Criminal Journalism: Brock Turner and the Sanitation of Rape Culture

Criminal Journalism: Brock Turner and the Sanitation of Rape Culture June 7, 2016

Such a heartbreaking story. Such a gifted young man, with a promising future. Sadly, he was brought down by a loose woman who drank too much and didn’t know how to keep herself from getting raped while she was unconscious. It’s a shame. Such a shame.

You could read the article in the Washington Post that everyone’s talking about this morning, but I’ll save you the trouble. That’s pretty much the gist of it right there. As if you couldn’t tell from the headline itself that this was going to be a profile of a good boy led astray. I mean, the thing leads with “All-American Swimmer.” Not his name, Brock Turner. Not “another privileged white boy who had every opportunity to NOT commit a violent crime.” Not “affluent kid who has grown up feeling entitled to everything including women’s bodies.” Just the qualifier that is going to make this a story of all that has been lost–for him. 

Well, for him and his family. His poor, poor family. The father who also blamed the young woman and the “drinking culture” that had ensnared his poor naive son and led him into trouble. The father, who feels that his son should not be punished for something that, hey, only took 20 minutes!

Was that supposed to be a joke? Was that supposed to be some mood-lightening reference to the lack of longevity when very young men engage in sexual activity? (Because he did say “activity” a few times…) If it was, it was absolutely, positively, the most unfunny thing I have ever heard. Assault is not funny.

And–hear this–rape is not sex. It is not activity. It is a violent, heinous crime and should be punished to the full extent of the law. Every time. No matter how white, privileged, and otherwise “promising” the perpetrator.

I don’t know which part of this story is the most horrifying: the victim-blaming father; the ‘there-there, boy, you’ll get your life back after this’ attitude of the judge–the JUDGE, people; or the knowledge that this does not represent a single incident–but a thing that happens every single day, more times than will ever be reported or convicted, in our country.

But I know for sure it is all made worse–a thousand times worse–when the headline reads “All-American Swimmer Found Guilty…” and comes with his All-American Guy yearbook picture. And then the whole thing goes on to read like a human interest profile on an Olympic athlete. It might as well say “better luck next time, pal.”

This is a mug shot. This is what most convicted criminals get published in the media.
This is a mug shot. This is what most convicted criminals get published in the media.

This is shameful reporting. The Washington Post needs to beg the forgiveness of the American people, women everywhere, and–most especially–the victim.

They need to redeem this inexcusable “fall from grace” story by telling hers. If she wants it told. She has shared this powerful account and commentary publicly. Perhaps they could start by publishing it. Perhaps they could follow up with an interview, when and if she feels ready, so that she can tell her story. Share how her “promising future” has been affected by this crime. Perhaps they could do a wider piece on campus rape, or rape culture among “bright and promising young men,” or maybe the whole staff of the damn paper needs to spend their evenings and weekends scrubbing the floors and toilets at the a local domestic violence shelter for the rest of all time. Something, anything to acknowledge that this kind of journalism contributes, in big and powerful ways, to the culture in which a woman’s body is never, ever going to be as important as “the All-American athlete/scholar/hero” who was brought down by his proximity to her.

I can’t make this happen, because they are not on trial, and I am not a judge. But let’s all agree I’d be a damn better one–and probably, so would you–than the ones who keep protecting and defending these criminals. With the judicial system at their sides, good looks and white-hetero-male privilege at their backs, and negligent fathers leading the way, maybe the best we can hope for is that the media, at the very least, call them criminals. Is that too much to ask?

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