What Does It Take For Sexual Assault Survivors To Get The Justice They Deserve?

by Robyn Smith

Photo of Brock Turner on night of arrest, January 18, 2015

What makes a rapist, a rapist?

Is it a conviction? Is it a testimony? Is it a black hoodie and a knife? Is it a dark parking lot? Is it a drinking problem, or a drug addiction? Is it poverty? A skin color? No. It’s ignoring a lack of consent. It’s hearing no, and disregarding it. It’s knowing someone is unconscious, and touching them anyway. It’s not caused by alcohol or peer pressure. It’s caused by a choice, a choice to violate someone to satisfy your own urges.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber launched a recall campaign against Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Brock Turner to six months in county jail and three years probation after the 20-year-old was found guilty on three felony charges of sexual assault. 

Persky, who was captain of the lacrosse team during his time at Stanford University according to The Guardianmay have sympathized with Turner. But Dauber puts it perfectly when she slams him:

“He has made women at Stanford and across California less safe,” said Dauber, who attended the sentencing hearing and is also a family friend of the 23-year-old victim. “The judge bent over backwards in order to make an exception…and the message to women and students is, ‘You’re on your own,’ and the message to potential perpetrators is, ‘I’ve got your back.’”

The former Santa Clara prosecutor specialized in predatory sexual assault before coming into his current position, and Turner isn’t the first defendant he’s let off according to Mercury News.

Yesterday, I wrote an open letter to Brock Turner’s father in response to his letter to Persky. But today, a new letter was making headlines—one written by a friend of Turner’s from home. In it, her argument is similar to that of Turner’s father, based on Turner’s compassion as a friend, high quality character and outstanding achievments. However, it’s different in that the friend, Kayla Rasmussen, heavily blames alcohol and the binge drinking culture at colleges across the nation for Turner’s choice to sexually assault someone. She even goes as far to cite “political correctness,” which has been commonly associated with millenial criticisms (aka, we’re all a bunch of crybabies who get offended at everything), as the only reason for giving Turner a prison sentence he actually deserves.

So, I explained exactly why her argument sucks so much:

“This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists.”

Rasmussen is defending Turner because he doesn’t fit as a rapist in her mind, which seems to be true for a lot of folks. But the truth is, no matter how close you were to someone in high school, no matter how innocent someone seems, they could still be a living, breathing nightmare, wreaking havoc on strangers and destroying lives. The only difference between what happened to Turner’s victim and the woman that Rasmussen describes is that Turner was at a party, not a parking lot. Just because he was her friend, doesn’t discount what he did.

“She was no doubt about to black out if not already…It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that alcohol increases emotions and feelings.”

Rasmussen wasn’t there. Rasmussen doesn’t know the survivor, her tolerance, or her blood alcohol content of that night. Also, being black out drunk isn’t asking for sexual assault. Having sex with someone who’s black out drunk is sexual assault. If someone is black out drunk, they can’t consent. In this part of the letter, Rasmussen essentially admits that Turner raped this woman—but because she only remembers how much she drank, not that he assaulted her, it’s excusable.

Excessive drinking is linked with sexual assault, but that’s a correlation, not a causation. It’s also true that alcohol is linked with depression, but it doesn’t make you sexually assault someone. If anything, it causes sexual dysfunction.

“Where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.”

I have to admit, this one doesn’t make any sense to me, and so it’s a little tougher to debunk. I’m assuming by “politically correct,” Rasmussen means enforcing the law—and in that case, yes, we should always worry about enforcing the law every second of the day. There should never be a time where we just decide not to punish a person for raping another person.

Also, what makes someone a rapist is when they engage in sexual activity without consent. That’s it. So anyone who commits rape is, by definition, a rapist. The problem here is that Turner doesn’t fit the vision of a rapist that Rasmussen has in her mind. In movies and TV shows, rapists are the men with thin, pencil-like mustaches and wire-rimmed glasses. They have creepy smiles and southern accents. Or, they carry knives with them. Turner isn’t that guy, so therefore he can’t be a rapist. That’s illogical, because it’s not someone’s thoughts, urges or outer appearance that make them a rapist. It’s their actions.

“I would not be writing this letter if I had any doubt in my mind that he is not innocent.”

This is where the dangers of prejudice and preconceived notions come in. It doesn’t matter how someone seems in the public eye or how many trophies they have on their shelf. It doesn’t matter if they go to an ivy league or if college wasn’t even a pipedream for them. It doesn’t matter what their skin color, sex, or sexual orientation is. All that matters is what they did. Turner sexually assaulted someone, and there was overwhelming evidence that he did so. All of Rasmussen’s arguments are irrelevant in the face of that fact. It’s understandable why she would deny his guilt—it’s hard to believe that someone we love is capable of such a horrible thing. But in the end, it’s not about us. It’s about them, and it’s about doing what’s right. 

Read Rasmussen’s letter in full below:


When alleged attackers are acquitted, the people who come to their defense can say that they are innocent until proven guilty. But Turner is guilty, not only in the eyes of the survivor, but in the eyes of the law. If he doesn’t get the justice he deserves, who does? 

Men are taught from a young age that women are objects—this comes in the form of advertising that objectifies women (including dismemberment and submissiveness); women (and men!) being taught that their bodies distract men, even their shoulders; and child molestors and rapists like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby are lauded as legends for their careers long after being accused. Maybe the U.S. doesn’t take rape seriously as a crime because of stuff that runs far deeper than shitty justice, but we need to step up as a society to stop letting people get away with this blatant violation of human rights.

Mug shot via Diane Pritchard’s Facebook page

More From BUST

An Open Letter To Stanford Rapist Brock Turner’s Dad

How College Students Are Fighting Campus Rape With Art, Humor, And The Guerrilla Girls Broadband

We Have A Problem With The Way The Media Is Victim Blaming Amber Heard


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