Why Brock Turner Believes He Isn’t a Rapist

Brock Turner

This week, the Internet has been abuzz with controversy surrounding Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who received a light prison sentence for a brutal rape. After forcing himself on an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and running from the scene after two passersby intervened, Turner still insists that, at most, he is guilty of drinking too much and partying too hard. His father and a friend also maintain his innocence, minimizing his criminal actions as a “Steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Even after unanimous conviction for sexual assault in a criminal court, why can so many people, including Turner himself, not understand that he is a rapist?

 Because his actions are far too common to seem criminal.

We’re sociologists, and our talk about current events remains purely scientific, but as we discussed this case, our conversation turned into an exchange of stories of sexual aggression that seemed so painstakingly ordinary that we had never told each other about them before. For Nicole, there was the guy who refused to leave her apartment until she had sex with him, even after she told him at least six times that she didn’t have any interest. He used to intern for Bernie Sanders and now works at a non-profit in DC. There was also the guy who claimed he was too drunk to drive home after a second date and asked to sleep over, promising he wouldn’t try anything. He pinned her down and humped her for half an hour as he tried to get hard, and as she repeatedly told him that she wanted him to stop. That guy is a sex educator at a middle school. And she couldn’t forget the guy whose Hail Mary for a bad date was forced kisses, grabbing at her shirt, and then pulling down his pants and repeating, “You can’t leave because I really want to have sex with you.” He works for CNN.

For Saswathi, there was the guy who complained that he drove a long way to see her and insisted that “[she] would be lucky to have [his] babies” when she refused to have unprotected sex with him. He graduated near the top of his class and now works for Ford. And there was the guy who blurted out, “Why don’t you just kiss me?” after she refused his physical advances and then went in for the kiss anyway after she still said no. He’s a Duke graduate. Most recently, there was the guy who followed her from an event at an alumni weekend, grabbed her, and only stopped forcibly kissing her after she said, “You need to learn how to take NO for an answer” in front of someone passing by. He’s also an Ivy Leaguer, but he never introduced himself before making his physical advances, so Saswathi doesn’t know anything else about him.

For both of us, all of these events took place within the past six months.

Neither of us would call any of these individual encounters particularly traumatizing. It’s not because they aren’t terrifying or didn’t leave us feeling violated, but because they’re so common that the easiest response is to take a shower, grab a glass of wine, and binge Netflix while trying to summon up the courage to go on another first date. We don’t have the time to go to the police with each gross encounter. And if we did try, we know we would get a reputation as women who cried wolf. Besides, we’ve seen worse and—as disgusting as it is—we feel lucky that this is all of what we’ve had to face.

But what we should point out is that all of these encounters include a completed sexual assault. It is illegal to expose yourself, rub your naked genitalia against someone, pressure someone into sex, or force someone to make out with you without consent. And in all cases, we made it perfectly clear that these actions were unwanted. If we hadn’t been hyper-vigilant, had maybe a couple more drinks, or been somewhere more secluded, these encounters could have escalated further. But since these encounters aren’t rapes, and these are allegedly nice guys with promising futures, we know what happened to us wouldn’t be taken seriously– so we try to let everyday sexual abuse roll off our backs.

We aren’t alone in feeling this way—and this is where we can put our sociology hats back on to understand our own experiences. Researchers have found that it’s exceedingly common for women to mislabel their sexual assaults as “bad dates” or other types of unfortunate experiences,[1] especially if they have some relationship with the perpetrator, as most victims do.[2] The phenomenon is especially pervasive among teenage girls who are extremely likely to normalize illegal sexual abuse as a typical part of dating or flirting.[3] As the title of one study suggests, managing men’s gross attempts at sexual contact is “Just How It Is” and women have become used to fending off unwanted and often illegal sexual advances.[4]

What Brock Turner did isn’t actually that different from what all of the “nice guys” have done to us on “bad dates.” He just took things one step further. Instead of finally accepting “no” as an answer or reacting to physical resistance before forcing vaginal penetration, he hid his unconscious victim behind a dumpster and completed a rape.

If Brock Turner’s actions stopped at kissing and groping his victim, she still would have been incapacitated by alcohol, and he still would have committed a crime, but no one would have batted an eyelash. He probably even could have gotten away with raping her if he’d chosen somewhere more private like a bedroom. Turner’s intention to initiate a hook up with a woman while disregarding her wishes is (unfortunately) perfectly normal. His friends probably do it every weekend. The latest research suggests that as many as 10% of college men[5] and 50% of male college athletes[6] admit to acts of sexual violence.

