Brock Turner, a former Standford University swimmer sexually assaulted an unconscious woman between two dumpsters. The case caused outraged after a judge sentenced Turner to only six months in county jail. Further outrage ensued when Dan Turner, Brock’s father, wrote a letter referring to the incident as “twenty minutes of action”. A similar backlash happened in response to Brock’s mother, Carleen Turner, writing a letter pleading for leniency for her son.
This case resulted in the kind of hyperbolic nonsense that usually happens. People want the judge who issued the weak sentence to resign. People trash the Turner family, claiming they taught their son to be a rapist. People claim the sentence is a result of “rape culture” and”white privilege”. The media fuels this with article after article digging into every detail of the case with a gleeful “and look what else he did!” tone.
To be certain, the case is ridiculous. Turner was caught in the act of assaulting the young woman by two men. He attempted to run, and two other men caught and held him for the police. The case information shows that Turner lied about his prior drug and alcohol use and may have taken a picture of the woman before or during the assault. Turner faced a potential 20-year sentence. Prosecutors asked for six years. The judge gave out six months. Given the nature of the crime, that sentence is indefensible.
However, it is the sentence Turner received. We can and should be outraged, yet all the posturing and mouth-foaming will not change the sentence. The only way to do that would be revoking the judge’s decision, which I do not think California law allows.
What is more worrisome, however, are the claims about “rape culture” and “white privilege”. There is no indication that Turner got a pass because he was white. The judge does appear to have some connection to Stanford, so that might explain his actions. According to that article, the judge has a history of being tough on sex offenders, so it is also possible he genuinely thought Turner’s age and lack of prior history should result in a six-month sentence.
That has nothing to do with “rape culture” or “white privilege”. It is simply a bad decision.
Yet that has not deterred people from claiming that men need to be taught not to rape and that men need to read the victim’s letter to understand what rape looks like. The irony is that four random men stopped Turner from assaulting the victim. Two pulled him off her and two others kept him from running away. It would seem that men already know what they need to know about rape. There is a massive amount of cognitive dissonance at play as people applaud these men’s actions while arguing the inane position that men = rapists.
One response demonstrates the totality of the silliness at play. A post on /r/Menslib by Ciceros_Assassin shows just how ridiculous the response has gotten:
First, I’m totally disgusted by this, and I’m guessing that pretty much all of you are as well. The assault itself, the lack of any indication of genuine contrition from Turner, the frankly shocking and revolting statement by Turner’s father, the laughable sentence and the ludicrous reasons for it… There’s nothing about the immediate circumstances from which I can take anything positive. The whole thing just makes me feel gross.
How good for you.
I would agree that Dan Turner’s comment was a poor choice of words. However, they are not shocking. He is trying to keep his son out of jail. Should Brock go to jail, it will likely result in his assault, rape, and probable death. I expect the father to say things that focus on his son and not the victim. This is typical of letters to the court pleading for mercy.
Dan Turner could and should have left that sentiment out of the letter. Even if he thinks it is true, i.e. that his son should not spend twenty years in prison for something that happened over the course of twenty minutes, the words he used could be interpreted as “sex”, which sounds bad. More troubling than Turner writing those words is that his lawyer saw them and did not suggest that he remove them.
Second, I have some thoughts on the concept of consent education, and its relationship with this case.
The reason I bring this up is because what Turner did has prompted a bit of a resurgence of articles about the importance of teaching boys what consent looks like, to help prevent things like this. Now, I haven’t ever hidden that I consider (what I think of as) the hard discussions, the ones that make us reflect on men, masculinity, or (even harder) our own personal behavior, incredibly important to any community that is honestly focused on men’s issues and the growth and development of men, individually and as a group.
Yes, of course. When discussing men’s issues, i.e. the problems men and boys uniquely face, we must also remind them that they are all rapists and abusers and sexists who need to be taught not to do those things.
I think consent education is crucial, I think that probably the way different people are socialized means that sometimes it will be more effective to drill down on certain segments of the population (and sometimes this is going to mean boys, or men). I think that the confrontation with our own expectations about society, the way we’ve developed as people in it, and our role in it, are crucial to our movement.
In short: men bad.
