Chardonnay Madkins, EROC Project Manager
We all by now, hopefully, know of the case of the former Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, who was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster near a campus party. Recently, he was convicted of three felony charges of assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, however celebrations of justice soon declined when Turner was only sentenced to six months in county jail and probation as opposed to the prosecutor’s recommendation of six years imprisonment. The judge, Aaron Persky, further went to elaborate on the reasoning behind such a lenient sentence stating that prison would have a “severe impact on him,” with “him” meaning Brock Turner, a now convicted rapist. Unfortunately this case is not an anomaly. With a dominant white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society it is not surprising that rape and sexual violence only has a three percent conviction rate. On paper this case is one of the few success stories. Brock Turner will still spend more time in jail at six months, or three with good behavior, than 97 percent of rapists.
Why, then, does this feel like such an injustice? It is due to the messages and system that was reinforced and Judge Persky advocated with his light sentence: white male privilege trumps everything. This case is a perfect model that showcases white supremacist capitalist patriarchy where white plus male plus wealth equals power.
White male privilege is the concept that society values and gives unearned power, wealth, rights, and sociopolitical opportunities and advantages to white men based solely on their race and cisgender. Recently, there was another case of light sentencing for a white college man committing rape in Indiana. John Enochs, a former student and fraternity member at Indiana University, plead guilty to misdemeanor battery after initially being charged with rape of two women. Although rape is a level three felony in the state of Indiana and can carry up to 16 years in prison, Enochs will only serve one year’s probation and had only spent a single night in jail.
Another court case named this theory affluenza, a term coined in a Texas case where a 16 year old rich white male, Ethan Couch, was sentenced to ten years of probation and no jail time in after killing four people while drinking and driving. His attorney -- and later, the judge -- believed that Couch should not be held responsible for his actions because his parents never made rules apply to him, so neither should the law. He then went on to violate his probation by fleeing to Mexico, where he got in trouble with the law once again. He now will still only face almost two years jail time for manslaughter. This idea that white men should be held to the lowest standard has been repeated time and time again.
Just look at Brock Turner’s case, where everything around him emits white male privilege. The media has continued to use his school ID picture or booking picture rather than his mug shot, until just recently. He is described as a former Stanford student, or a swimmer who was destined for the Olympics, or both: a former Stanford student who once dreamed of being an olympic swimmer. His privilege is clear when we see how he was named, even though he could be described as Brock Turner: a man who has been convicted of three felony charges of the rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.
Affluenza, white male privilege, or this extremely low standard society holds white men to not only benefits the people in this group, but it gives them unearned advantages off the backs of everyone outside this group. White men have historically raped, stole and murdered people of color across the world to acquire the power, wealth, and privilege they have today. This in turn, makes their privilege harmful to those outside this group. Every institution upholds this system. Wealth distribution, education, housing, access to healthy food, etc. all favors white men. This is why the criminal justice system continues to hold wealthy white men above the law at the expense of the people they kill or the people they rape.
White male privilege has proved to not only benefit white men, but kill all the rest of us in the process.
It is hard to imagine that if Brock Turner were not a wealthy white male his safety in prison, or county jail even, would have been a great concern of Judge Persky. Many journalists have written about the case of Brian Banks with the difference in treatment of falsely accused Black men and Turner. Though any case in which any Black person, not just Black men, are falsely imprisoned is an unfortunate tragedy, that is more common than we’d like to believe; however, it is fraudulent and discrediting to conflate a false accusation with a case that is not a false report. Additionally, it does not properly address the harm that this privilege causes others nor address the same reality that led Banks to be falsely imprisoned.
Racism and the prison industrial complex that over-polices Black people and disproportionately imprisons people of color, is a product of the interaction of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy working together. Similarly, violence against women and its low conviction rate are the result of this system as well. Journalists including a case where a Black man may have been falsely accused without any historical context of White women falsely accusing Black men of rape, perpetuates rape culture and the myth that false rape reports are high, women often lie about sexual violence, and further marginalize survivors of color, especially Black survivors. By contrasting these cases without mentioning the nuances of racism, the prison industrial complex, or historical context these journalists — much like Judge Persky — only further this harmful system. Similar to how Audre Lorde explained, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." We cannot continue to use white supremacy or patriarchy as a framework to eliminate some of the inequalities people face because the most marginalized groups will always suffer.
We must dismantle the entire system in order to support all survivors regardless of race, class, ability, gender expression, or sexualility. We must be equally outraged when we hear cases of Black women having to wait until thirteen survivors come forward against the same perpetrator to get an investigation, as we are when we hear of Brock Turner’s six month sentence. White privilege, male privilege, cisgender privilege, and Turner’s combination of all three, white male privilege, is literally killing all of us. It is the cause of sexual violence against women of color at higher rates than White women with fewer resources provided to them, the disproportionate number of trans women of color murders, or the fact that 97 percent of rapists will go free. Yes, it is terrible that Turner may only spend 90 days in county jail after violating a young woman, it is even sad that Banks was forced to spend six years in prison for a crime he was eventually exonerated from, but it is also disappointing to see the same system that allows rapists like Turner to walk free and innocent Black people wrongfully convicted to the fullest extent of the law.
If we truly want to end sexual violence and the practice of giving rapists slaps on the wrists, then we must center and uplift marginalized survivors who couldn’t get an investigation into their sexual assault, yet alone a conviction. We must demand justice for all survivors, rather than some.