Turner doesn’t think he should go to prison because the real injustice is that he is the only one he knows held accountable for illegal sexual actions that usually go unpunished.

For rapists like Brock Turner to take responsibility for their actions, we need to take all sexual assault seriously, not just the sensational cases that end in a bystander chasing down the rapist. The men in our lives need to reflect on their own behaviors and recognize that they have almost certainly crossed at least one romantic partner’s boundaries in a way that could have left them feeling scared and violated. Instead of minimizing experiences like ours as “bad dates” or blaming women like us for picking “bad guys,” it’s time to believe the victims, call out the aggressors, and set a higher standard for acceptable sexual behavior.


Nicole Bedera is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at the University of Michigan who studies gender and sexuality with a research emphasis on college sexual violence and masculinity. Saswathi Natta is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at the University of Maryland who studies social stratification and demography with a focus on factors like race, caste, and gender.

[1] Schwartz, Martin D., and Molly S. Leggett. 1999. “Bad Dates or Emotional Trauma? The Aftermath of Campus Sexual Assault.” Violence Against Women 5(3): 251-271. http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/5/3/251.abstract

[2] Boyle, Kaitlin M., and Ashleigh E. McKinzie. 2015.”Resolving Negative Affect and Restoring Meaning: Responses to Deflection Produced by Unwanted Sexual Experiences.” Social Psychology Quarterly 78(2): 151-172. http://spq.sagepub.com/content/78/2/151

[3] Hlavka, Heather R. 2014. “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse.” Gender & Society 28(3): 337-358. http://gas.sagepub.com/content/28/3/337

[4] Tolman, Deborah L., Brian R. Davis, and Christin P. Bowman. 2016. “‘That’s Just How It Is’: A Gendered Analysis of Masculinity and Femininity Ideologies in Adolescent Girls’ and Boys Heterosexual Relationships.” Journal of Adolescent Research 31(1): 3-31. http://jar.sagepub.com/content/31/1/3.abstract

[5] Swartout, Kevin M., Mary P. Koss, Jacquelyn W. White, Martie P. Thompson, Antonia Abbey, and Alexandra L. Bellis. 2015. JAMA Pediatrics 169(12). http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2375127

[6] Young, Belinda-Rose, Sarah L. Desmarais, Julie A. Baldwin, and Rasheeta Chandler. 2016. “Sexual Coercion Practices Among Undergraduate Male Recreational Athletes, Intercollegiate Athletes, and Non-Athletes.” Violence Against Women 30 May. http://vaw.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/30/1077801216651339.abstract

Let’s Talk About Sex and Enthusiastic Consent!

 Protesters demand justice for rape victims. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters demand justice for rape victims. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Sexual violence prevention on college campuses is all over the news, which is wonderful for the millions of people in college who deserve safety from violence, and support services if they’re victimized. But what about the millions of people who aren’t in academic spaces? Those people deserve a voice in the conversation too. I challenge you to take discussions of enthusiastic consent off of campus and into your homes, churches, and PTA meetings. Bring the conversation down from the ivory tower of academia.

Here’s a brief guide for your next discussion about enthusiastic consent:

Enthusiastic consent is the only acceptable standard. 

Most people have heard, “No means no” as a standard for consent, but challenge people in your life to start thinking in terms of, “Yes means yes.” Yes means yes, or enthusiastic consent, approaches sex from the assumption that everyone, regardless of sex or gender, has a right to enthusiastically voice their sexual desires. It dictates that you should only have sex with someone who eagerly engages. Enthusiastic consent requires having conversations before, during, and after sex about what feels good and what doesn’t. And enthusiasm isn’t just verbal, it’s non-verbal cues confirming your partner, or partners’, enjoyment (think vaginal moisture, erections, fluttering eyelids, heavy breathing). If your partner(s) not enjoying sex just as much, or more than you, it isn’t worth having.

The takeaway: If sex isn’t explicitly agreed upon, it’s rape.

You don’t own sex to your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or intimate partner(s). 

If someone takes you out to dinner, do you owe them sex? Unequivocally, the answer to that question is, “No!” Sex, unless you’re a sex worker, is not a commodity. It is not something you owe anyone for any reason, ever. And just so we’re clear: sex workers have every right to sexual boundaries, and can disengage from a commercial transaction at any time, “I’m done, here’s your money back.” The end. Also, a marital contract doesn’t entail ownership of bodies.

The takeaway: Someone who claims you “owe” them sex, is a rapist.

