CHAPTER 3: Why do male student athletes get treated differently? 3.1 Brock Allan Turner We chose to discuss this subtopic because recently it has played a big role in rape culture. This topic focusses on the special treatment that many male students get in the courtroom for crimes they have committed. Aside from this being illegal, seeing as everyone is equal before the law, it is also a very prominent feature of rape culture in the United States. A lot of these cases use very sexist and degrading arguments towards the victim. This came to light especially during the case of the People v. Turner (People of the State of California v. Brock Allan Turner) in 2015. Brock Allan Turner was a student athlete at the University of Stanford at the time of the incident. He enrolled on a swimming scholarship and was in his freshman year at the time of the incident. Turner was also a member of the Stanford swimming team. On January 18 in 2015, Turner sexually abused an intoxicated and unconscious 22-year old woman, who is referred to as Emily Doe in the court case files. While he was sexually penetrating the unconscious woman with his fingers, two international Stanford students from Sweden caught him. Their statements explicitly say that they intervened because they saw that the woman was unconscious. When Turner tried to escape, the two students held him until the police showed up. On January 28 in 2015, Turner was indicted on 5 counts; Rape of an intoxicated person, Rape of an unconscious person, Assault with an intend to rape an intoxicated woman, Sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object Sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. After extensive forensic research, the prosecution dropped the first two counts due to lack of forensic evidence. The trial started on March 14 in 2016 and ended on March 30 in 2016. Turner was found guilty on all three remaining counts. All those counts together could add up to a sentence of 14 years in a federal prison. The prosecution suggested a sentence of 6 years, which is already less than half of the official sentence. Judge Aaron Persky went against all the prosecution’s suggestions and sentenced Turner to a 6-month sentence in the county jail of Santa Clara which would be followed by a 3-year probation time. Turner also had to register as a sex-offender. This was considered an extremely mild sentence not only by the prosecution but also by the American public. People were outraged that he had to serve so little time for the crimes he committed. This case was probably one of the most well-known cases supporting rape-culture. Media and the people of the United States were outraged at the outcome of the trial. Many accused Judge Persky of judicial bias and favoritism towards the male gender. Turner ended up only serving 3-months of his original 6-month sentence. His early release was caused by ‘good conduct’. This trial was one of the first which started shedding light on the issue of rape-culture in the US. One of the main arguments that the defense used is that the woman being assaulted was dressed ‘inappropriately’. This is something that plays a major part in rape-culture: blaming the victim for what happened to them. That is also what our third subtopic focuses on. Another thing that sparked outrage with the public was a letter written by Brock Turner’s father, Dan Turner, in which he wrote that the not-even-a-third-of-the-customary-sentence punishment was “a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action out of his twenty plus years of life.” This is also an argument that the defense used; that Brock was such a good student and this incident was just a one-time thing. That it would be a shame to punish someone who is such a hardworking student just because he lost control that one time. In the words of judge Persky: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”1 This is one of the main reasons why we chose to focus on this trial. In this case, Turner’s crime was excused by the fact that it would potentially ruin his life as a college student and his future career options. The defense tried to gain the public’s sympathy for Turner because “this was a one-time thing.” They tried to explain that Turner had such a bright future ahead of him and that being convicted and sent to a federal prison like others who have committed the same crime would ruin his life. Overall, the defense used a lot of arguments which outraged the US public. We used Brock Turner as the main example case here because it is one of the most well-known cases of this caliber. But this is not the only one. Unfortunately, this case is one out of thousands, some of which, are even more shocking examples of rape culture. 3.2 The theory behind why student athletes get treated differently Student athletes have quite the reputation and status at almost every educational institute throughout the States. They are respected by most other students and even faculty members. However, research2 has shown that, over the last 20 years, most sexual assaults on campus are committed by these respectable student athletes. There are multiple reasons for this, which all have to do with the college sports culture: a sense of entitlement, a tradition of impunity, peer pressure, and the value placed on aggression. A lot of student athletes feel a sense of celebrity entitlement in their institution. This is because many fellow students and even faculty members look up to them. Student athletes are often regarded as the elite of the social groups in high school or even college, which is something typically American. In addition student athletes often get bigger budgets, stronger recruiting efforts, and greater academic leniency. This makes a lot of those student athletes think that they can get away with things, which is usually the case. According to Ken Dryden, a politician and former student athlete, this feeling of entitlement and impunity comes from the power of being at the center of attention. Another reason student athletes may commit sexual assault at a higher rate than other men is the group mentality that comes naturally within a team. If one member of the group – often the leader – crosses a boundary and commits such a crime, it is more likely for other members of the team to become co-participants in the event rather than to stand up to the leader. This is why most sexual assault reports on campus report gang rapes. That ‘team-spirit’ is also very prominent if only one member of the team committed sexual assault. The teammates will often protect that one team member. This doesn’t just go for team members only. The coaches or sometimes even the school authorities will sometimes try to protect the athlete themselves, just to maintain that ‘all for one, one for all’ mentality that can be found in any student athlete team. Finally, like mentioned earlier, sports culture values, encourages, and even rewards aggression. When athletes transfer this aggression that they need on the playing field to the social scene, it can lead to sexual conquests that derive from the same kind of ‘just do it’ mentality that earns them accolades during a game. According to Sarah McMahon, a researcher at Rutgers University in New Jersey, student athletes need to learn to “take the pressure to be aggressive and dominant within in the context of sports and to then turn it off.”3 That is supposed to help the athletes manage the privilege and sense of entitlement that accompanies the male athlete status. Student athletes are often what give the institute its good name. If those athletes were to get blamed of sexual assault, the institute will shove it under the rug in fear of bad publicity. We will explain more about this topic in Chapter 5. 3.3 The link between rape culture and trials like these Trials such as the Brock Turner case are perfect examples of rape culture. They normalize sexual crimes through degrading arguments. During this trial, the defense used phrases like: ‘If she didn’t want it (the molestation) to happen, she should have stayed home’. The defense used ‘victim blaming’. Victim blaming is very self-explanatory. Victim blaming occurs when a victim of a crime or wrongful act is held accountable and responsible for the harm that befell them. A frequent example of victim blaming is using a victim’s clothing at the time of the crime as the reason behind the attack. If a girl was wearing a short dress, instead of blaming the perpetrator, they would say the girl was asking for it and that what happened to her was her fault. Victim blaming is one of the keystones in the foundation of rape culture. In Chapter One, you read about how dress coding puts a male student’s education before that of a girl student. This is not very different. The defense tried to excuse Turner’s actions by mentioning how good a student he was, and how it would be such a shame if he were to get severely punished for “one minor lapse in judgment”. This trial is actually the perfect example for the Rape Culture Pyramid. During the trial, there was victim blaming, sexist attitudes, and ‘boys will be boys’. All of these things belong in the bottom layer, the foundation. All of these things and arguments were used to excuse molestation and violence, both of which belong in the very top layer. Essentially, Turner got away with it because of his role in the swimming team and his academic life. Such trials show how deeply rooted rape culture is in the American society. The fact that someone can use these arguments in a court of law and that those arguments can be seen as valid arguments means that rape culture has infiltrated the United States justice system, which prides itself on its impartiality and its fairness. This is the link between rape culture and trials like Turner’s.