Trigger warning: this article contains discussion of sexual assault.
When you google Brock Turner there are 25 million results. That’s a lot for a 20 year old who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. He’s currently imprisoned in Santa Clara County jail on three counts of felony sexual assault, but his mugshot has been plastered across the internet.
His is a controversial case which went viral when the anonymous victims Victim-impact statement was published by Buzzfeed and Palo Alto Online. It was 7,126 words and powerfully emotive, and the fact that the perpetrator, Brock Turner, had only been sentenced to 6 months quickly became a focal point in the discussion around the case.
The prosecution in the case recommended at least 6 years imprisonment and the victim spoke at length of the way the rest of her life would be affected, while friends and family of Turner mourned the loss of his bright future as a professional swimmer and lamented that his life was ruined from “20 minutes of action”. He’s since been banned for life by USA Swimming.
The sentence sends a message to young men in USA, that your future is more important than a woman’s consent. That says, your libido is more important than a woman’s consciousness.
But would a longer prison sentence be the solution to rape culture?
Brock Turner will be on the sex offenders register for the rest of his life. In the US, this means that in many states he will be limited in where he can live and work, for example near school-zones and parks, although some counties extend this to venues such as cinemas and churches. When you consider the huge impact this will have on his day-to-day life, some would argue that would be punishment enough.
There’s no reason to advocate for lenience on rapists. Those who commit sexual assault must face the consequences, and those who are victims of such crimes must feel justice has been served.
The problem is not the sentencing. The solution is not long prison terms. Rape culture, the society that told Brock Turner that sexually assaulting an unconscious woman was okay, that’s the problem.
This all depends on your personal beliefs, of course. Those who believe the purpose of prison sentences is punishment will always argue for longer sentences for sexual assault, and I can’t deny that the courts take sexual assault too lightly. But for those of us who believe prison should be about rehabilitation, giving Brock Turner more time in prison won’t solve the problem of sexual assault. He’s shown no remorse, shown no conception that women are not his for the taking, and the solution to that is education. Education on rape culture, on consent, on humanity.
There is nothing to be defended about Brock Turner, but there’s also little to be defended about the prison system in the United States.