Sex today doesn’t mean sex tomorrow. 

The video Tea Consent does a great job illustrating the absurdity of rape culture with an analogy using tea for sex (I highly recommend you watch the whole video):

“If you say, ‘Hey, would you like a cup of tea?,’ and they hem and haw and say, ‘I’m not really sure,’ then you can make them a cup of tea or not. But be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it.”

Tea Consent will make you laugh, but it might also make your cry because of the ridiculousness. One of the most salient points in the video is that someone who agrees to tea today doesn’t agree to tea on Tuesday. And just because someone wants sex today, doesn’t mean they’ll want it tomorrow. You always have to ask for sex before you do it–even if you’ve done it a thousand times before.

The takeaway: Prior consent doesn’t apply to bodies, so if you have sex without asking, it’s rape.

Consent to one sexual act does not mean consent to another.

Most sexually active adults understand this, it’s what prevents us from going straight from something like vaginal penetration to anal penetration without asking. I use that example a lot in presentations and conversations, and everyone nods enthusiastically. Well, what’s so different about going from kissing to hands down the pants without asking? Answer: there is no difference. And no, you don’t have to robotically ask for consent–anyone who claims that’s the goal of enthusiastic consent as a framework is attempting to derail the conversation. There is a sexy way to ask for consent. Imagine whispering, “I’d like to {insert sex act here} to your sexy body. Is that okay with you, baby?” Asking gives your partner a chance to decline, and it gives you a chance to do exactly what they want during sexy time. How hot is that?

The takeaway: If you start a sexual act when you don’t have permission, it’s rape.

Conclusion

Enthusiastic consent isn’t a difficult concept, but it challenges some closely held cultural beliefs. So prepare yourself for an onslaught of frightening challenges, and a scary glimpse into the sex lives of people around you. But don’t back down (unless you feel unsafe), because these conversations are critical, whether it’s on college campuses, in homes, or any other venue. Talking about consent is one of the best steps anyone can take to end sexual violence. It also happens to be the key to unlocking some raucous, satisfying sex.

Share this article to get the conversation going about consent!

Honey: Stopping the Silence Around Sexual Assault

The Taylors_ToH

Co-Founders Taylor Jarman and Taylor Rippy Monson

Taylor Rippy Monson and Taylor Jarman are fed-up with the silence around sexual assault, and their organization Honey is working to change it one story at a time. Their site explains that, “Honey is an organization dedicated to stopping the silence on the subject of sexual assault. We seek to change the public attitude through victim advocacy, education, media campaigns, community activism and truth telling.”

The ladies are hosting a launch event on August 28th at Studio Elvn as a part of Salt Lake City’s Gallery Stroll, and I was fortunate enough to interview them to get some details on how it all started, plans for the future, and what to expect at Studio Elvn.

What’s the story behind Honey?

We’ve been friends for years, and a while back had briefly disclosed to one another that we were survivors of assault. It wasn’t until earlier this year that things really started to come to the surface, for both of us. There’s something about hearing the experience, the heartache, the despair, confusion, shame, come out of the mouth of somebody that you love. I think we heard one another and thought, “We can’t do nothing. We’re not the only ones.” 

We created Honey so that survivors and their loved ones could recognize that there is a safe place for them to be heard, loved, believed and supported. To be believed and received with love and open arms means everything, especially in a society rampant with victim-blaming. We’re not clinical professionals (though we hope to expand our team to include therapists and trauma responders in the future), but we know how much courage it takes to just say something. If we can be the website, the email address, the Skype account, the phone number somebody reaches to just say it out loud—to ask for help, to share their story—we’re happy.

h o n e y-logo (6)Tell me a little bit about truth-telling.

We support and encourage survivors of sexual violence to share their stories in whatever medium they choose, with the goal of shedding light on a dark and disregarded reality that pervades societies worldwide. There is something about learning of an individual’s personal and unique experience—whether being able to relate to them, or just recognizing that it’s happened to this individual, and that they’re one of millions of survivors of assault. That should be enough to get anyone fired up. Seeing a face with those words (the way we’ve set it up on our site) has a way of humanizing  survivors of such a horrific and prevalent crime. Audre Lorde hit it on the head when she said that “We’ve been taught that silence will save us, but it won’t.” We’re all about making noise.

What’s your vision for Honey in the future? Do you see any community partnerships on the horizon?

Absolutely! We hope to develop community partnerships and have several in the works right now. Salt Lake and the surrounding areas are such a powerful community—we’ve been blown away by how much love and support we’ve received locally. And many of our followers are outside of the state, even outside of the US, so we hope to develop partnerships in all different regions. We’re dreaming big!

