Taking rape seriously in America

We don’t “get” rape in this country. We really don’t on some weird, sad level.

We seem to understand it’s a “bad” thing – certainly nothing we’d want to happen to our daughters, wives, mothers or sisters. But as a society we often don’t seem to see it or treat it as the brutal, horrific and debilitating crime it truly is.

You can see it in sentences like the baffling one given recently to Brock Turner, the Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious student he found behind a Dumpster.

His crime could have earned him 14 years in prison. Prosecutors instead asked for six. Judge Aaron Persky gave him six months, plus three years of probation, basically the same kind of sentence you could conceivably get for stealing cable TV service.

“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. … I think he will not be a danger to others,” the judge said, citing Turner’s youth and lack of a prior criminal record.

The sentence, of course, was outrageous, but even more outrageous was Turner’s father’s jaw-dropping letter criticizing the sentence as – yes - too harsh. The letter said, “(Brock’s) 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.”

Twenty minutes of “action” - that’s how he describes a rape? Clearly, that guy doesn’t get it, but he’s hardly alone. Like I say, we tend to pay lip service to the seriousness of sexual assault in this nation. If we didn’t, you would never see such a sentence or letter.

Don’t agree? Imagine if Turner had shot his helpless victim instead of raping her. Can you picture a judge giving him six months then saying “He’s a good boy, why ruin his future, too?”

If you can, you’re not someone I want to know.

Or what about the father? Same situation – the kid shoots her, maybe even kills her. Can you imagine a father saying, “OK, so he shot her, but that was two seconds out of the 20 years he’s been alive – isn’t six months a lot just for two seconds?”

Let’s be brutally honest: Beneath the laughably light sentence and the father’s equally laughable letter is the same excuse that burbles silently beneath many sexual assault cases: “She was partly to blame.”

That excuse can change from case to case. Sometimes it’s “she was asking for it” or “what’s the big deal?” or “c’mon, she wanted it” or “Hey, so she didn’t fight back so it must have been OK.”

But it’s almost always there in one form or another.

Is it any surprise, then, that a new survey of male college jocks - intramural or intercollegiate – just revealed that more than half had coerced a partner into sex, and that most of the methods of coercion they used – including threats - met the legal definition of rape?

No, it’s not surprising at all.

But we like to pretend that it is, and that’s a disgrace.

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