By Daniel Holland, ODP Summer Intern, University of Oklahoma
There was a time when crimes were met with retribution, an offender punished not to prevent future wrongdoing but to exact the requisite amount of pain deserved for his misdeed. After this, there came about the idea of preventative justice – Hammurabi took an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth because this brutality would serve as a deterrent from future crime. As our society has evolved, so has our criminal justice system; now things like the death penalty are some of the last vestiges of the preventative justice system. In its place, civilization has developed the notion of rehabilitative justice, of punishments fitting crimes in ways that make it possible for an offender to not only adequately compensate society for his crime, but also learn and grow from his punishment, to become a productive and law abiding member of society. In many ways the US prison system is still absurdly outdated, but nevertheless the American court system has been founded and operated under the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Once proven guilty, a person is then obligated to undergo both punitive and rehabilitative measures to right the wrongs that he has perpetrated.
In the case of Brock Turner, the rapist from Stanford, none of this has happened. Turner is a sex offender, a man so privileged, so entitled, that he thinks that neither law nor basic morality applies to him.  Unfortunately, it appears he must have learned this mindset in part from his family, seeing the way his father describes the horror of his son repeatedly and unapologetically violating another human being as “twenty minutes of action” for which his son shouldn’t pay a “steep price”.  Leniency, his family calls for, when the woman he violated will never truly shed the massive and inhumane burden that he callously forced upon her. I say again, Turner is the rapist, and the woman he assaulted is the victim. I feel I must repeat that because, looking from the outside in, it may be a little hard to tell who the person being punished is. Turner is not a monster, no, but no longer is he first a college student, son, swimmer, or any other basic identifier. He is a rapist, a man that we must keep society safe from, and yet because he is rich, or white, or athletic, or simply born with a Y chromosome, he will lose a maximum of six short months of his life. As punishment, this is laughably ineffective. As rehabilitation, this is a charade. As recompense, this is worse than useless.
Innocent until proven guilty: these are strong words, powerful words, words our laws and courts are built on. Except there’s a twist when a woman has the courage to face the odds and let it be known that she has been victimized (I would like to take a second here to acknowledge that men can be the victim of rape as well. The statistics given here are not applicable for these cases, but in many ways male rape victims face more social pressure than women do). Suddenly, no longer is the suspect innocent until proven guilty, but the victim instead considered unreliable until proven raped. Studies have been done, statistics compiled, databases perused, and the evidence is overwhelming that the majority of sexual assault cases are not even reported- around 60%. Of those 40% of rapes and assaults that do end up reported, somewhere between an estimated 19.5% and 40% result in prosecution, arrest, or trial. At the high end, this means that only 16% of rape cases have any chance whatsoever at being addressed by our criminal justice system. Keep in mind that, at maximum, being generous with the numbers, around 7% of rape cases are false alarms.  That leaves 93% of cases that had very, very real sexual violence, and nothing is done for the vast majority of them.
Those are numbers. Numbers, at the end of the day, don’t mean very much. People do. For every 100 women raped, 16 might have a shot at getting the pathetically small amount of consolation that a successful prosecution can bring. 84 women will not. But that’s their fault, right? I mean, 60% of rapes don’t even get reported and suddenly it’s our fault that these women aren’t getting the protection and justice that they both need and deserve? Well, yes, it is.
Take another look at the Brock Turner case. This has been twisted into a discussion of both racial and class privilege, but that’s honestly more a particularly perverted symptom of a long-running epidemic in America. We don’t trust the women courageous enough to report their trauma, we laugh and we pry and we paste their names and clothes and texts all over our media. We make excuses for their rapists and ask if they’re sure they didn’t like it. Are you sure you were raped? I mean, are you sure you’re sure? Come on, look at this guy, he’s a swimmer, he’s rich, he’s smart, you’re probably exaggerating. A woman has to relieve her trauma, again and again and again, at the precinct and in the courtroom and behind closed doors and in the media and with her family and with her friends and with her partners and it never stops. All that has to happen, and then she gets to be one of the 16%, one of the few who actually has a chance to look the man who raped her in the eye and tell him how he hurt her, what he did and how she will never be the same again.
Then, after ALL of that, after all of the questions and news articles and concerned text messages and inquisitive eyes and hateful mail, after all of the bullshit that we make women go through, her assailant might still go free. Or he might get six months in jail, like Big Bad Brock Turner did. RAINN estimates that 3% of rapes result in jail time for the rapist. Three percent. Oh, maybe that number is too low, it’s certainly true that rape isn’t reported nearly enough to have truly comprehensive, reliable rape statistics. But how high can that number get before you feel like we don’t need to take any action? For me, it’s 100%. And a little basic math tells you that it’s pretty impossible to have 100% of rapists put where they belong when 60% of rapes don’t even get reported.