Tell me about the upcoming event with gallery stroll.

On August 28th, we’re holding a launch event for Honey at Studio Elevn in downtown Salt Lake City from 6:00-10:00 pm. It will be a powerful evening, bringing more local awareness to the pervasiveness of sexual assault worldwide and sharing more about Honey’s future endeavors. We’ll also be launching a crowdfunding campaign, holding a silent auction, and premiering a video that we’ve been working on with some amazing humans at Ori Media. We seriously can’t wait.

Attend the event and don’t forget to follow Honey on Facebook & Instagram.

Sex Trafficking: Myths, Signs, and Connections to Utah

HumanTrafficking_zshqeq

[Ed Note: This is a guest post from the indomitable feminist activist, and animal liberator, Natalie Blanton.]

Last week, I had the chance to go to the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s event “The Invisible Crime: Human Trafficking in Utah” and hear from Captain Fernando Rivero, MPH, EMT-P of the Utah Trafficking in Persons Task Force.

I was definitely intrigued by the topic as we often hear of sex and human trafficking as a far and away issue – but, what with recent news like Arizona’s proactive Super Bowl sting operations– the issue is suddenly, and finally, visible in our own back yard. The idea that sex trafficking is a “developing world” problem is a myth that Rivero set out to dispel early in his talk. Sex trafficking is a $36 billion a year industry, second only to the illegal drug trade. It is $9.8 billion industry here in the United States. Every year, between 100,000-300,000 underage girls (average age 12-14 years old) are sold for sex in the US. In fact, on the Global Slavery Index of 2014, the USA ranks 145/160. The Polaris Project has recently cited Utah as the “most improved” state on this front – but we still have a long way to go.

Rivero encouraged his audience to think critically about human trafficking and cultural contributors to this problem – this question becomes much more complex and intricate in the conservative Utah setting, and it is closely linked to Utah’s problem with sexual assault more generally because 80-90% of human trafficking victims have been sexually assaulted. As we know, 1 in 3 women in Utah will be sexually assaulted, and 20% of women will be sexually assaulted on college campuses, which is finally of great emphasis on the University of Utah campus as the student government just rolled out their rendition of the It’s On Us movement this week. This issue should certainly matter to anyone and everyone, because it infringes on our basic human right: freedom.

[Read more…]

Yes, It Is Rape In Every Instance

Image from UCASA

Image from UCASA

Yesterday HB 74 went to committee at the Utah State Legislature. The bill, sponsored by Representative Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City), would clarify consent laws to include language that protects people with disabilities from sexual assault, as well as anyone who is unconscious at the time of assault. The bill seems pretty cut and dry to anyone with a slight understanding of healthy sex and sexuality, but a few legislators voiced concern on some really unsettling grounds.

Why would anyone hesitate to pass this bill?

Well, because they want to have sex with their wife while she’s unconscious! (Which is rape, just so we’re clear.) “If an individual has sex with their wife while she is unconscious … a prosecutor could then charge that spouse with rape, theoretically,” said Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove. Yup, that’s exactly right, Mr. Greene. That husband should be charged with sexual assault, because he doesn’t have free rein over his wife’s body. Greene went on to question whether sex with an unconscious person is “rape in every instance.” 

Rep. Greene wasn’t the only offensive blowhard in the conversation, Representative LaVar Christensen (R-Draper) chalked the whole discussion up by saying, “It’s an uncomfortable discussion to even have.” Do you know what’s more uncomfortable than discussing sexual assault? Being sexually assaulted, which is why the bill is being proposed!

The State of Utah has a serious sexual assault problem that needs to be addressed. In Utah 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault, and rape is the only category of violent crime that outpaces national averages in Utah.  We need HB74, and if it wasn’t clear before, the conversation yesterday crystallized the need.

Some closing points to remember:

1. You don’t own your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, intimate partner, etc.. You do not have the right to sexual access of your intimate partner whenever you see fit.

2. Consent is not a one-time transaction. Someone who has sex with you once doesn’t have to have sex with you again.

3. Consent is ongoing. You should receive verbal and physical cues from your sexual partner throughout your sexual interaction.

4. Consent to one sexual act does not mean consent to another (agreeing to penile vaginal contact doesn’t mean you have consent for penile anal contact).

5. We vote for these people. Remember their names during the election. Should these guys be in charge of decisions?

You can follow the bill here as it heads out of committee.