Rape escape

Oakwood native’s wrist-slap raises eyebrows

By Sarah Sidlow

Meet Brock. He’s clean-cut, relatively good looking, smiling. He went to Stanford University, and he can swim really fast. He has Olympic dreams.

But things changed on a dime for this Oakwood, Ohio, 20-year-old, who is now preparing for six months (with a chance of three) in jail and probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. He’ll be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Surely, this is a wrench in his plans. But many say that wrench isn’t nearly big enough.

You see, Brock was on the hook for a maximum of 14 years in prison—for three felonies: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.

Brock Turner met Emily Doe (not her real name), 23, at a college party Doe attended with her younger sister in January 2015. After midnight, two witnesses happened upon Turner, who was allegedly hip-thrusting the unconscious Doe on the ground behind a dumpster on Stanford’s campus. When they approached, Turner ran. The witnesses tackled him and held him until the police arrived. Doe remained unconscious for several hours.

During the trial, lots of people in Turner’s camp said lots of stupid things. Like his dad, Dan, who said imprisonment was not the “appropriate punishment” for Brock, who had already paid a steep price for only “20 minutes of action” (we wonder if he would have said the same had he been the survivor’s father).

Childhood friend Leslie Rasmussen wrote a letter on Turner’s behalf, saying, “I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him.” And also, “this is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. … These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgment.”

Brock still has not admitted to sexually assaulting Emily Doe during those “20 minutes of action.” And still, Santa Clara County Judge (and Stanford alum) Aaron Persky reduced the 14 possible years of prison to six months in a local jail with parole eligibility after only three months based on good behavior. Persky said Turner’s significant remorse, positive character references and lack of criminal record persuaded him. He thought prison would have a “severe impact on him.”

Cue outrage from pretty much everyone, ever.

The day of the sentencing, Doe read a statement to the judge, which, if you have any access to the internet or social media, you’ve probably seen. The statement has been viewed over 13 million times on Buzzfeed, where it is published in full.

Now, people are calling for Persky’s robes. Apparently, there are others out there who believe that good character references and feeling really, really bad should not mitigate a rape charge. District Attorney Jeff Rosen said publicly that the punishment did not fit the crime.

“The predatory offender has failed to take responsibility,” he said, “failed to show remorse and failed to tell the truth. The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault, or the victim’s ongoing trauma. Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape. And I will prosecute it as such.”

ESPN host and personality Mike Golic put it another way on his podcast last week:
“Does Brock’s father or this judge understand that a woman was assaulted in this? At all?”

Reach Dayton City Paper Forum Moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com

We’re raising kids never told ‘no’

By Kate Geiselman

An alternate version of the Brock Turner sexual assault story has been spinning in my imagination since last January, when I first heard of his arrest.

In my version, he recognizes that what happened on Stanford’s campus behind that dumpster was rape. He comes to understand that intoxication is not consent. He takes responsibility for his violent “action” that irreparably harmed another human being, instead of blaming them on alcohol. Rather than spending a year and a half honing his story, making excuses and lawyering up, he pleads guilty. He looks his victim squarely in the eyes and says, “I’m sorry. I had no business putting my hands on or in you after you were no longer able to give consent. I should have helped you to safety instead of running and lying about why I did. I will do everything I can to spare you any further pain. I will spend the rest of my life educating young people about consent and sexual violence.”

Then he serves his punishment—perhaps even a sentence mitigated by his understanding of the crime, his taking responsibility, even his character references—because he gets it. He bears the weight of his guilt, and in doing so eases the burden of his victim.

But that’s not what happened. And because I live in the community that spawned Brock Turner, I have known on some level for many months that my version would never be reality.

Oakwood, Ohio, is about as idyllic a Midwestern community as one could imagine. The streets are tree-lined, the houses charming. The kids walk to school and go home for lunch. The schools are nationally recognized. In fact, the nickname for Oakwood is “The Dome,” so sheltered are its residents from violence, poverty and inconvenient truths. I have lived here for over 20 years.

