By Frankie Richardson
The Stanford rape case has been very much in the news this week, with many people seeming to agree that the man at the centre of the case, Brock Turner, should be taking responsibility for his crime. As the victim put it in her letter to the court: “All you have admitted to is ingesting alcohol”. Brock Turner refuses to admit that when he sexually penetrated an unconscious woman behind a skip he was committing rape. He calls it drunken promiscuity and his father, in a letter to the court after his son was sentenced, calls it “20 minutes of action”.
The comments sections of the media are full of outcry against him, his actions, his excuses and his sentence. Everybody, it seems, is utterly baffled by Turner’s complete inability to understand that forcibly placing a foreign object inside an unconscious person is rape. Unfortunately, he really does not seem to understand that. He does not seem to think he has done anything wrong except getting drunk at a party, and most disturbingly, it seems he is not alone.
A quick chat amongst a group of girlfriends reveals some startling truths. The Turner case is shocking in its brutality, and it is easy perhaps to say something like “I’ve been to loads of parties and no one ever got raped” but how many of us have been sexually penetrated while we were asleep? How many boyfriends have referred to this laughingly as “surprise sex”? How many of us have been semi-conscious and absolutely unable to give consent?
One friend told the story of the boy who saved her from being beaten up by a violent ex, offered her somewhere to stay and then coerced her into sex. Another of having a stranger stick his fingers inside her on a busy nightclub dancefloor. Every one of these cases is rape. Absolutely and without question, but it took a group of intelligent twenty-something women a long and difficult conversation to realise that they had all, at some point in their lives, some more than once, been raped.
Rape Crisis say that 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year. That one in five women has experienced sexual violence since the age of 16. These statistics are terrifying enough, but when you consider the possibility that it’s not just seemingly over-privileged frat boys like Brock Turner who don’t know what rape is, that in fact, many victims don’t even know they’ve been raped, those figures suddenly become a lot more frightening.
Every time there’s a case like this, there is an outcry about victim blaming and doing what is often cited as ‘teaching men not to rape’. A huge argument then ensues about how rape doesn’t only happen to women and how not all men are rapists, and nothing is solved because everybody is too self-righteous and indignant to consider the facts. What we need to teach people is that women’s and men’s bodies are their own, and theirs alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re drunk, if you’re wearing a mini-skirt, if you’re total strangers or if you’ve been married 25 years, nobody has a right to touch you without your permission. There is no grey area. Maybe if we taught everybody this simple fact, if it was clear and understood, people like Brock Turner would get the sentences they deserve and their victims wouldn’t have their personal lives and sexual history picked apart in court.
Maybe if we did this simple thing people would know that they can say no, to anybody, at any time, because it’s their body. They would know when they woke up and found themselves having sex that that person had violated them in the worst possible way. They wouldn’t have to feel confusion or shame about it because they would understand. And maybe, just maybe, if we taught this lesson to everyone, there would be fewer rapes. Because everyone would understand where the line is. The line between yes and no.
For support regarding any issues in this article, contact Manchester Rape Crisis.