Tag Archives: college

Dan and Brock Turner, and the Lie of Alcohol, Promiscuity and Victim Blaming

A portion of Dan Turner’s letter to his son Brock’s sentencing judge was released last week after Turner, 20, was sentenced for three felony counts of sexual assault. He received three years probation and only six months in jail, a risibly light punishment. Turner was actually caught in the act of sexually penetrating the victim; two graduate students came upon him while he was top of her, clearly unresponsive. Police officers arriving on the scene found her similarly helpless. Unlike most non-stranger sexual assaults, particularly ones involving young people and alcohol, Turner’s guilt was demonstrated with relative ease. He committed a horrific crime, period. He truncated and permanently altered the life of another human being, period.

A father can be forgiven for begging leniency from a court of law when his son has committed a terrible crime. Dan Turner should not be excoriated simply for the effort of attempting to put his son’s entire life in context, or for bemoaning what he thinks the effects of incarceration might have on him. His message, though, now public, must be exposed for what it is: A dangerous diversion of blame for what his son did.

Turner’s obvious gaffe. describing his son’s crimes as “20 minutes of action,” was probably no more than a terrible choice of words. I doubt Turner meant “action” in the now antiquated sense of “getting some action” or anything similar. I’ve seen social media posts that highlight this phrase as evidence of the man’s callousness or worse, but I don’t think that bears out.

What is of greater concern, and what must be debunked to the wider world, is his attempt to shift the blame for this crime from his son to what he describes as “the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.” And beyond this, his belief that Brock should pay society back by educating other college students in an effort to “break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate consequences.”

This is as patently absurd as it is insulting and dangerous. Brock Turner, whatever else he’s capable of or has achieved, committed a predatory act of sexual violence on January 18, 2015. Not knowing the details of the case, I can’t say for sure if he identified his victim earlier in the evening and took manipulative steps to isolate her, or if he formed his intent upon realizing he had control of her in an unresponsive state. Either way, his actions were predatory. His actions were volitional. He made a choice. That choice has devastated the life of a young woman who- with effort and support- will recover fully, but who will never, ever look at her life the same way again.

So let’s be crystal clear: It is both incorrect and dangerously misleading to claim that the very separate issues of “alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity” somehow combine to draw otherwise non-sexually violent men into a vortex of rape they cannot be held completely responsible for. Both excessive alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity can be objectively unhealthy.

But neither of these things have anything to do with sexual violence, other than to provide the attacker with three weapons:

  1. A pathway to rape through the weakening of the reflexes, protective judgment and instincts of the victim and others who might protect her (or him).
  1. A brilliant cover for the tracks of the attacker’s actions, due to the compromised memory, credibility and even moral stature of the victim and the relevant witnesses.
  1. A perfect excuse in allowing alcohol, a substance that unleashes desire rather than creating it, to nevertheless take the blame for the attacker’s choices, and to provide a convenient way to blame the victim as well, complicit for having “gotten herself raped” because of drinking.

I don’t know what Brock Turner plans on doing when he’s completed his tiny stint behind bars. I certainly hope it does not entail speaking to a single college student anywhere about “breaking the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate consequences.”

Brock Turner has no right to lecture anyone on anything, let alone something as specious as some sort of cautionary tale to young men about becoming “victims” of alcohol, as if it somehow conspired from a bottle to compel him to disrobe and penetrate a young woman on the cold ground outside of a frat house.

Turner is guilty. Turner and no one and nothing else- certainly not the woman he attacked. Until that fully sinks in, the best anyone can hope for it that Turner keeps quiet.

 

Rolling Stone: From a Crucial and Embattled Movement, Behold Your Work

I have devoted a career to a growing and viscerally important, but eternally beset and threatened movement to end sexual violence. On college campuses, such violence has revealed itself to be among the worst and most widespread.

I can say with head-shaking sadness and bitter disgust that I’ve never seen this movement- particularly where widespread and largely ignored (or concealed) college rape is concerned- damaged so profoundly and with such speed.

This has happened because of breathtaking incompetence and blind greed, period.

I don’t know exactly where the reporter, Sabrina Erdely, falls on this miserable continuum. Perhaps she was remarkably unprofessional but sincere, paving the road to hell with a genuine belief that she was doing right by a traumatized young woman she sought out for a hyper-sensationalized story. Or, perhaps she’s as guilty as Rolling Stone’s editorial staff seems to have been, green-lighting this substandard piece simply because it was obvious click-bait and a turbo-charged issue seller.