So, we know that rape happens, and we realistically know roughly how often it happens- the statistic that people like to give is that 1 out of 5 women will be sexually assaulted in college. No, sexual assault doesn’t always mean rape- but I’m pretty sure you don’t want your sister or daughter or mother assaulted regardless of how the incident is legally classified. We know rape happens, and we know it doesn’t get reported, and we know why that is. An unceasing spotlight on victims that cross-analyzes every hazy memory of a traumatic incident, prosecutors combing through testimony looking for every “gotcha!” discrepancy. Reporting a rape means that there will be concerned friends and family helpless to help, and strangers who will know every intimate detail of a horrific, life-shattering event. Low conviction rates, public ridicule, court fees, appeals, dredging up past trauma every time a new attorney or judge or jury needs to hear exactly where you were touched or penetrated or groped or abused. Can you blame a woman who either cannot or will not subject herself to the gauntlet that we call a criminal justice system?
We know all of this, and now that we know, we have a duty that goes far beyond a mere obligation to do the right thing. We have a responsibility to not only protect the victims of rape from their assailants, but to insulate them from the demands and gossip and additional trauma that our society and our current criminal justice system rain down on them the second they try to seek help. How can we do this? We can start by enforcing laws already on the books. We can start by giving rapists convicted of their heinous crime by a judge or jury of their peers an actual sentence, not a slap on the wrist. None of this six month bullshit, but a sentence that will give a convicted rapist cause for remorse, a sentence that will force a potential rapist to pause and consider if he really should risk everything for “twenty minutes of action”.  A six month sentence is how you punish someone for shoplifting, not how you protect a woman from trauma that could reverberate throughout her entire life.
It doesn’t stop there, though. The focus is not only on the rapist, but on the cultures that support them. We need to root these enablers out. Art Briles and his staff at Baylor, Joe Paterno and his staff at PSU, fraternity members on nearly any campus you care to name; anyone else who would rather turn off the lights and shut the door than scream bloody murder at the top of their lungs. We need follow the laws on the books, destroy the support systems that rapists too often enjoy, and then the job will have been started. We have to educate our sons and daughters on how utterly important, how unequivocally paramount it is that rape not be allowed in our society. Excuses may not be made, rapes may not be mitigated, and rapists may not be absolved. Rape culture must be stamped out, completely, entirely, razed to the ground and then burned again.
All that is the first step, it is the literal bare minimum for a society that could possibly be considered fair, just, or humane. But this is not a job that can be accomplished without Congressional action. We need to tackle the backlog of rape kits that have yet to be tested, each and every one of which could hold the key to taking another rapist off the streets- the Debbie Smith Act of 2004 was meant to address this, but as of FY2015 Congress has underfunded it by almost $55 million. We need to ensure that rapes and assaults committed on campus receive the high degree of scrutiny that they demand- the Clery Act of 1990 is one of many that is intended to provide this scrutiny, but all too often colleges, athletic departments, and fraternities shirk from their duty of reporting and aiding the prosecution of rapes that happen on campus. We need to offer the financial help and compensation needed for victims of rape and sexual assault need to move on- something that the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 is meant to address, but with maximum benefits averaging about $25,000, it should be clear that additional legislation in this area is needed as well.
Most of all, we need to do something. Contact your legislator and voice your support for the legislation mentioned above or propose ideas for new laws, volunteer at a home dedicated to serving victims of rape and sexual abuse, stand up and say something the next time you see something that you know in your heart is wrong. Do something, because this isn’t a problem that will just go away. This is a problem that needs YOU to say something; do something; take action. Next time, it could be one of your loved ones in the media, shamed and shaken and helpless, taken behind a dumpster or left on a bathroom floor. Before it is, please, do something.
 “Brock Turner’s sentence is another sad case of leniency,” last modified June 2016, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/readersreact/la-ol-le-brock-turner-stanford-assault-affluenza-20160615-snap-story.html
 “Stanford swimmer convicted of sex assault,” last modified June 10th, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-stanford-rape-case-documents-release-20160610-snap-htmlstory.html
 “The truth about a viral graphic on rape statistics,” last modified December 9th, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/12/09/the-truth-about-a-viral-graphic-on-rape-statistics/
 “False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue,” last modified 2009, http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf
 “97 of Every 100 Rapists Receive No Punishment,” last modified May 27th, 2012, https://www.rainn.org/news/97-every-100-rapists-receive-no-punishment-rainn-analysis-shows
 “Statistics About Sexual Violence,” last modified 2015, http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf
 “Light Sentence for Brock Turner,” last modified June 6th, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/07/us/outrage-in-stanford-rape-case-over-dueling-statements-of-victim-and-attackers-father.html?_r=0
 “Frat brothers rape 300% more,” September 24th, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/24/rape-sexual-assault-ban-frats
 “Debbie Smith Act,” https://www.rainn.org/articles/debbie-smith-act
 “Clery Act,” https://www.rainn.org/articles/clery-act
 “Crime Victim Compensation,” https://www.rainn.org/articles/crime-victim-compensation