Dialogue around rape culture has to change

This week's reporter column suggests the dialogue around rape culture must change.

By now most people should be aware of a sexual assault case in the United States involving an Olympic hopeful swimmer who sexually assaulted an unconscious 22-year-old woman by a dumpster in Jan. 17 2015 and received a light punishment.

For those who don’t know, this is what is reported:

Stanford University student Brock Turner, a swimmer with a promising future, took an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and raped her. He was recently found guilty and convicted for raping an intoxicated woman. The charges against Turner included some graphic details of the crime.

His punishment? A sentence of six months in jail (Turner will most-likely spend half that time incarcerated), three years probation and registration as a sex offender. A sentence so light it was thought Turner faced between six to 14 years that it has finally created a need for discussions on a rape culture that often favours the assailant.

This topic may make some people uncomfortable but ignoring the situation won’t make it go away.

Imagine being the victim in the Turner case and having to read a letter from the assaulter’s father (Dan) pleading with Judge Aaron Persky to show some mercy. The unfathomable letter states the family have had their lives shattered. “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of his life.”

And yet it’s difficult not to be moved by the victim’s impact statement. In it, she points out how her life has changed forever. Those 20 minutes caused enough pain for a lifetime. “I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events with drinking among friends where I should be comfortable being.”

“My statements have been slimmed down to distortion and taken out of context. I fought hard during this trial and will not have the outcome minimized by a probation officer who attempted to evaluate my current state and my wishes in a 15-minute conversation, the majority of which was spent answering questions I had about the legal system,” she added.

Twenty minutes changed the course of a woman’s life forever; 20 minutes in which Turner could have done a world of good.

What victims face in these instances are questions related to their actions. Indeed, some people reading this may be asking those same questions: What was she wearing? Was she drunk? Did she lead him on? These questions put the responsibility of another person’s actions on the victim.

It is easy to see that odds are often stacked against the victim when those in the justice system also appear to blame the victim. Remember the court case where Alberta Judge Robin Camp berated a teen rape victim for not crossing her legs together? This was only a couple of years ago.

In an effort to clarify what consent actually is, some jurisdictions mandate sexual consent education. California has implemented a “Yes Means Yes” law. Others are highlighting the need for understanding using video tools.

The Thames Valley Police in England produced a video called Tea and Consent explaining initiating sex using a cup of tea as the analogy. The short video does a great job at pointing out if someone doesn’t want tea, or are unable to, then don’t force it on them. If they said they wanted tea yesterday that doesn’t mean they want tea today.

“If they don’t drink it, and this is the important bit, don’t make them drink it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to watch them drink it,” states the video.

It perfectly explains what consent means. It also shows a need to change how we approach this issue.

The dialogue has to change so that individuals feel safe in their own skin and environment.

 

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