Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Response to "On Outrage and Douchebags"

My dear colleague (and formerly my minister) Lynn Ungar has written a thoughtful piece about the Brock Tuner rape case on Patheos.  I appreciate her deep thinking and opportunity to look at the situation differently, but I have to respectfully disagree with her conclusions.

First, like Lynn Ungar, I want to see large changes in our prison industrial system.  I believe too many nonviolent offenders are given long sentences and this is to the detriment of our society.  I want to see people getting rehab, not jail time, for drug use.  But there are a few groups of people I'm willing to see get long prison sentences.  And one of those groups is rapists.  There are cases where I feel bad for a criminal who will have the rest of their life affected.  Brock Turner isn't one of them. 

I'm not a survivor of rape, but I've lived with the aftermath.  In 1995-6 as a graduate student at the University of Georgia, I lived with two other female students, one of whom I hadn't known before moving in together.  That student had been raped not long before we moved in together.  I didn't know intimately what my roommate was going through in the months that followed.  I just knew how I didn't get to know her because she was curled inside a protective shell.  I just knew how she would panic if I left a door or window unlocked.  I just knew how difficult it was for her to sleep without fear.

My roommate raped by John Alexander Scieszka, a serial rapist who had been previously incarcerated, released, and raped again.  He was the kind of rapist who would go out drinking, and then follow a woman home, climb in her window after she had gone to bed, and rape them. 

In an article about the cases, a former police sergeant who spent fifteen years investigating rapes said this:
Ingram said some rapists started out as Peeping Toms, or fed their clothes fetishes, stealing undergarments from clotheslines or homes before targeting victims. Others were simply opportunists.
   ''They were looking for open windows, unlocked doors, people moving around alone,'' he said. ''They were just looking for the opportunity to prey on someone.''

When I see the pictures of Brock Turner on social media, I see similarities between him and John Alexander Scieszka.  Where they are similar is that they both raped a woman, in both cases they went after an unconscious woman, and in both cases it was a woman they didn't previously know.  Brock Turner's rape is sometimes talked about as a "campus rape" which makes it sound like something similar to "date rape," but he didn't know the woman he raped, and he wasn't dating her.

And there are differences -- perhaps -- between Brock Turner and the serial rapist.  This may have been Brock Turner's first rape.  Quite possibly it was not.  And I believe Brock Turner didn't necessarily set out with rape on his mind, unlike John Alexander Scieszka.  Brock Turner is the kind of rapist, probably, who is a opportunity rapist.  He didn't set out to rape, but he saw the opportunity to rape, and he chose to rape.  But there's absolutely no reason to believe that if he was going to follow one girl out of a party, wait until she fell unconscious, and then rape her behind a dumpster, that he wouldn't do this again and again.  He was simply an opportunist, and he found "the opportunity to prey on someone."

There are occasions when consent might be murky.  When the woman is unconscious isn't one of them.  Brock Turner's rape wasn't a date rape, and it wasn't a case of a woman "changing her mind" and it wasn't a case of "he said/she said."  Let's remember that he was caught in the act of raping an unconscious woman.  There's no implied consent, no revoked consent, no question of consent when a woman is unconscious.  There's no sense of "she seemed to want it" or "she was asking for it" -- she was unable to want, unable to ask, unable to consent.  And Brock Tuner chose to violate her. 
 
Yes, our justice system needs reform.  And some people definitely get sentences they don't deserve, and that's the bigger part of the reform needed.  But surely part of what shows us that it needs reform is when a white affluent college athlete gets a lenient sentence for a heinous crime.  How long a sentence should a rapist get?  I think I'm willing to jail a rapist for at as long as it takes a woman who is raped to fall asleep with the light off, and for at least as long as it takes for her to go to bed without triple-checking the door locks.

Secondly, Lynn Ungar invites us to put ourselves in every part of the situation -- "What if I am also the perpetrator, the one who is willing to take what I want even if it causes suffering to others? What if I am the father, willing to make excuses for the causes as well as the people I love, wanting to protect what I care about even at the expense of those who are outside my circle?"

But not every person is willing to harm people, especially to the point of rape, to get something they want, particularly something as fleeting as sexual satisfaction.  (And not every parent is ready to excuse the heinous acts of a child out of the deep parental love they feel.  Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's father said to the New Yorker, "I wish he had never been born.")

Something that's important to remember, particularly as Brock Turner continues to deny that he is a rapist and blames alcohol and sexual promiscuity for his situation, is that not all people -- not all men, either -- are rapists.  Most people who get drunk don't rape unconscious women.  Most of us, when we find an unconscious woman, even if we were drunk would at best get her help and at worst ignore her.

In fact, while one in four women will be raped in her lifetime, it's not nearly one in four men doing the raping.  The 2002 study by Lisak and Miller found six percent of men admitted to rape, and almost two thirds of them were repeat offenders.  The odds are that Brock Turner would be one of them if he hadn't been caught.

I appreciate the thought of trying to put myself in Brock Turner's shoes, but the fact is I am not likely to wear those shoes, nor are the numerous men around me who are standing up for women and fighting the rape culture.  I'd rather hold up the idea that most men don't rape and fight the rape culture than the concept that we all have a little rapist inside.

Lastly, I too am sick and tired of the outrage, and also sick and tired of the outrageous.  And there are so many pieces of this story that are outrageous, but one of them is surely the lack of responsibility taken by Brock Turner himself, from the denial of his actions to the concept that what he should do to help society as recompense is talk to groups about "sexual promiscuity."  Yes, I believe in Brock Turner's inherent worth and dignity as a person.  I believe he is a child of God, if there is a God.  And I also believe he has to take some responsibility. 

Brock Turner is more than a "douchebag."  He is a rapist. 

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