Rehabilitation: A Commentary on Rape Culture

1 year ago Alger Mag Editor 0

Lighthouse_at_night,_Chania

On January 18, 2015, two passerbys caught Brock Turner on top of a woman behind a dumpster near the Stanford University campus. In March of this year, Brock Turner was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Two months later, the defendant was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation.

Six months.

As a woman, a college student, and a survivor myself, this ruling is extremely troubling. This man received a mere six months of jail time – even though prosecutors suggested six years – after stripping a defenseless woman of her clothes, her privacy, and her right to consent. While the entire courtroom process spanned an 18-month period, the offender walked out with a sentence lasting a fraction of that time, with a chance of early release for good behavior.

Studies conducted through Crime in America show that within five years of release, 84% of inmates under the age of 24 are arrested for a new crime. Furthermore, 58% of prisoners who were incarcerated for violent, drug, or property crimes are arrested again for crimes of similar nature. If we want prison time to serve the intended effect of a space in which offenders can be rehabilitated so that they don’t repeat the same crime, we aren’t succeeding. It takes longer sentences for the rehabilitation process to fully take effect; in allowing a rapist to be released within a year of incarceration, we put each other at risk for repeat offenses. With such a high rate of recidivism, punishments like Turner’s six months become a formality, serving as a shoddy penalty to get the jury off the judge’s back without providing a real chance of rehabilitation and recovery for the crime committed.

Yet we need to remember that the reparation paid is not to society or to the aggressor: it is to the victim. When a rape occurs, it’s not the aggressor’s life that is ruined; they are merely paying for their actions. The true sense of ruin lies in the destruction of the survivor’s life. Every action becomes a battle, be it getting out of bed, showering, allowing a friendly hug, or meeting new people. It takes weeks, months, or even years for victims to rebuild their lives. The victim of the Stanford rape case published a statement through BuzzFeed News in which she details this notion of psychological suffering in saying, “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.” Allowing the offender to walk free in comparatively no time at all belittles the absolute horror that person endured. What good does six months of superficial punishment do? Does it erase the fearful looks thrown over your shoulder as you walk home? Does it erase the reflex to cringe any time someone lays a finger on you? Does it erase the emptiness you carry every day after the crime, constantly reminding you of the fact that someone robbed you of your basic human rights?

Every year, there are about 293,000 victims of sexual assault and 68% of them choose not to report their case to the police. Many people don’t understand this statistic – why wouldn’t someone seek justice for the crime committed against them? The answer is multifaceted, but I find it best explained by Turner’s case. In coming forward, all sense of credibility ceases to exist. Instead of asking the aggressor why he felt he was entitled to steal this woman’s virtue, they ask the victim questions like, “Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him?” This destruction of character degrades a living, breathing, feeling person to an inanimate object. She is now a “thing” that reduces the rape as “20 minutes of action” or a “mistake.” Just as Turner violated the woman’s sense of self, the courtroom strips her of her agency and turns her body into a battleground. The victim states, “I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

Despite the victim’s damaged dignity, the defense probes for a flaw in character in efforts to create a loophole for the criminal:
                 If the victim was too drunk, it’s not the rapist’s fault.
                 If the victim was wearing revealing clothes, it’s not the rapist’s fault.
                 If the victim gave consent then retracted it, it’s not the rapist’s fault.

Regardless, these conclusions are false. Rapists cause rape – not clothes, not alcohol, not promiscuity. If that isn’t bad enough, the entire time the survivors are forced to be in the same room as their rapist, listening to the lies spilling out in efforts to lessen the severity of the atrocities committed. The end result? Six months of prison, if that, along with an aggressor who doesn’t understand why his actions were heinous and a mob of people who believe you to be an alcohol-dependent slut who broke this “poor man’s” future into pieces.

Instead of encouraging and supporting our survivors, we make it impossible for them to seek justice. Upon hearing the word “rape,” the attention is turned to what the victim did to provoke such an action. We search for a reason and try to make sense of the crime by focusing on the person hurt instead of the rapist. By addressing rape in this way, we cage victims into a box in their most vulnerable time where they’re forced to rebuild their lives on their own. In the meantime, the rapists roam free, capable of perpetrating the same crime to others. The number of the victimized grows exponentially. Justice remains lost.

As a community, we cannot allow rulings like that of the Stanford rape case to serve as precedent. Doing so reflects on our society’s shortcomings in failing to address rape as the aggressor’s fault. As the survivor of the case states, “I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.” And speak we will. As shown by the masses of supporters on social media, this unjust punishment will not be taken lightly. As a whole, people are screaming for the voices of survivors to be heard. It’s time to lay to rest the image of a deserving victim and let the rage we feel blaze until rape is defined as rape – not a drunken mistake, not a miscommunication, but rape — and is punished as so.

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By Aneeqah Ahmed

(Image Courtesy: Martin Belam on Flickr)