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Fix Culture That Makes A Brock Turner Possible

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Fix Culture That Makes A Brock Turner Possible

Former Stanford student Brock Turner who was sentenced to six months in county jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious and intoxicated woman is shown in this Santa Clara County Sheriff's booking photo

This is a column about the value of six.

Actually, it’s about three individual sixes and their respective values. The first six came after a 23-year-old woman — her name has never been revealed — spoke in court to address the man who raped her last year, who took her out behind the dumpsters and penetrated her with his fingers after she had too much to drink and passed out at a party. He might have gone further, except that he was spotted by two passersby who tackled him when he tried to run.

“You don’t know me,” she told 20-year-old Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, an Olympic hopeful in swimming, “but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

She spoke of the rape and its aftermath, including the fact that that awful night a year and a half ago has left her sleeping with the lights on “like a five year old.” In her statement (which you can — and should — read at Buzzfeed.com) the woman describes how it felt, after a long and invasive rape exam, to finally be alone with herself in the shower.

“I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

Turner’s father, Dan, also offered a statement, pleading for leniency for his son. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.”

Turner was facing up to 14 years in prison. Judge Aaron Persky gave him the aforementioned six. Months.

A harsher sentence “would have a severe impact on him,” explained the judge.

Persky’s compassion for the rapist — and lack thereof for the victim — has detonated social media like a bomb. People are furious. They are weeping. They are calling Turner a “monster.” At this writing, a petition at Change.org demanding Persky’s recall stands north of 900,000 signatures.

Which brings us to the second six.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says that one woman in every six has been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. It’s an awesome, awful number. Think about it in terms of women you know. Think about Bonnie, Kadijah, Heather, Consuela, Sarah and Kim. One, two, three, four, five …


Maybe she’s never told you about it, so maybe you think it didn’t — couldn’t — have happened, not to one of your six. But the numbers are what the numbers are. Maryum, Stephanie, Yumiko, Keshia, Laurie … and Pam. One, two, three, four, five …

And six.

It’s not a big number. You were counting past it in kindergarten.

For an American woman, it’s a measure of the danger she faces from predatory men who consider her body to be their right. It is the difference between self-confidence and fear.

For Turner’s victim, it is a measure of the value the justice system placed on her trauma — and on her. It is the difference between the free woman she was and the frightened one she has become.

For Turner, it is the fraction of his life he’s been ordered to pay for the arrogant violation of another person’s self. It is the difference between spring and fall.

And here’s the final six: According to RAINN, only six in every thousand perpetrators of sexual assault end up in prison.

If you are a woman, or a man who cares about women, you ought to seethe, and then you ought to do whatever you can to fix a culture that makes possible a Brock Turner — and an Aaron Persky. Because, either way you look at it, the value of six is small — too small for safety, too small for solace.

And way too small for justice.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Photo: Former Stanford student Brock Turner, sentenced to six months in county jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious and intoxicated woman is shown in this Santa Clara County Sheriff’s booking photo taken January 18, 2015, and received June 7, 2016. Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department/Handout via REUTERS 

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. Andrew Long June 12, 2016

    What seems to be missing from all these articles on this case is that rape is not about sex. Why have we allowed society to forget that rape is about hatred, anger, and violence toward the victim? It is a crime of violence. Rape victims are survivors of violence as well as sexual predation. Anyone who takes advantage of an unconscious person is nothing but a PREDATOR. Don’t let that be forgotten and lost.

    1. stcroixcarp June 12, 2016

      And rape is all about power, power over other individuals and over all women. It is about privilege, male privilege. The question is how do we raise boys in this violent culture to be good, caring, non violent and loving men.

      1. Andrew Long June 12, 2016

        What a profound question, and one that needs to be asked and asked and asked until we figure it out. I can recall from the time I was a small boy my father and my mother talking to my brother and I about respect,about physical strength differences in “girls and boys” about how the stronger among us need to protect the weaker, about respecting and caring for each other. Do parents still teach these lesson? I mean not just once, but over and over and over until it is a “culture” of caring.

      2. Daniel Jones June 12, 2016

        It’s about power, yes. and while fewer women rape (by far), some do, and it’s all about power then, too.

  2. Grannysmovin June 12, 2016

    Perhaps his parents should have spent less time concerning themselves with his competitive swimming and spent more time raising their son to be a man and respect women. Why didn’t your son know that sexually assaulting an unconscious female is wrong and makes you a sick predator.

  3. Magnus Thunderson June 12, 2016

    only 6 months for destroying a lady life confidence in her self and ability to trust that way to short of a sentence and anyone getting out as a documented sexual predator with such a light sentence should have his forehead branded with the word Rapist

  4. Eleanore Whitaker June 20, 2016

    Whenever children are forced into competition against their will, something always goes seriously wrong. These children either adopt super aggressive natures or they go the opposite way and shrink from commitment and responsibility.

    Too many parents today live vicariously through their kids achievements. As a former dance educator for over 33 years, I saw this most often with the parents of my students.

    Entire chunks of their kids lives were erased because parents believed their kid had to be the most, the best, the star and the living answer to creation. I saw parents of 3 year old kids pushing them so hard the child lived in a world of morbid fear of failure.


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