How Brock Turner Can Help Us Unearth the Depths of Our Patriarchy

Greggory Moore | Moore Lowdown
How Brock Turner Can Help Us Unearth the Depths of Our Patriarchy

image by: HLN

The latest meager sentence for rape may be less a single miscarriage of justice than a signal of just how deeply embedded sexism remains...

In 2012 Americans were universally appalled at the brutality that befell Jyoti Singh, a young Indian woman who for an hour-and-a-half was beaten and gang-raped on a private bus that drove the roads of Delhi, dying two days later of catastrophic injuries, such as those she inflicted by the insertion of a rusty metal rod into her vagina and anus.

India was widely decried in the American media for the gender inequality that fostered a culture in which such heinous crime could be perpetrated against women and girls. The subtext was that the United States is a different universe. But the recent case of Brock Turner makes clear that, four years later and half a world away, women are still widely treated as objects.

In January 2015, Turner was caught in the act of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Fast-forward past the numerous excuses and inconsistencies Turner offered in his defense to last month's verdict: a jury found Turner guilty of "Assault with Intent to Commit Rape, Sexual Penetration when the Victim was Intoxicated, and Sexual Penetration where the Victim was Unconscious of the Act."

You'll note that Turner was not convicted of rape. It's not that the jury didn't find him guilty of rape: he wasn't charged with rape. Why not? As Dayna Evans points out in The Cut, California law limits rape to non-consensual sexual intercourse. In other words, if you stick a finger or a metal rod inside a woman's vagina against her will, it's not rape unless you also did the same with your penis. In Turner's case, he admitted to inserting a finger inside his victim (although the men who stopped him reported they saw him on top of her and thrusting his hips).

Were the insertion unwanted objects—whatever they might be (does it really matter?)—into men's bodies as common a crime as the insertion of unwanted objects into women's bodies, I suspect there would be a lot less legal hair-splitting. I am reminded of the abortion-rights aphorism: If it were men who got pregnant, we'd have a constitutional amendment explicitly guaranteeing the right to abortion.

But perhaps the sentencing of Brock Turner provides us with an even better example of just how insidiously patriarchal our society remains. The most despicable sound bite comes from Dan Turner, Brock's father, who petitioned presiding Judge Aaron Persky for leniency by arguing that Brock's sexual assault on his victim doesn't qualify as violence, and that the conviction alone—never mind any possible jail time—was "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action."

Presumably Dan Turner wouldn't have wished leniency for the perpetrator a sexual assault on his unconscious daughter, nor would he have considered that the "action" lasted only 20 minutes as a mitigating factor (leave aside that we don't know how much longer Brock would have assaulted his victim, since he was interrupted in the act). But however much Dan Turner's regard for his son's crime is motivated by identifying women as objects and that boys will be boys, that Brock's mother also petitioned Persky for leniency tells us what we already know: people generally side with the friends and loved ones over strangers, even when strangers are victimized by those friends and loved ones.

On the other hand, a judge in such a case is expected to be impartial. And when it came time for sentencing, what was in front of Judge Persky was a legal matter of fact: Brock Turner was guilty of attempted rape and of inserting an object or objects into the body of an intoxicated, unconscious woman. Prosecutors asked Persky to put Turner away for six years.

But that was too much for Persky. Way too much. Persky was concerned about the "severe impact" a prison sentence might have on Turner. Six months, Persky said, six months was enough (more like three, considering early-release practices in California). Never mind what Brock did. Never mind that he stopped only because he was chased away.

That Persky spoke of this potential "severe impact" is an ironic turn of phrase, considering another piece of evidence he was supposed to weigh during sentencing: the victim impact statement. In this case that statement was a heartbreakingly eloquent 12-page letter detailing the victim's complete experience over the prior 16 months, from the crime and its subsequent effect on her to the increased suffering of the trial to her hopes that Turner receive the stiffest possible sentence.

But her words fell on deaf ears, seeming to demonstrate that Persky had more feeling for the personhood of the perpetrator than for that of the victim. While there's no way to know whether this has anything to do with Persky's sharing a gender with the perpetrator but not the victim, according to at least one juror, the punishment does not fit the crime.

"After the guilty verdict I expected that this case would serve as a very strong deterrent to on-campus assaults," wrote a juror in a letter to Judge Persky published in the Palo Alto Weekly, "but with the ridiculously lenient sentence that Brock Turner received, I am afraid that it makes a mockery of the whole trial and the ability of the justice system to protect victims of assault and rape. Clearly there are few to no consequences for a rapist even if they are caught in the act of assaulting a defenseless, unconscious person. [… O]ur verdicts were marginalized based on your own personal opinion."

Personal opinions that clearly Persky did listen to were those of the Santa Clara County probation officers who submitted pro forma sentencing recommendations upon Brock Turner's conviction. And despite noting witness statements that prior to Turner's assault he was making unwanted advances on women even after they had pushed him away, that to the passersby who interrupted the assault it appeared Turner was raping the victim, and that the victim "will be forever impacted by [Turner]'s conduct," they recommended a moderate, suspended prison sentence plus probation.

The names of the probation officers who compiled and signed off on the report: Laura Garnette and Monica Lassettre.

I confess that when I set out to write this article, I presumed that all down the line it was going to be men who were responsible for so little punishment for such a heinous violation. But I should have kept in mind how insidious patriarchy can be. I should have thought of how even in today's world there are women who willfully perpetuate the practice of vaginal circumcision, women who perform the mutilations and women who sacrifice their own daughters on the altar of this terrible tradition.

I should also have had in mind the fact that Turner will do any time at all for his crime means he's receiving a harsher punishment than do 99.4% of all rapists in the United States. And however much that statistic may be informed by the majority of crimes failing to result in a conviction, considering that there is a three times greater conviction rate for nonsexual assaults, the legal deck does seem stacked against victims of sexual assault, nearly 90% of whom are female.

If 90% of sexual-assault victims were male, how different would the legal landscape look? If one out of every six men were a victim of at least one sexual assault during his lifetime, would our system be the same as it is now? Or is James Brown as right today as he was 50 years ago: that this is a man's, man's, man's world, and because of that we're all still lost in the wilderness?

This man's opinion is that the answers are not all that elusive. It's the means of redressing the systemic inequity that are harder to wrangle. But the more openly we own our sexist reality, the closer we'll get to changing it.

About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California.  Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing. 

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly,, and a variety of academic and literary journals.  HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up.  For more information:

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