Communities like this one have a dark side, though: the conflation of achievement with being “a good kid;” the pressure to succeed; the parents who shrug when the party in their basement gets out of control (or worse yet, when they host it) because “kids are gonna drink;” the tacit understanding that rules don’t necessarily apply. The cops won’t come. The axe won’t fall.

Yet now it has.

Invariably, when I tell someone who knows Dayton that I live in Oakwood, they will assume that I am rich, narrow-minded, a Republican or some combination thereof. If most residents were just the stereotype, though, I would not have been happy here as long as I have. For the most part, I have loved raising my kids here. But I have struggled, too. My closest friends and I have a long-standing joke about needing to remember to “lower the bar” around here—about not falling prey to the pressures to conform and compete, not buying the line that the schools or the kids here are special. Most of us understand our privilege and good fortune. Many do not.

There is an Oakwood in every city; there’s a Brock Turner in every Oakwood: the “nice,” clean-cut, “happy-go-lucky,” hyper-achieving kid who’s never been told “no.” There’s nothing he can’t have, do, or be, because he is special. Fortunately, most kids like this will march into their predictably bright futures without victimizing anyone along the way. Many will do good in the world.

But it’s not hard to draw a straight line from this little ‘burb (or a hundred like it) to that dumpster at Stanford. What does being told “no” mean to that kid? If the world is his for the taking, isn’t an unconscious woman’s body? When he gets caught, why wouldn’t his first impulse be to run, make excuses—blame the Fireball, or the girl or the campus drinking culture? That is entitlement. That is unchecked privilege.

When the news of Turner’s arrest broke a year and a half ago, it was met in this community with a fair amount of shock and denial. Before details emerged, the whispered sentiments at Starbucks and in the aisles of the local grocery were compassion for his parents and hopes for a fair trial. In light of his conviction and sentencing, though, I find that I’m hiding from social media and avoiding conversations on this subject, lest I have to listen to someone defend him. I don’t want to hear anyone start in about the nice family or the good kid. My kids went to high school with him. I ran the community center swim team he was on. No, I don’t “know” Brock Turner like his friends or neighbors do. But I do know what he did, and so do we all, based on the unanimous verdict of a jury and two eyewitnesses.

We now also know exactly what his victim suffered, and we know that he doesn’t own any of it. Neither do his apologists. Letters of support—his father’s and at least one of his friends’—are making the rounds online, and they are shockingly tone-deaf. His father has blamed alcohol and promiscuity. His friend said, “Rape on campus isn’t always because people are rapists.” That either of these letters cut ice with the judge is just further proof of how broken the system is.

I thought the outrage over this story would start before now, but it took a victim’s statement going viral to bring it the attention it deserves. At every turn, I’ve thought of how things could have gone differently. I’ve wondered if all of this was the attorney’s doing—that Turner and his family were manipulated into denial because their lawyer told them there was no other alternative. But his father’s letter and his own lame “apology” make it seem clear that they truly believe that bad timing and alcohol — not Turner himself—were to blame.

Ultimately, there is no happy ending to a story like this one, not in the version I imagined months ago or in the one that actually came to pass. I take some solace in the fact that the victim’s brave, eloquent statement has brought more attention to rape culture than any single indictment or verdict could.

It’s cold comfort, to be sure.

This story comes to us courtesy of The Washington Post. Kate Geiselman is a writer and professor of English at Sinclair Community College. Reach Kate Geiselman at Kathryn.Geiselman@sinclair.edu

This story comes to us courtesy of The Washington Post. Kate Geiselman is a writer and professor of English at Sinclair Community College. Reach Kate Geiselman at Kathryn.Geiselman@sinclair.edu

Injustice

By Don Hurst

In the recent sentencing of sex offender Brock Turner, Judge Aaron Persky stated that he chose leniency because he worried that prison would be hard for the “truly remorseful” Turner. That is the primary point for the correctional system. Prison should be hard.

During my years as a police officer, I investigated too many sex assaults. I’ve been involved with taking that first initial statement at the hospital, collecting evidence at the crime scene, arresting the suspects and testifying in court. From a law enforcement perspective, these cases always felt elevated compared to other types of assaults—and less deserving of leniency.