When a commenter pointed out that “we already have a very gendered view of sexual violence, which routinely ignores male victims” and asked “what safeguards can be added to ensure that pulling the boys out of class to teach them about consent doesn’t contribute to this view”, Ciceros answered with:
I’m not an expert in the fields of sexual violence or curricula, but here are a few things we know: men commit sexual assault at a vastly higher rate than women do; men are socialized to be the pursuer in sexual relationships much more than women are; men are socialized to put more value on sexual conquest than women are.
Let us unpack that. That latter one has little relation to consent. Sleeping with as many women as possible does not mean that men would rape women. Indeed, it is typically seen as more impressive for a man to charm a woman who had no interest in him than for him to assault her.
The second element is relevant only if one assumes that men who pursue women intend to rape them. Otherwise, the only real application would be the assumption that men do not respect women’s refusal. While that does occasionally happen, it is also true that women who are actually interested in men will repeatedly refuse the advances in order to make the men “work” for the approval. The best case result of teaching consent in this situation is that boys will hear the first “no” and never pursue that particular girl again.
The first one, however, is simply a lie. We do not know that men commit sexual assault at a “vastly higher rate” than women do. We do know that male perpetrators are reported more often than female perpetrators, both to authorities and on studies. We cannot know for certain what the actual rates are because male victims are less likely to come forward, victims of female perpetrators are less likely to report the assaults, and female perpetrators are less likely to be arrested, charged, or studied compared to their male counterparts.
That does not mean we cannot make some assumptions. We have studies suggesting that women commit more sex offenses than people assume. If we look at that information, it suggests that women represent between 20% to 40% of sex offenders. A generous estimation would go with the latter rate, as this could factor in the greater likelihood that victims of female perpetrators would not report the crimes.
Undeterred, Ciceros stated:
Given these things, I don’t see why it’s outrageous to consider targeted consent education. And there’s no reason it couldn’t be done in conjunction with gender-neutral education and discussion as well, but given the differences in how boys and girls are socialized, and the disparity in offenders’ gender, I think it’s likely that a focused approach may be more effective, if only because a focused approach can speak frankly in the language that boys/men are already using.
He never specifies that “language” men and boys speak. However, we can already see the flaw in the targeted consent approach: it never acknowledges that females in particular can and do commit sexual violence. It never acknowledges the specific ways in which females can and do commit sexual violence. It never acknowledges the social norms and attitudes that enable, excuse, and condone female-perpetrated sexual violence. The gender-neutral education would gloss over this.
This approach also has a number of other flaws. One commenter noted, “So the proposal is to identify the demographics that offend most and then target consent education at them? Will this apply if there are racial patterns in offending? If e.g. men of a particular race are under-represented in offenders, will they get to opt out?”
To which Ciceros stated:
I’m not proposing anything;
Actually, he is: “Given these things, I don’t see why it’s outrageous to consider targeted consent education. And there’s no reason it couldn’t be done in conjunction with gender-neutral education and discussion as well, but given the differences in how boys and girls are socialized, and the disparity in offenders’ gender, I think it’s likely that a focused approach may be more effective, if only because a focused approach can speak frankly in the language that boys/men are already using.”
as a matter of fact, my entire point was that this case is a shitty one to try to have a discussion about consent education because it’s so wildly out of line from what consent education could hope to correct.
That makes it all the more curious that he would defend targeted consent education. And because he cannot defend his support of this position, Ciceros falls into accusing the commenter of acting in bad faith and engaging in “agenda-pushing JAQ-ing off”.
He also refuted the CDC findings that women represented about 70% of those who forced men to penetrate. Ciceros argued:
Assuming you’re referring to this study (found it in your history), I’m really curious where you’re pulling those numbers from; far from what you’re stating here, the prevalence of rape among men and women were 1.4% vs. 18.3% (pp. 18 and 19) over their lifetime (there’s not even a 12-month number for men due to numbers too small to even analyze).
That is true. The numbers were supposedly too low for the researchers to present an estimate. However, the researchers never provided the raw data either. The only indication we have of how they achieved their estimates is this:
The relative standard error (RSE) is a measure of an estimate’s reliability. The RSE was calculated for all estimates in this report. If the RSE was greater than 30%, the estimate was deemed unreliable and is not reported. Consideration was also given to the case count. If the estimate was based on a numerator < 20, the estimate is also not reported.
Since the researchers do not specify which blank estimate falls under either of the two categories, we have no way of knowing if, for example, less than 20 men reported rape during the 12-month period or if more reported rape but the researchers deemed the RSE greater than 30%. To the latter point, it is not even clear how they determine an estimate has a high RSE factor.