What’s left for this particular story is hard to say. Clearly, there are both discrepancies in “Jackie’s” account and now additional emerging circumstances that must create doubt in any reasonable mind as to the full truth of what was apparently related to Erdely. But does that justify a leap to the assumption that Jackie just made it all up? Hardly.

The idea that she completely fabricated a gang-rape, and then punctuated this vicious, elaborate hoax with a two-year long journey toward healing (including thoroughly corroborated Immense distress, withdrawal, depression, and then involvement in UVA’s anti-sexual assault movement) is frankly absurd absent some profoundly delusional condition. It’s even more absurd when one remembers that Jackie never attempted to “go public.” Instead, Erdely and her editors took her there after seeking out the most shocking example of campus sexual violence available.

And now they’ve left her exposed and alone, regardless of their “apology” (revised after a backlash) that initially blamed her completely.

What’s left for the movement against rape, though, is as clear as it is damning: Legions of so-called “men’s rights advocates” and others who enjoy perpetrating myths and misogyny, are declaring victory. Jackie, they’re insisting, is emblematic of women everywhere. To the paranoid male, she’s a shining example of how college hook-up culture combined with alcohol has elicited reckless false reports from foolish, immoral women who then become desperate to claw back their virtue by “crying rape,” thus filling the prisons of the world with decent, if naturally red-blooded men.

Countless finger-wagging moralists and scolds with ready-made prescriptions to end a plague they really know nothing about are joining them, insisting that, at very least, Jackie is another “mistaken” victim, not of rape, but of the same reckless culture combined with new, politically liberal incentives to mistakenly cry rape when the real issue is “crossed signals” with a truly non-offending male.

For these two groups and so many more, Jackie is the rightfully exposed antagonist of their morality play, either because she’s a soulless liar or just another lost soul in need of everything from religion to hard-nosed advice on “how not to get raped.”

This is the deplorable handiwork of a publication literally as old as I am, and one that’s been culturally relevant and important far beyond its original focus on music (see Matt Taibbi, as an example), but that has miserably failed not just its readers but a theretofore unknown and healing, apparently contributing young woman as well.

Make no mistake; this was done for money and nothing more. I recall my father, when I was a kid, scoffing at the idea of a “liberal media” or a conservative one, for that matter. “What the media cares about,” he would say in an expression that’s now quaint, “is selling papers.”

Indeed. The almighty dollar is what matters. It’s what mattered to Rolling Stone when it came to pushing prematurely a damaged and traumatized young woman into the meat grinder of the 24 hour news-cycle and the twitterverse.  Journalistic ethics didn’t matter much. A still struggling movement they’ve set back a good 10 years didn’t matter much.

Jackie certainly didn’t matter much.

 

An Intolerable Glimmer and an Intolerable Focus on Controlling Women: Why I Still Fight Victim-Centered Rape Prevention

The “glimmer” is one of doubt. It’s the doubt that’s created when we analyze a rape perpetrated on a victim who was drunk, dressed seductively, or engaged in whatever behavior we have adjudged unwise and foolish. It’s a glimmer that allows for the blaming- ever so slightly, but still substantively- of the victim. It’s a glimmer that allows for the exoneration- ever so slightly, but still substantively- of the offender.

That’s what victim-centered rape prevention does. Regardless of how well-intentioned. Regardless of how coldly logical. Regardless of the reservoir of love and benevolence that lies behind it. Regardless. It still serves to create the glimmer. And the glimmer is too much.

See, we can claim we’re not blaming victims all we want when we advise seemingly obvious and demonstrably effective means of prevention. It does not matter; the effect still serves to blame victims and protect offenders. Why? Because sexual violence is a crime different from any other.

Read that again. Rape is categorically, undeniably in a class by itself. When one person attacks another sexually, the crime is analyzed differently than any other. Since criticizing Emily Yoffe’s State pieces earlier this week (her pieces are here and here) , I have received dozens of messages from people who construct analogies to other crimes to describe why her key advice (control your drinking) is simply sound advice and not victim blaming, regardless of how unfair it might seem. Others shake their heads and tell me I can wish for a kinder, fairer world all I want, but they’ll be damned if they won’t tell their daughters and sons exactly “what not to do” in order to protect them.