Cops will tell you that in most violent felonies today’s victim was last week’s suspect. Criminals fighting criminals. That’s not true with sex crimes. I have never investigated one when the victim caused their assault.

It’s heartbreaking.

It’s heartbreaking for all the reasons Turner’s victim wrote in her statement to the court. Her detractors claim that she exaggerated to manipulate our emotions. From my experience, what makes Emily Doe’s letter so horrific is that it is so common. Any rape victim could have written that letter.

Sex assault is unique in that collecting evidence closely mirrors the crime itself. Wherever a suspected penetrated the victim, medical professionals also have to probe. It’s like getting raped all over again. Saying that’s traumatic is an understatement.

It’s not like a gunshot victim has to get shot again to prove the case. The only solace that law enforcement can offer the victim while they endure this second violation is that this suffering will give the victim closure. The evidence will help make sure that her attacker will not hurt her or anyone else ever again. Judge Persky just cheapened this promise. Why would any victim go through this hell if her convicted attacker will only get six months in a county jail so that his life is not ruined?

Sex assault is unique among violent crimes in its duration. Most non-sexual assaults don’t last more than a couple of minutes. By Brock Turner’s father’s admission this specific assault lasted for “20 minutes of action.” Twenty minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time in the scope of catching a movie or relaxing at home, but 20 minutes of an assault stretches into an eternity. Just to put that in perspective, UFC cage matches last 15 minutes.

There are occasions where minimum sentencing is appropriate, especially when the prosecution needs to entice the defendant to plead guilty. Cases that are “he said, she said,” with no corroborating physical evidence, the prosecution may gun for the certain conviction with at least some jail time. Even with a strong case prosecutors may still opt for a plea deal with lighter sentencing to save the victim further anguish.

The uncertainty of a trial is an emotional roller coaster for victims. They have to face their attacker in court. They have to tell their story to a jury of strangers. Then they have to endure the cross examination of the defendant’s lawyer who is trying to make the victim look like a drunken whore. We can understand why some victims opt out.

Turner did not take a deal. He professed his innocence to the end, forcing his victim to endure a trial. Turner never admitted fault. His attorney blamed the victim’s “promiscuity” for the assault. Independent parties witnessed the crime, so we are well beyond that “he said, she said” uncertainty. The physical evidence confirms that if Emily Doe was not unconscious when the act started she was most certainly too intoxicated to give consent. The prosecution even cut Turner a break by dropping the rape charges (in California, rape is reserved for penetration by penis). Even though witnesses observed what looked like rape, the physical evidence was inconclusive. So the prosecution focused on what they could prove: Turner penetrated his victim with his fingers while she was unable to provide consent.

Turner’s accounts are inconsistent with all other evidence and testimony. He says he got off the victim because he had to vomit, not because witnesses yelled at him to stop. He was so surprised when they started running after him that he ran for his life. He was so shocked when police arrested him instead of the guys attacking him. He was so drunk that he can’t even describe his victim and did not notice she was unconscious. But he wasn’t that drunk, because he remembers with 100 percent certainty that his victim gave him “a positive response” when he asked her if she liked what he was doing.

At any time, Turner could have owned up to his crime and pled guilty. Instead he lied, tried to shift blame and hoped to fool a jury. None of this speaks to the “remorse” Judge Persky cites as the reason for the lenient punishment. True remorse does not exist without taking full responsibility. He’s so remorseful that he is appealing his conviction to spare himself the six-month (three with good behavior) sentence.

Judge Persky demonstrated a complete lack of concern for the victim. This decision was bad for Emily Doe; it’s bad for justice in all future cases. Judge Persky made it very clear that in his court sex offenders are treated with more compassion than their victims—a dangerous attitude that will only make women less safe.

Don Hurst is a combat vet and a former police officer. He now lives in Dayton where he writes novels and plays. Reach DCP freelance writer Don Hurst at DonHurst@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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