This disturbing and heartbreaking sentence is one I am sure many of us have read over and over again this week as we learned of the sentencing of Brock Turner, a former student at Stanford University, was convicted on 3 counts of felony sexual assault for sexually molesting a woman with whom he attended a college party.
While it was unanimously agreed by a jury that Mr. Turner forced himself on this unsuspecting and unconscious woman, the judge in the case only sentenced to 6 months in county jail, probation, and mandatory registration as a sexual offender.
6 months. 2 months’ time for each felony.
Not even a slap on the wrist.
Surely there must be extenuating circumstances, right?
Of course there were.
Brock Turner, as it turned out, is a swimmer of some esteem and the judge was concerned that a stricter sentence might negatively impact the young man’s future.
The judge, Aaron Persky, was concerned about the young man’s future but not the future of the victimized woman.
How did we get to this place where we care more about the rights of a person who may potentially be a successful athlete than we do about the people who are victimized along the way?
Sadly, this is a dirty little secret that has been in and out of the media for decades but one which no significant strides have been made for betterment of the situation.
In a survey of over 150,000 students at 27 universities it was discovered that nearly 1 in 4 female students are victims of sexual assault or misconduct.
That’s one in every four students.
I can only wonder how many of you reading this article today – male or female – would identify as being one of those victimized students.
The question becomes, then, why is this such a prevalent problem? Why do not more of those victimized persons come forward so we can change the dynamic?
Just ask Brock Turner’s victim.
As this woman so painfully learned, in a court of law the victim not only has to relive the experience he or she was forced to endure once before and likely has every waking hour since, but must also have every minute action of that given day dissected on the stand to allow the defense the opportunity to find potential proof that the person “asked for” the assault or misconduct.
We do not treat the victims of these assaults with compassion or grace, but rather treat them as science experiments – poking and prodding their actions and inactions trying to find the one place of weakness that can account for the actions of the accused. Perhaps it was what she wore or the way she was dancing. Maybe, as in this case, both parties had too much to drink or there were drugs involved. Maybe the victim’s memory is faulty and he or she actually did give consent but is now too embarrassed to say so.
It seems we will look for anything to remove the blame of sexual assault from the accused and place it on the victim. Why is this?
Perhaps it’s due to the fact that at some level, sexuality and intimacy are still issues that are forbidden as topics of discussion particularly in faith circles. Perhaps it’s because the actions themselves are so horrendous to imagine that we immediately seek to find some reason this occurred rather than come to terms with the fact that someone consciously chose to shatter another persons sense of self in such a drastic manner. Or perhaps at some level we as a society are still so tied to our patriarchal roots that we feel that men are innately aggressive and therefore these actions can be somewhat understood.
I personally don’t understand any of those “perhapses”.
Sexuality and intimacy are discussed throughout the Bible. They are one of the most significant gifts God has given to His people and they are to be treasured. To be still tied to the Victorian ideal that sex is dirty and therefore not to be discussed sets us up for victimization. Also, at a very basic level, assuming that sex is dirty presupposes that God was wrong to give it to us and is therefore fallible and not God at all.
To believe that sexual assault and rape are too awful to think about or deal with is, in this day and age particularly, ridiculous. We are faced with bloodied bodies and horrendous imagery nearly every where we turn our eyes these days. Yes, rape and sexual assault are not (always) murder, but to put these actions at a level different from murder indicates that they are removed from our life as human beings, not a part of it. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Sexuality and our ability to express and enjoy it is one of the things that makes us truly human.
I would agree that we are still quite tied to our patriarchal roots, but that does not mean that we should accept aggressive and animalistic behaviors from men just because they are men any more than we should accept women being victims of rape or assault just because they are women. To suggest otherwise means that we are truly no more intelligent or morally responsible than the average dog or monkey. God created us to be more than the animals – above the animals. We have the ability to think beyond our animalistic instincts regardless of our roots.
So if none of these things are true, what is it that we have going on around us that allows for celebrities and athletes alike to be treated as more than just mortal?
To me, I think it’s because celebrities and athletes of today have become the golden calves of ancient time.
We are desperately seeking something greater than ourselves to make sense of the trials of our lives but rather than turning our eyes to God through prayer and study of His word, we are furiously making idols of anyone we think does something greater than what we think we are able to do. By doing this, we not only make for ourselves false idols, but we diminish ourselves in our own eyes. No longer are we important; no longer are we something of value. The lesser our own value, the easier it is to dismiss the things that are done to us which would otherwise be recognized as heinous.
Our job as Christians and members of other faith communities is to remember our own value in God’s eyes and help others to recognize their own value as well so we as a community can be the people God put us here to be.
I know. It sounds like it should be so simple but is in reality nearly impossible because in reality, what I’m saying is we have to acknowledge that no one person here on earth is greater or lesser than another. The homeless person on the street corner is just as valuable a person as the President of the United States; your favorite movie actor or actress is no more valuable a person than you are; Brock Turner’s victim is no less worthy of grace and mercy than Mr. Turner.
And that’s where we have the problem.
In our human eyes, we place everyone in different categories; on different levels of worth. But as Christians, we are called to see everyone the same way that God sees them. Each and every one of us was created by God and each and every one of us is loved by God equally. More importantly, we are all created by God so we all belong to the same family.
If we remember that we are all part of the same family, our hearts will break for both the perpetrator of a crime as well as the victim and we will work to provide healing for both members of the family because it’s important to the overall health of the family.
We don’t let the Brock Turner of our family off the hook for the things he did because of his excellence as an athlete or scholar or businessman or whatever. We help him take responsibility for them and love him through the process of making amends.
We don’t blame the victim and disregard her pain. We circle with love and help her move through the pain so she can let go of her anger and bitterness and come out the other side healed and at peace.
Now I know that this all sounds impossible and honestly, it is, particularly in this day and age. But here’s what I would like to believe.
If each one of us starts loving the people around us like God loves us, then perhaps there will be less brokenness around us. If we each respond to brokenness with grace and mercy, perhaps we can help heal the wounds that were created by another’s actions.
And if we each remember that God placed nobody – man or woman – above the other than perhaps we can begin to treat one another with the equality and respect we all deserve.