Brock Turner And The Whole Rotting Orchard

I’ve just learned that Brock Turner is from Oakwood, just a few blocks away from our house in Ohio, which is terribly unsettling. Until this moment I’ve pictured the Stanford rapist growing up as a little sociopath on his Connecticut family estate, maybe drowning small animals in their pool after swim practice. Surely, I thought, Turner is one of those of absurdly wealthy criminals, the du Ponts of the world, whose privilege protects them from both retribution and remorse. But, alas, he’s not, he is from the most average upper-middle-class Dayton household like mine. The fact that a sex offender and his family live a mere 7 minutes away from our house isn’t as terrifying as the fact that there’s a whole community of Brocks around us.

During the trial, no less than 39 people sent in letters to the court in support of Turner, including his high school guidance counselor, a childhood friend, and even one Oakwood municipal court judge. Not one of these letters, all written by women, acknowledged that Turner committed rape, but rather called it a “misunderstanding” and a “mistake in drinking excessively.” The letters also describe Turner as “a young man of character, integrity” who is “respectful and caring,” and “the furthest thing from [a monster]” as if he can’t be both a rapist as well a “sweetheart and very smart kid,” as his friend Leslie described him.

The problem is that the authors of these letters, our neighbors, fell into the same trap that I did. We tend to think of rapists as bad men who live far away, who couldn’t possibly be respectful and caring swim team captains — a process social psychologists call implicit personality theory. I went to high school with plenty of young men of character who are also sweethearts and smart kids, so could this have just as easily been any of my friends? Do they all feel so entitled to women’s bodies, that they’re blind enough to call it “20 minutes of action” instead of rape?” The short answer is yes — it could have and it is so many other men from our community who live with the same mentality, some of whom even wrote those letters in support of Turner.

Failing to consider that we are the problem is, frankly, lazy. Isn’t it possible that we are these bad people too, in part to blame for creating an environment of violent masculinity and victim blaming? What could we have done as a community to prevent the rape and public torment of Turner’s victim? One of my dearest high school teachers recently responded to my post on the case via social media, calling Turner “sick in the head” and a “miserable excuse for a human being” for what he did. But I had to take the opportunity to ask why there so many men who are sick in the head coming out of our schools?

I pointed out to my former teacher that I remember an incident in the school hallway when they asked a student to go turn her T-shirt inside out because it said “Swim team: We do it better in the water,” deeming it too suggestive. Would they have asked Brock to change his swim team T-shirt? Perhaps if we didn’t tell girls how to dress because it’s distracting to boys, we would be sending a stronger message that our bodies are just as valuable as boys’. Such example of causal rape culture is done under the guise of dress codes, but what it’s really doing is prioritizing the needs of boys, and sending girls a strong signal that sexual harassment and assault is our fault because of how we dress, and that men can’t be held responsible for how they act.

We need to start addressing this epidemic as a community by, instead of asking what the victim wore or how much they had to drink, being prepared to internalize what messages we’ve given Brock Turner over his lifetime about rape and rethinking our role in a community that enables these beliefs.

We enable rape culture when we tell our daughters to take measures not to get raped, instead of teaching our sons not to rape. We do it when we defend athletes and celebrities accused of rape, while deeming the victims “career-killers.” We enable rape culture passively when we laugh at rape jokes and, frankly, any time we’re not immediately reaching for the pitchforks when some idiot in Congress uses the term “legitimate rape,” as if there is any other kind.

Let’s stop pointing at the few bad apples for a moment, and look at the whole damn rotting orchard. It’s not enough to bring Brock Turner to justice or call him sick in the head, we must also look at him as a symptom of a problem we are a part of. It’s time we start lobbying our communities to prevent rape culture in our schools and neighborhoods, religious institutions, PTA meetings, on the soccer field and even at swim meets.