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Rape case illuminates fault in criminal justice system

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Grace Gutterman, Contributing Writer

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“A prosecutor argued he should spend six years in prison. A judge ruled he should be jailed for six months.” (CNN correspondents Emanuella Grinberg and Catherine E. Shoichet) On January 17, 2015 Brock Turner sexually assaulted a young woman and was charged with three counts of felony and sexual assault, with a total of five charges. These charges include, but are not limited to: rape of an intoxicated person, rape of an unconscious person, assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. Turner’s convictions qualified him for a fourteen-year prison sentence, but he was only sentenced with six months in prison, and was released in early September, only serving half of his sentence.

   Protests and numerous online petitions burst out, angry Facebook posts would flood my timeline and overall public anger was apparent in response to Turner’s short sentence. In the court of law, Brock Turner had an immense amount of privilege on his side. He inherits male privilege, class privilege, and white privilege through judicial bias and receives leniency as a result. Because justice equals punishment, right?

   “We as a society do not win when we champion incarceration as ‘justice’,” wrote Lily Zheng and Erika Lynn in June of 2016 for “Stanford Politics” in an article called “Who Wins When We Incarcerate Brock Turner?” Here, Zheng and Lynn are bringing up the prison industrial complex and later elaborate in their article that trapping people inside a prison to ‘learn a lesson’ not only wastes tax dollars that could be used towards education, but additionally is a toxic form of torture in both the physical labor of the incarcerated persons and the mental pain they will endure. Additionally, Zheng and Lynn quote a friend’s argument, “if everyone is nonconsensual, then what will you do? Arrest and incarcerate everyone?” The point they bring up here is that it is illogical that prison is the only answer. So, if prison isn’t the answer how can we punish non-law abiding people?

   When the Brock Turner case broke out into the media my immediate reaction was obvious anger and disgust. My feelings are still the same, but I didn’t realize until recently that when I hear about rape cases or any cases involving violence against women my initial thought/question is about how long the rapist or assaulter will be in prison. I, myself, advocate for women’s rights and just advocate for women in general, but I also advocate for criminal justice reform and I am against mass incarceration. Yet, for my entire life the only just punishment I have ever known or have ever been taught is incarceration. For example, if someone burglarizes a store an ingrained trait in me is to say that whoever stole from that store needs to go to prison, to where the ‘bad people’ belong. As I’ve aged I have realized how horrible that thought is and that sending all of these non-law abiding people to a concrete building is 1) fatal for those peoples own safety and 2) not a reformative way to end the process of unlawful acts. Non-law abiding people do need to be reprimanded, but our governing state and society needs to brainstorm beneficial, reformative, and effective ways to end unlawful acts and behavior in total, not a short term response that is incarceration that eventually leads to the long term (horrible) prison industrial complex.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Rape case illuminates fault in criminal justice system”

  1. Zoe Wyse on October 19th, 2016 6:44 pm

    I am really glad you wrote this article since it raises very important and challenging questions. As a woman, I also feel as you do that it is important to work to empower women and protect their rights and safety. Like many women, I find the thought of acts like this terrifying. But more importantly, I am concerned for other women who are at risk. I also agree with your view that it is important to focus on healing and promoting the well-being of all, including people who have done things that are very harmful. These points of view need not be mutually exclusive, as you thoughtfully point out.

    I believe there are no “right” answers in these kinds of situations, and every person who has been hurt has the right to feel whatever they feel. But it does seem that it would be helpful to find ways for society to communicate to people that some acts are completely unacceptable while also finding ways to help people remain included if they are able to apologize, truly recognize they did something unbelievably harmful, commit to not doing those actions again, and receive the support they need to reliably make their commitment a reality so that everyone can stay safe. People who have issues should get support for their issues.

    Every situation is different, but I very much agree with you that finding compassion for others when this is possible is often a very good path. Keeping people included in communities to the fullest extent possible seems a very worthy goal. When we can treat people who have caused harms with compassion while respecting and empowering people who have been hurt and protecting everyone’s safety, this is a path that we can be truly proud of. Society can completely condemn an act while still finding compassion for the person who did the act.

    I think it is truly impressive and brave that you are raising these kinds of issues, because while these are incredibly hard topics with no “right” or “wrong” answers, just bringing these subjects to light in a thoughtful and calm way can be very hard in our society.

    It gives me a lot of hope for our collective future that people from so many different perspectives in life–men and women, and people from different socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, or political points of view–are willing to thoughtfully and compassionately engage with hard issues like this for which there are no simple solutions.

    Thank you so much for writing this very thoughtful piece about such a difficult subject.

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Rape case illuminates fault in criminal justice system