There are many heartbreaking, infuriating and otherwise deeply upsetting aspects about the case of the recently convicted rapist Brock Turner. Among them is the fact that he and those close to him have refused to accept any sort of wrongdoing for his actions.
Instead of taking the blame at his sentencing in the cold light of his conviction, Turner, his father, a childhood friend and many others, I presume, see Turner as the victim in the rape he committed. In letters and statements, the three have asserted that “campus drinking culture,” “political correctness,” and — most sickeningly — “sexual promiscuity,” caused Turner to force himself upon an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.
They refuse to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the victim, who courageously wrote this powerful statement, and her family. Turner and those close to him have instead forced them to relive the trauma over the course of a lengthy trial, in which only the bare minimum of justice was served.
As students at the University of Wisconsin, it is difficult for the Turner case to not remind us of our own problems with sexual assault on campus. In 2015, a survey revealed that approximately 25 percent of undergraduate women at UW have experienced sexual assault — nearly five percent higher than the national average. In addition, Title IX officials are investigating our university for mishandling sexual assault cases students brought to the university. This is not a recent trend. Our school, like many others, has had problems addressing sexual assault for a long time.
Though they can and are doing better — UW will soon boldly increase its sexual violence educational programming — ridding our campus of sexual assault is not solely the university’s responsibility. UW students of all genders will also need to buckle down and work collectively if we will ever rid our campus of sexual assault.
While there is so much to be done, a good first step is to acknowledge that while perpetrators deserve the ultimate blame for sexual assault, many of us contribute to a rape culture that normalizes it.
Turner’s father and his friend, for example, are not convicted rapists. But in an annotation of the father’s letter, Know Your IX anti-violence advocate Alyssa Peterson explained how his words “serve as an instructional example of how rape culture is perpetuated.” She explained how in his letter he minimized Turner’s actions and their devastating effects, reflecting and re-enforcing the pillars of our society that normalize sexual violence.
The letters of Turner’s father and his friend are sickening to most, but what people may not realize is that normal everyday behaviors, termed “microaggressions,” can have similar effects.
The website for “Women Against Violence Against Women,” a rape crisis center, lists sayings or jokes along the lines of “man, that test raped me,” as types of microaggressions that can collectively normalize sexual assault within our society. In other words, they can make us increasingly view the occurrence of rape as “just the way things are.”
As students on this campus, we must be more vigilant in not only preventing sexual assault, but also calling out these types of behaviors as well. Dr. Sarah Van Orman, executive director of University Health Services, said she views eliminating these microaggressions as part of “bystander intervention” that is used to curb sexual assault.
We as students must embrace these efforts with open minds and hearts if we truly want to witness change here at UW. We must begin to speak out when sexual assault occurs on campus, or when we witness behavior that normalizes it. Sexual assailants are overwhelmingly to blame, but if we continue to remain silent, then we are at fault as well.
If the UW administration is truly serious about combatting sexual assault, they should continue to provide funding to UHS to work on the issue. Though Van Orman said she is excited that an additional Tonight program is being added for UW sophomores, she said some campuses require programs similar to Tonight to be taken every year for undergraduates.
Many of us, myself included, have been inactive against sexual assault for too long. Are we going to be a university that sweeps sexual assault under the rug, minimizing it like Turner and his companions? Or will we have the bravery and resolve like that of the survivor to tackle it head on?