. Somehow, I made it back to my own room where I didn’t even manage to make it to the bed. I slept on the floor. And in the morning, I woke up hungover and dry-mouthed to the sound of him knocking.
“Just want to make sure we are cool,” he told me, holding up his hand. “High five?”
I hit his hand with my own. I can still remember the smack—I cringe when I think of it. It’s only in recent years that I have realized why he came to my room that morning. He was assessing the damage. He wanted to know if I was going to report it. I wasn’t. I high-fived him, after all. We were cool. And we were especially “cool” because my story wasn’t even the worst of the weekend news among my girlfriends. Something far “sketchier” had happened to another friend. Something that didn’t end with her shaking herself sober and saying no. Neither of us were alone. Almost every girl of my generation has at least one tale just like it.
One friend woke up on a couch with no memory of how she got there, with torn underwear and only the vague notion that she’d done something the night before. Our junior year, another woman found a wasted freshman sobbing in the halls. She’d had sex, she told my friend. But she hadn’t wanted it. And she only knew because her vagina hurt. Another friend went home with a guy, passed out, and woke up to him removing her clothing.
“Sorry, I just wanted to play a little,” he told her as she got up, crying, and gathered her things.
We didn’t call a single one of these incidents “rape.” We just called it college. I graduated in 1999.
The letters Brock Turner’s family sent to the judge pleading for leniency on behalf of their son highlight the mindset we in earlier generations lived through. Dan Turner (Brock’s father) wrote a letter to the judge asking for mercy. In it, he argues that jail time is a steep price for Brock to pay for “20 minutes of action.” His mother, Carleen Turner, takes it even further, claiming in her letter that her son “has lived an exemplary life” and has been “shattered” by the sexual assault." (You know, the one he committed). She continues:
“He has never been in trouble, never even had a demerit in high school, he studied, swam worked hard,” the mother wrote. “His dreams have been shattered by this. No NCAA Championships. No Stanford degree, no swimming in the Olympics (and I honestly know he would have made a future team), no medical school.”
So sad for Brock, right?
The message here is clear: Why should his life be turned upside down for something so trivial as rape? This small misunderstanding. College. Nevermind that his victim’s life will never be the same. That she has had to leave her job. That she can’t sleep at night. That her boyfriend says she locks herself in the bathroom to cry for hours on end.
Twenty minutes of action. That’s all it was.
That’s what the older generation would have us believe. Nevermind the nightmares or the feelings of shame and inadequacy. We all drank too much. It was normal. So normal, in fact, that in 1978’s “Animal House,” the rape of a passed-out woman is a joke played for laughs.
Brock's victim has been blamed by many for drinking too much. She admits it: “We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away.” Her letter is powerful. It should be required reading for any college freshman. Because that’s just it—drinking has consequences: a bad headache, the spins, occasionally a day spent puking. None of those consequences should be rape.
It gives me hope that people seem to understand that now. With the exception of the Turner family (and a handful of Brock’s friends) the outcry has been severe. Even Vice-President Joe Biden weighed in. “Sex without consent is rape. Full stop,” he wrote in an open letter to the victim. He understands an unconscious woman can’t consent. He understands she is not asking for it. He understands that a hangover ought to be the worst consequence of a drunken night.
Hopefully, we are all coming to understand that.
I think of all those girls I knew, myself included, and I wonder how things might have been different if we’d known then what we know now. Would we have pressed charges? Called those assaults by their name? I will never know. But I do see the outcry over this case as a turning point.
Maybe we are finally starting to understand that drunken college times shouldn’t have to include assault. That boys need to learn about consent before they ever step foot on a college campus. That a girl who is drunk is not “asking for it” and she is neither fair game nor open for business.
Maybe we are starting to understand that rape is the fault of the rapist alone. It’s not “drinking culture” or the “party atmosphere” that made Brock do it. He made his choices. He acted alone. He raped her. And it’s not okay. It never was.