No amount of generosity can get around the obvious questions about the methodology used for this study. It looks like the researchers manipulated the data. When other commenters pointed this out, specifically how the CDC study matches with feminist researcher Mary Koss’s position of female-on-male rape, Ciceros responded:
First, do you have any evidence whatsoever that Mary Koss pulled the strings on that figure?
There is no evidence Koss specifically stated “don’t count female-on-male sexual violence as rape”. There is, however, evidence from the conclusion of the stating showing that the researchers deliberately excluded this type of assault so as to lower the resulting rate of rape against males:
As an example of prevalence differences between the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and other surveys, the lifetime prevalence estimate of rape for men in this report is lower than what has been reported in other surveys (e.g., for forced sex more broadly) (Basile, Chen, Black, & Saltzman, 2007). This could be due in part to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey making a distinction between rape and being made to penetrate someone else. Being made to penetrate is a form of sexual victimization distinct from rape that is particularly unique to males and, to our knowledge, has not been explicitly measured in previous national studies. It is possible that rape questions in prior studies captured the experience of being made to penetrate someone else, resulting in higher prevalence estimates for male rape in those studies. (p. 84)
That idea matches Koss’s preceding and proceeding comments about female-on-male rape.
I disagree with Koss’s perspective that unwanted PIV sex with a man isn’t rape, as do we all here but could we please stop treating her like she’s the Queen Puppetmaster of rape statistics? She’s one researcher, and by no means the last word on the subject.
We can certainly stop treating Koss’s positions on sexual violence as definitive if feminists stop citing her work as definitive. If feminists decide to continue to use her work to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual violence in society, it is reasonable for people to point out her biases and how they impact her work.
Second, um, did you look at made to penetrate in the CDC report? Because even if you add the numbers for “rape” and “made to penetrate,” we’re still talking 6.2% vs. 18.3%. The overall numbers for “rape” + “overall sexual violence” are still 23.6% vs. 62.9%.
That is true if one only looks at the lifetime numbers. If one looks at the 12-month numbers, it would be 5.3% for men and 6.7% for women. The rates are much closer — 1 to 1.3 ratio — suggesting that men are likely sexually assaulted at nearly the same rate as women. That might explain why the CDC threw their own results under the bus when people began pointing out this statistic.
It is bizarre for researchers to make specific note of the 12-month numbers throughout the study only to toss them out when people realize that men and women appear to be victimized at the same rate. It is also bizarre to consider lifetime numbers more reliable than reports of acts that occurred within the last year. It would appear that Ciceros, like many other feminists, only wants to use the lifetime rates because they support his position that women have it worse. An objective viewer would question why the lifetime and 12-month rates are so vastly off.
One should note that the CDC updated the rates in a report on the current definitions:
- 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 59 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime,
defined as penetrating a victim by use of force or through alcohol/drug facilitation;
- Approximately 1 in 15 men (6.7%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else during their
Again the researchers separate out “made to penetrate” from “rape”, and there are two reason why they likely continued to do this. One, the rate of rape as the researchers defined increased against men. It was originally 1 in 71 (1.4%), and is now 1 in 59 (1.7%). That is not a massive leap, yet it does show there is something odd happening with the researchers’ methodology. Two, if one adds the “rape” and “made to penetrate” rates together, the rate of actual rape against males jumps to 1 in 12 (8.4%). It was previously 1 in 16 (6.3%).
That makes things a little clearer. It would appear that either the researchers misrepresented or bungled their original rates or more men are reporting assaults, implying that more men are victims than people think.
Back to Circeros’s original post:
All that said, I think this is a crappy story to use to make that point, for two related reasons.
One: how do you design a consent education curriculum that has to be accessible to the people you’re really trying to reach, the ones who might be at risk of struggling with the grey areas or the fuzzy edges of courtship and appropriate behavior and doing something harmful, that also includes a slide on “Off Limits: Don’t Physically Assault and Photograph an Unconscious Complete Stranger Behind a Dumpster Like a Person Made of Garbage Would Do”? I saw an article along the lines of “Men See Themselves In Brock Turner,” which I fundamentally believe is bullshit; I think most men read the circumstances of this case with the same revulsion I did.
