So a few days after I broached this subject, people are still talking about Mr. Brock Turner. Having his sentence cut even further. His statement blaming “party culture”. Being banned from swimming for life. The facts that the men who tackled him can add to the mix. The Vice President chiming in. Frankly, like most viral stories, it’s surprising that it hasn’t disappeared from our collective consciousness within a 72-hour cycle.
In many ways, it’s heartening to watch the world (well, bits of the world) suddenly start to take this crime so seriously. Although outrage on the internet is easier to find than a grain of sand on the beach, this is the kind of outrage that’s drawing powerful attention. People like the Vice President have some ability to forge change. And that’s heartening too.
What is strange to me though, is why this took so damn long. In many ways, Turner’s crime is completely unremarkable. That doesn’t mean that it’s not devastating or important, but just that it’s so sadly common. He sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. In my (similarly unremarkable) life, I’ve seen that happen three different times to three different people. I intervened twice.
And I have to wonder whether that’s part of the reason why so many people were originally willing to come to his defense (something that is apparently now starting to shift). There is a sad banality of drunkenly groping someone who can’t defend themselves, and that can lead people to justify and normalise it in their own minds. It’s all just fun and games… until someone finds pine needles in their vagina.
Reading Turner’s own account of his actions, I was struck by the fact that even I could empathise a bit. He at least acknowledges that he’s done this woman some harm. He calls himself “the sole proprietor of what happened”. “What happened” seems like a bit of a cop out, but it’s more regret than I’ve come to expect. People are still (rightly) outraged, and there’s probably nothing that Turner can do to assuage that outrage by now (apart from, maybe, drop his appeal and die in a ditch somewhere). However, his acknowledgement of the existence of a victim is more than his father and friends could apparently offer. He is, by any measure, just a human boy: stupid, self-absorbed, unable to change the past. Just like the rest of us.
That’s not an excuse by any means – just a reminder that when you’re wondering what a rapist looks like, you’re looking for a person and not a monster. Demonising people doesn’t help us to understand them any better.
Sadly, this case has reminded me quite vividly of the first time I ever witnessed a sexual assault. It was (like this case) at a drunken teenage party. And I was a drunken teenager. So was everyone else.
My boyfriend’s friends decided to stage a flat-warming, that turned into a legendary, all-night bender. A friend got an awkward blowjob in the bathroom. Some gatecrasher ended up running off through the trees and got lost. I threw up in the backyard (more than once) and slept on the floor in the hallway. Somewhere, there is a video of the highlights. We all know this because we all watched it, hungover, the next afternoon.
There were a couple of sexually aggressive people at that party. One of them was a woman (the blow job giving woman) who crashed the party, kept manually offering hand jobs in exchange for cigarettes, tried to pin me to the wall and make out with me in the hallway, and ended up getting sent home in a taxi with a barrage of swearing. I ran into her at McDonalds about six months later. She didn’t remember me, and probably remembered very little of that night in general.
The second one was the older brother of my boyfriend’s friend. The friend was kind and sensible. His brother apparently was not. He was a messy, boorish drunk, who had clearly only come to a “kids” party with the intention of finding easy sex. Even Blow-Job Woman wouldn’t give him the time of day. After getting rejected by all of the females there (myself included), he found a girl who was lying on the couch. He started feeling her up and kissing her (no clothing was removed) before any of us realised that she was unconscious and not responding at all. When we did realise that, we dragged him off her and the younger brother bailed him up outside with a lot of shouting and throwing of lawn furniture. I don’t recall exactly what was said, but there were strains of “fucking embarrassment” and “kick your ass if you do it again”. We were all drunk as fuck, but we still knew that there was nothing okay about assaulting the unconscious girl, and it was interesting that the younger brother was willing to threaten his (much bigger) older brother in order to put things right. Eventually she was roused, and she also got sent home in the relative safety of a taxi. Older brother got locked in a shed to sober up for a bit. Nobody knew the girl’s name, and to this day I have no idea if she ever found out that some guy squeezed her tits while she slept. In the end, it’s probably less harmful for her to remain oblivious.
The second time that I intervened was rather more complicated to explain. It involved a drunk woman with a strap-on and her passed out friend. I’m guessing that she didn’t consider it assault because the penis was fake and they were friends… but trying to choke the sleeping girl with a fake penis was still a repulsive and distressing act to witness, and I very quickly removed the strap-on from her possession. You really have to wonder about what bubbles under the consciousness of some people. She was clearly a giggling, brutal sadist. I hope they’re not still friends.
Oh and the third time? The one where I didn’t intervene? That was the one I woke up to. That was on me.
See also: The Banality of Evil