That’s understandable. But here is an undeniable truth: Leave aside my belief that all that advice, even if it works in many situations, also potentially opens up the hearers to other vectors of attack. For those who would still prefer to create rules and encourage loved ones to follow them in order to best play the odds, I will challenge them on at least one aspect of their thinking: They cannot avoid a charge of victim-blaming by claiming they would give similar advice to anyone in order to avoid, say, robbery (by walking on well-lit streets), or car theft (by locking doors).

Rape isn’t like robbery, car theft, or even murder. Sex, and how we view it, doesn’t allow for that.

The nature of sexuality in our culture (and most others) does not allow for it to be analogized to any other crime. The nuances and complexities of sexual interaction, seduction, flirtation, gender roles, the intensely private and culturally shame-based nature of the whole subject, the relation of the sexual organs to the excretory ones, the continued prizing of “purity,” etc, etc, etc, all combine to make sexual crime one that is always analyzed differently from any other.

So the danger of tipping the scales even a tiny bit and judging victim choices, thus marginally exonerating offenders, is magnified with sexual crime.

Another hard truth: The further we dig into the nature of sexual crime, the further we must dig into the nature of sex itself. And that means taking an honest look at gender roles, expectations, and deep-seated fears and obsessions that have shaped how society judges, treats, confines, punishes and subjugates women.

Read that again also, if you would. Far too much of the debate concerning how women can and should protect themselves from men is polluted with the continuing and still deeply unresolved obsession that men (and some women as well) still have with women as sexual beings. Our major religions, our societal structures, our laws, customs and mores. How many are hyper-focused on controlling female sexuality? When we can answer that question honestly and accurately, we’ll have uncovered much of what is wrong with how we seek to prevent rape.

That, in a nutshell, is why I find even the best intentioned, victim-centered prevention strategists to be ultimately wrong-headed. Try as they might, they are still tipping the scales. They are still creating doubt. As a prosecutor, that’s a thing I was trained very carefully to avoid when justice is on the line.

Emily Yoffe, Like Most Misinformed People, Won’t Get It. Maybe Ever.

Emily Yoffe is frustrated by the backlash against her well-intentioned but ill-considered original Slate piece from last week, but apparently emboldened by the support she’s received from other well intentioned and ill-informed supporters.

Yoffe, like many others, sees a reduction in drinking (on college campuses especially) as the key to reducing sexual assaults against women. Indeed, the answer seems startlingly clear to Ms. Yoffe, as if she’s sounding an alarm that those around her infuriatingly cannot hear:

Women! Stop drinking! You’re making yourselves vulnerable!

It seems so obvious. A woman (or a man for that matter) who decides, for whatever reckless, juvenile, or ill-advised reasons, to drink to excess, is making herself/himself vulnerable in a cruel and unpredictable world. That’s the seemingly clear-as-glass conclusion at which Yoffe and many like her have arrived.

My perspective is that of a former special victims prosecutor, so I suppose I must ask myself: Haven’t I seen countless cases in which objectively “bad” victim behavior (like heavy drinking) “led to victims being raped?”

Here’s the naked truth: I have worked with victims- male and female- who were raped during or after behavior that might have been judged unwise. But I have never seen a victim who was raped because of that behavior. I’ve only seen victims who were raped for the one, single, incontrovertible reason that all victims are raped:

Because someone chose to rape them. 

This is where Yoffe gets lost. Granted, it’s a subtle distinction and one I also had to absorb over time. It was a brilliant and irreverent PhD psychologist (Nikki Vallerie) who finally clued me in to a simple and profound truth: There is no vulnerability without danger.

A woman can skip through a big city park at midnight in a G-string made of sewn-together $100 bills. She will not be vulnerable- in other words, she won’t be at risk for the slightest victimization of any kind- even a criticism of her clothing choice- unless someone in her environment means to victimize her.

Let that sink in. No one is at risk, regardless of what they do or don’t do, if no one around them means them harm.

But the Yoffe’s of the world believe they’ve figured it all out and claim victory when it comes to policing bad or reckless behavior, believing the key to preventing most- if not all- sexual violence means the prevention of such behavior because of the “dangerous world” we all inhabit.

Indeed, the world is a dangerous place. But here are two critical areas where Yoffe and her ilk fail in their analysis and admonitions.

