Why Is America Finally Ready to Crucify a Rapist?

The world is ready to punish Brock Turner—so why do rape victims still need to rely on extrajudicial justice?

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Image via Complex Original
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The internet has been inundated with details of the case against Brock Allen Turner, and if you've felt like you could vomit from sensory overload, you're not alone. The former Stanford swimmer wriggled out of state-sanctioned justice with a laughable six-month sentence for raping an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster—but he’s (rightfully) meeting justice in the court of public opinion.

Turner is saturating newsfeeds in a way no rapist has before, and it’s both exhilarating and exhausting. It's like all of America is mobilizing around Turner’s case—he's made headlines for almost an entire week! (A news cycle rarity.) We’ve seen hot takes big and small: Facebook posts calling out Turner’s privilege and character, indictments of rape culture schema, reinvigorated conversations about consent, and even a petition with more than 300,000 people calling for the ruling judge to resign. This uniformly angry and hate-filled obsession feels unprecedented. We didn’t see a similar reaction to Paul Nungesser, Emma Sulkowicz’s accused rapist who she made infamous with Carry That Weight (Mattress Performance). We didn’t see it with convicted rapist and all-American private school boy Owen Labrie, who was released from prison after only two months and largely forgotten.

So what makes Turner different?

Why is he the perfect target in the fight against rapists? Firstly, he’s a rapist. Secondly, he embodies almost every characteristic protected by the institution of rape culture. Turner is the epitome of privilege, and we’ve seen proof of how that’s worked in his favor every step of the way. With his lenient sentence, curated photos, and heartfelt letters written on his behalf, even the most basic person can see that Turner lives a charmed life. The luxuries afforded by his race, class, and place in the hierarchy of respectability have been on slow boil for 20 years, creating someone steeped in privileges that reify as a sense of entitlement so great it includes the right to others’ bodies.

But even though his name is literally Brock—and even though he has an objectively punchable face—Turner was met with institutional empathy afforded by the trappings of respectability. Letters from Turner's father and childhood best friend argued that he was punished too severely for "20 minutes of action," and that Turner may be convicted as an attacker, but he's really a victim of "political correctness":

#brockturner father: son not "violent" only got "20 mins of action" shouldn't have to go to prison. @thehuntinground pic.twitter.com/IFECJs687b
Leslie Rasmussen releases statement about her #BrockTurner statement (2/2): pic.twitter.com/4u5S5oM3WE

Thankfully, we live in the Woke Era and don't buy the myth of respectability. We know that even if you're a millionaire or famous as fuck, you can be subject to police brutality because of your skin color. We know that even though feminism is mainstream, women earn less than men and are charged more for everyday items. We know that when people spit the words "politically correct" with venom, it's a paper-thin attempt to dismiss human rights-centric radicalism. In the age of internet accountability, there's an urgency to being on the right side of history—even if Turner's supporters don't feel it. 

And all hot takes and diatribes were overshadowed by Emily Doe's 12-page letter to her rapist. Her personal and graphic account of being raped by Turner and the subsequent aftermath is a first—a distinctly American phenomenon of dissemination. Readers' emotional rollercoaster of pain, disgust, righteousness, anger, and can't-look-away terror compounded by the ease of instant sharing snowballed into a huge cultural moment.

You never let me forget what happened to me. At the of end of the hearing, the trial, I was too tired to speak. I would leave drained, silent. I would go home turn off my phone and for days I would not speak. You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself. Every time a new article come out, I lived with the paranoia that my entire hometown would find out and know me as the girl who got assaulted. I didn’t want anyone’s pity and am still learning to accept victim as part of my identity. You made my own hometown an uncomfortable place to be.

Via anonymity, Emily Doe belongs to everyone and no one. She has a voice—and while my letter or your letter might read differently, we can see ourselves in Emily's words. We hope her pseudonym can protect her from rape apologists. We hope anonymity can protect her the way our justice system couldn't. 

Emily Doe—her voice, her story—is tragically ubiquitous, and so is Turner. That's why he deserves to be crucified: like survivors, rapists are everywhere, and can be anyone. While Emily says she hopes women feel "a small assurance that we are getting somewhere," it's hard to see through the fog of disillusion. A jury of Turner's peers found him guilty, but Emily is still one of countless rape survivors who have to rely on extrajudicial punishment. When will rape victims see true justice? 

After Turner is tried in the court of public opinion, there's still more work to be done.

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