That does not appear to be a problem for most feminists. There is no distinction. Their solution is to assume that the “gray” areas lead to “Off Limits: Don’t Physically Assault and Photograph an Unconscious Complete Stranger Behind a Dumpster Like a Person Made of Garbage Would Do”.
Granted, this is an inherent flaw in consent education. It presumes that men and boys do not know what rape looks like, have never experienced it, and would do nothing to stop it from happening to others. That is not how our society functions. However, in order to make the argument that it does function this way, one must resort to extremes, which lead to Ciceros’s second point:
Two: assuming that most men don’t identify with Turner, how effective is such a program likely to be? Aren’t a bunch of men going to say, “now, wait a minute, you’re telling me this this walking refuse golem is somehow representative of my own experience of the world? Is there any reason I shouldn’t be much more offended by the comparison than I am open to good arguments in favor of what consent looks like?” That’s a rhetorical question, by the way, because all you have to do is look at the article comments or Twitter replies to that argument to see what I’m describing in action. I think it’s obvious that the essential message is being lost because this case in particular is so glaringly beyond the pale – not to mention, the loss of that message is harmful in its own right.
In other words, the problem is not that this argument unfairly regards all men as no different than an intoxicated man who digitally raped an unconscious woman. The problem is that men will become defensive when someone makes the comparison and that will prevent the “good arguments” for consent education from reaching the intended audience, thereby perpetuating rape against women. Likewise, men’s failure to get that message perpetuates rape against women.
Third, I came across an article (and please don’t knee-jerk about the title, because I’m going to explain it), “Why Brock Turner is not actually a rapist”, which raises some interesting points about how we define rape in society and law. Basically, the California prosecutors dropped the charges against Turner that included rape, because under California law, rape is still defined as the penetration with a penis, of someone else, without the other person’s consent. Turner never got to the point of penetrating the victim with his penis (Edit: this is apparently still a contested point) – just a bunch of other really gross shit, including penetration (but not with a penis!) – so they couldn’t make the case, and the penalties for what they could charge him with are much lower than the ones for rape, as defined. So, legally speaking, “Brock Tuner is not actually a rapist.”
That is accurate. California Penal Code section 261 requires sexual intercourse and appears to only apply in situations in which the victim is penetrated. All other penetrative offenses are charged under section 289. According to the details of the case, Turner used his fingers, not his penis, therefore the act technically falls under section 289.
This also explains the sentence. Section 261 carries a potential life without parole maximum sentence, while section 289 only carries a maximum of six years (or eight if one tacks on section 290, which adds two years to each count if the person is required to register as a sex offender).
The issues with that are obvious, I think. First, what Turner did was, again, really fucking wrong and gross, and even the potential sentence doesn’t fit the facts of the case, to say nothing of my own sense of justice. It’s awful to me that from the outset he was in for a lesser sentence based on bad statutory text. Second, so, apparently? California still defines rape as a crime that only men can commit. I know I don’t even need to go into why that’s a major problem.
This is true as well. Or rather the second to the last part is true. Section 261 does not appear to include women as potential rapists. All sex crimes committed by women would fall under Section 289.
The latter portion of the quote is untrue. Ciceros does not take issue with excluding women as potential rapists. To the best of my knowledge regarding his comments on the matter, he holds the same view as Mary Koss, i.e. that the act is sexual assault but not rape and should not be prosecuted as such.
Finally, one question that comes up in a bunch of these articles is, “how do we as a society want men to behave in this kind of situation,” and I think the answer is something like, “we want them to behave like the men who pulled Turner off of his victim, chased him down, called the cops, and made damn sure that he was present to be answerable to the authorities when they arrived.” Two men, the Swedish grad students, stopped the crime while it was in progress, and two others helped them keep Turner at the scene. Eighty percent of the men involved in this not only knew what consent looked like, but put themselves at considerable physical, social, and legal risk to make sure that such an egregious violation of that standard didn’t happen without consequence.
Does that not undermine the point of the consent education? Does it not appear that men, particularly young men, already know what rape looks like and why it is wrong? If so, why should those men, or men and boys in general, take courses to teach them what they already know?
It seems like feminists cannot help but engage in biased gender politics whenever sexual violence occurs. It is absurd to say we need to teach boys not to rape when all of the people who acted and put their safety at risk to stop Turner were men. They all knew it was wrong and acted in the most appropriate way to make sure that Turner did not get away before the police arrived. What more do they need to be taught?