1. Women (and men) can be (and are) sexually victimized in the most “innocent” of circumstances, i.e., a day-time study group, a church function, an alcohol-free event or movie date. So warnings against “late night, drunken date rape” only protect victims from one type of rape- and could actually expose them to further harm as they’ll be unprepared for any other scenario other than what they’ve been warned against.

2. Rapists thrive on and celebrate- whether or not they do so consciously- the very rules of “wise and protective behavior” that Yoffe and her compatriots have so fervently and self-righteously promulgated.

The reasons are simple, and devastating.

First, as I alluded to before, a laundry list of things not to do will simply clear the path for the rapist who will rape after church, on a simple, alcohol-free DVD movie date, after a study session, or pretty much whenever he can isolate a victim who believes she (or he) has protected her/himself in every imaginable way from harm.

Second, the man who chooses to a rape a person who has “broken” a finger-wagging protective rule that society soberly approves of, knows full well that he’ll most likely never be accused of that crime.

Why? Because, thanks to the self-satisfying proclamations of the Yoffes of the world, his victim broke a rule and “got herself raped.”

Therefore, and as he well knows, she might not even be believed if she does report. But she’ll definitely be blamed even if she is. That will most likely keep her quiet. And so it goes.

Want to stop rape? Focus on rapists.

 

Comments on the Jordan Johnson Rape Case: The Way We Still Think

Below are a handful of comments from one single Montana Missoulian news story on the Jordan Johnson rape case which concluded with an acquittal this week. The overwhelming majority of commenters sided with the defendant based on the type of ignorance, myth and misinformation seen below. In one case a survivor of rape while in college claimed that “Jane Doe” (complainant) wasn’t a valid victim because Doe’s reactions weren’t the same as those she had.

If this sample of the commenting, news-reading public was reflective of the jury pool that decided the case, the prosecution never had a chance.

“If he had man handled her the way she says, she would have had clear bruising on her torso, and if it penetrated her where she said, the rape kit would definitely have shown massive trauma. The facts just don’t add up.”

“If a girl doesn’t want to risk getting raped, then don’t put yourself in a dicey situation. She knew he was possibly drunk, then picked him up and hung out by themselves. What would THAT tell any guy?” 

“Bottom line: Two stupid people” 

“I must have missed something. I would like to know how you can claim rape when you have two male roommates, whom you should trust, next door and you don’t scream. They must be making the walls in rental houses more sound proff than they used to. When I was in college my roommates would have had their water glass plastered against the wall so they wouldn’t miss the action.” 

“If a woman/girl does not want to ‘invite’ trouble, you do NOT make a conscious effort to pick up a drunk guy and then take him back to your place to be together. Any guy would definitely call that a direct invitation to do more, not too mention nobody knows what their prior history is either. There’s always been PLENTY of ditzy, stupid, girls trying to ‘bag’ the hot sports jock as well. Lesson to be learned: some people have to STOP putting themselves in bad situations in the first place. Both of these idiots made the same bad decision under a jointly dumb circumstance. He wasn’t her boyfriend, they weren’t dating, he was clearly cheating, and she didn’t care that he was intoxicated. Case closed.” 

“I think these people [advocates, medical personnel, police] “pushed” her into bringing this to court. What started out as a young lady feeling “jilted” or “used” telling a small fib, quickly snowballed. These “advocates” had an agenda. They believed that football players got special treatment, and felt “privileged”. They wanted to put a stop to that.” 

“I am a 64 year old grandma I would not want my grandaughter raped and I would not want my grandson falsely accused of rape. I can say from my perspective he did not commit rape according to Montana law. He did commit stupidity. Please let this young man go and make something of his life. Ms Doe just own up and take responsibility.” 

“Based on the testimony that I have read thus far, I would characterize the events of that evening as a “BAD DATE” for both parties.” 

“I hope this is a lesson for all you guys out there. Make the gals sign a contract before going on too bigger and better things. Don’t complicate your life.”

Indeed, “gals.” Maybe a contract will stop you from being raped. Maybe “better behavior.”

Failing that, if you are raped, your body had better showcase it in terms of “massive trauma” that we all know always manifests itself. And you’d better react the way the world around you damn well believes you should. If you don’t, we’ll call you stupid, jilted, bitter, foolish, greedy, crazy. A liar.

Yeah, that’s right. You’re better off keeping quiet.