Brock Turner Protests Take a Disempowering Turn

Brock Turner's release from a California jail last Friday ignited massive outrage, and for good reason. Turner spent only three months behind bars, after he was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.


As Turner's story circulated the internet, the anger directed at him has taken on a life of its own, igniting militant protests outside his family home, the Guardian reports.

Turner returned to Ohio to swarms of armed activists suggesting he be executed, raped, and castrated.

These protesters are certainly not alone in feeling that Turner deserved a more severe punishment for his crime. But their responses to that sense of injustice demonstrate fundamental misconceptions about sexual assault.

These two quotes from protesters illustrate how the conversation about Turner's trial has taken a disempowering turn for victims.

“I look at my AR-15 as a protest sign,” event organizer Jaimes Campbell — who held a sign reading “Shoot your local rapist" — told the Guardian. “[Turner] could’ve been killed by the victim or the people who stopped the attack. It puts a little more focus on the severity of the crime.”

Campbell's suggestion for violent vigilante justice addresses a symptom of rape culture rather than its roots. Turner has taken on a kind of symbolic meaning since news of his case spread in viral news stories. He seems to represent so many of the obstacles victims of sexual assault face on campus, within the criminal justice system and ideas of "rape culture" and "white male privilege."

But the violent rhetoric directed at Turner conflates him with those larger issues instead of addressing them.

Punishing rapists with violence doesn't alter the conditions that produce them. If we've learned anything from Brock Turner's case, it is that it was not unique. Turner is a product of a culture in which consent is misunderstood and under discussed, and rape is under prosecuted.

Turner's attorney Michael Armstrong, who described his client as a "fundamentally good young man from a good family" who "made bad choices during his time at Stanford of about four months, especially related to alcohol" is not a unique response. This description of Turner exist in a cultural context in which colleges answer sexual assault crises with alcohol bans and women are told to avoid skimpy outfits to prevent violent crimes, or are trained in self defense or told to carry a whistle or use nail polish to detect date rape drugs. The quotes from Armstrong also reflect how white youth is disproportionately prized at the cost of women and people of color.

“The number one reason why we had this armed protest was to make a militant feminist statement in favor of self-defense of would-be rape victims,” organizer Micah Naziri told the Guardian.

Naziri carried a sign reading, “If I rape Brock Turner will I only do 3 months" and a .300 Blackout rifle.

Naziri's message of militarism spreads similar misconceptions to Campbell's and acutely captures how both of these statements ultimately blame the victim.

Women don't get raped because they haven't taken self defense classes. This statement "in favor" of self defense mechanisms (classes, guns, pepper spray, etc.) suggests that victims of sexual assault bear the brunt of responsibility for not preventing crimes. It shouldn't be up to "would-be-rape victims" — whatever that means — to stop their perpetrators. Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault — even someone who is armed or trained in self defense — and no victim is responsible for not having done more to prevent a crime from being committed.

Crimes occur because of criminals (and the culture that allows them), not because victims are unprepared.

It's true that we should focus on the severity of the crime, as Campbell put it. But we should do so by trying to eradicate the circumstances that it arose out of, by demanding that young people receive real lessons about consent in high school, empowering victims to speak up, holding college administrations accountable for actually enforcing their sexual assault policies, and by pushing for criminal justice reform to eliminate loopholes that excuse sexual violence in certain cases (such as a woman being unconscious or married).

[h/t Salon]