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Turner Trial

Brock Turner, the Stanford University rapist/ swimmer, has been in the news quite a bit lately. Upon being convicted of raping a woman his high priced defense team convinced Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky to sentence Turner to six months in jail. Many are questioning the justice of Persky’s decision.

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has this short definition of sexual assault on one of its websites:

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

The first time I can remember the subject of rape coming up occurred when I was quite young. While still a wee lad of single digit age a conversation about rape swirled obliquely around my ignorant, innocent head. I was visiting my grandparents who lived a dozen or so miles east of Saginaw, Michigan and was playing with my friend Bobby who lived across the street from them. Bobby and I thundered down to Bobby’s basement where a group of older boys, boys who ranged in age from mid to late teens, talked about the rape of a local girl. The single thing that sticks out in my mind was the part of the conversation where one of the young men present said, “Yeah, but he stuck things up her, you know? That’s just disgusting.”

I had no idea what sticking things up her meant but I understood from context that in a taboo subject we had moved from wrong to abhorrent. Later I realized that the implied message was that forced sexual intercourse was somewhat understandable but that sexual torture and mutilation was beyond the pale. Such is the culture of rape. So much for 1960’s sexual ethos of boys born in the 1950’s.

My understanding of biology, anatomy and drives both sexual and violent lay uninformed for years to come. The onset of puberty provided a powerful object lesson in human sexual drive and I read up on the subject of anatomy and sexual union hoping that my book knowledge would someday translate into satisfactory real world explorations. Temptation was everywhere and the conflicting messages from popular culture and moral training had me feeling just that; conflicted. Just when I needed it most I had another object lesson dropped in my lap: I dreamt I was raped.

The nightmare rapist was my oldest brother. There is no reason that comes to mind as to why this would be so but I awoke from my dream with vomit in my throat. I like to think that this experience gave me a bit more insight, a bit more empathy for rape victims than many men have. I am confident that what happened to me in March of 1990 did.

I had surgery in a delicate area that spring. While not a hernia, the five inch (125 mm) incision that sliced through my groin left me in the same post-operative state that a hernia operation would. I recuperated at home from work for a few days but was still in pain and semi-ambulatory upon reporting back to work. Returning to the bicycle shop where I was employed I limped and moved quite slowly. One of my first nights back a man came in and chatted with me about buying a bicycle and then seeing my obvious physical discomfort asked me what was wrong. I told him about my surgery and he said, “Oh, I can probably help some with the pain; I’m a chiropractor.”

I had a chiropractor that I used sporadically. My doctor had provided me with some pain relief and without hesitation I said, “Sure, that’d be great.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that this man was no doctor and that his interest in me was hypocritical, not Hippocratic. I moved away from his reach and around to the other side of a glass display case but not until after he had pulled the waist band of my shorts away from me so he could, “See the extent of the surgery.” Dumb, stupid and naïve but not completely oblivious I emphatically said no to any more “chiropractic adjustments.” He left and I called the cops.

The police were not sympathetic. Once I told them my story and related that the impetus behind my call was a concern that the man might do the same thing with a child I received skeptical looks and condescending comments. Hadn’t I really known what was going on along? Maybe I’d even enjoyed it? The police left but the memory of the humiliation of being taken in by a pervert and then being demeaned by the cops stayed with me. Many years later I got one more up close encounter with the specter of rape, only this time the victim was a child.

My first year of teaching school was in 1986. I had a fourth grade student who had been raped as a kindergartner. The rape had been four years earlier and all 100 plus fourth grade students seemed to know of her rape. Horrific as her situation had been It was the rape, the repeated molestation, of a young boy two decades later that really dropped me to my knees.

In addition to being a bicycle mechanic I was also working part-time as an elementary school substitute teacher. One of my regular assignments was in a special education classroom. After working repeatedly in this school for a few years I noticed that one of the boys was missing from class. I asked where he was and another teacher took me aside to tell me that he was recovering from reconstructive bowel surgery: The damage was a result of his mother’s boyfriend repeatedly raping the prepubescent child. We all know intellectually that every rape victim is a human being with wants, needs and traumas but it was this boy who truly brought home the devastation of sexual assault to me.

One in thirty-three males are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, one in six girls are. And I mean girls. Most sexual assault victims are under 21 and most male rape victims are under ten. Statistics indicate that sexual assault in the USA is in decline. The DOJ reported a 62% decline in sexual assaults between 1992 and 2010. Two thousand twelve’s reported sexual assaults? “Down” to 409,769. Nearly half a million people reported being sexually assaulted to the police. Estimates on the percentage of sexual assaults that get reported to law enforcement range from 16 to 30%, putting 2012’s number of sexual assaults at at least one and a half million.

One and a half million victims each year. Most victims are poor. It is rare when a rapist is caught in the act and when he is, once he is convicted, justice needs to be meted. Brock Turner was given a lot of advantages in life. He certainly was not poor. In the United States justice is supposed to be blind, it is supposed to be equal. We all know that it isn’t but it is rare that we see a case where affluence buys injustice so openly. Each victim is a human being, each is left with a life in tatters. What kind of a race is Mankind that we slap the wrist of a man who was given so many advantages in life but chose to rape a helpless victim? Sometimes I wonder if there’s any hope left for us at all.