Content warning: Rape, rape culture, rape apologism, enabling
You’ve probably heard by now that the Stanford Rapist Who Can Swim Really Fast will be released from jail today. (He also goes by Brock Turner, but hereafter I’ll simply refer to him as the Stanford Rapist.) The sentence and even a lot of the outcry over it tells us a lot about rape culture.
A lot of anger over his lenient sentence has been directed at the judge in the case, and he has certainly deserved plenty of heat. Then again, the problem with that sentence goes far beyond the judge. One of the recommendations of the Stanford Rapist’s probation officer was the sentencing should be suspended in favor of probation. The probation officer (a woman) made sure to point to the Stanford Rapist’s youth and level of intoxication in making the argument that his crime was “less serious”.
“Less serious”? I suppose “20 minutes of action” is “less serious”. Of course, calling rape “20 minutes of action” is a pretty obvious example of rape culture. Calling it “less serious” is much more subtle but still very much rape culture. It came from someone charged with protecting the public, and it needs to change.
This leads me to a subject even more near and dear to my heart: the convicted rapist scandal at the Listening Ear in Lansing, Michigan. We have no hope of winning the war against rape culture if it’s happening at a rape crisis center.
As I’ve written about before (and will again in the future), leaders of the Listening Ear saw fit to allow three convicted rapists to answer calls from survivors. Having answered many such calls myself, I know that survivors in crisis will share their most vulnerable selves. Indeed, should they want to speak further to a specially trained sexual assault advocate, they have to share their name and phone number with the volunteer who answered the call. I wouldn’t want to do that kind of sharing with a convicted rapist, especially without being told up front.
At times, the debate over this scandal turned toward how unjust the sex offender registry is and how “less serious” offenses force people onto sex offender registries. This is why I now make sure to use the term convicted rapist instead of registered sex offender. The three men in question were convicted of violating human beings without consent, not peeing in a bush or teenage sex with a slightly younger partner. (Neither of those latter offenses will land you on the sex offender registry in Michigan anyway, but rape culture does not encourage such knowledge.) Their crimes included a brutal beating and rape, rape of children, rape of a person that caused serious bodily injury. I dare anyone to call their crimes “less serious”.
That’s what the Listening Ear did though with some different wording. As reported by the Lansing State Journal, the day after the board of directors was informed about the convicted rapist volunteers, an email was sent to staff. It read in part, “the concerns raised were about behaviors that happened years and decades ago.” The convictions for these “behaviors” in question occurred between 1984 and 2010. Regardless of how long it’s been, it’s awfully minimizing to refer to rape as “behaviors that happened years and decades ago”. That’s like dismissing rape as “20 minutes of action”.
The Listening Ear claims to have enacted a new policy that bans convicted rapists from volunteering there. That policy has not yet been released to the public nearly three months later, but the Listening Ear assures us no one listed on a sex offender registry is allowed to volunteer. Still, the organization is run by the same leaders who were previously accepting of convicted rapists on their staff. They’ve also left a number of the community’s questions unanswered. (More about that in a future post.)
Since the scandal broke, the Listening Ear has posted a number of news items. Not one of them was about the Stanford Rapist, an issue very much on the minds of people interested in fighting rape culture. In fact, right after the news broke about their convicted rapist volunteers, the Listening Ear posted what it called “a very moving letter” from one of the convicted rapists defending the decision to let him answer crisis calls from sexual assault survivors. I’d be much more moved if the Listening Ear had demonstrated more concern for survivors and their right to choose whether or not they speak to convicted rapists.
Let’s rewrite that phrase quoted earlier. “The concerns raised were about serious crimes that will affect survivors for years and decades to come.” Now that sounds like an organization dedicated to fighting rape culture. Those are words that demonstrate taking rape seriously, and it does need to be taken seriously. To minimize “concerns” even when it “happened years and decades ago” is to contribute to rape culture.
To fight rape culture we must be committed to fighting against the perception of rape ever being “less serious” or “behaviors that happened years and decades ago”. We need to continuously remind everyone that rape is a crime that has lifelong consequences for those who survive it. We need to be concerned about perpetrators for “years and decades” and beyond. We need to make sure they deal with the consequences of their deliberate actions as long as those who are victimized by them.