I said (on Twitter) I wasn’t going to write about this. I changed my mind.
I write this with some hesitation. First, like with the gorilla incident, everyone has an opinion, and everyone seems to think the rest of the world should care what it is, no matter how stupid it is. Not that I think anyone else’s opinion is stupid, you are all precious little flowers, I’m sure. Anyway, I am vaguely familiar with how laws work, but I am not an expert in California law, criminal law, sex crimes, or sentencing, so I don’t have any special expertise on this topic that qualifies me to speak on it. Second, writing about this is unpleasant, and it brings up some issues for me I’m not exactly excited to dive into.
Brock Turner has been in the news a lot lately. There was the letter the victim submitted (and the CNN reporter who read the entire thing – which is incredible), the six month sentence, and the father’s comment about “twenty minutes of action.”
I’ve seen a lot of comments and shares and heard a few conversations about all of this. A fairly large chunk of my Facebook friends are lawyers, and some of them do have expertise on these matters. A lot of other Facebook friends are not, but have opinions they wanted to share anyway. I should say, I have a fairly diverse group of Facebook friends, politically speaking. This is something I appreciate very much. It gives me an opportunity to think about things from a lot of different angles.
The majority of the posts I saw were some kind of outrage or frustration over the length of the sentence, or focused on supporting the victim, or sexual assault victims more generally. Some were just shared newspaper articles about what happened. I scrolled through most of these posts, nodding in agreement or trying not to let the weight of this terrible act sink in.
There was one post that was different than the others, and it stood out. It was a shared article about Norway’s prison system. The article discusses the low crime rates and low rates of recidivism and concludes that the justice system must be doing something right. One man who killed 77 people was sentenced to 21 years, which is the maximum sentence, and jails are more like simple hotels, complete with private kitchens. The caption was something about how deterrence is better than punishment and we need to change how we do things here in the U.S.
There is, without a doubt, room for improvement here in the U.S., and I think changes in sentencing guidelines for nonviolent crimes is a good start. There are a few problems with constantly looking at Norway and Sweden and Denmark for solutions. For one thing, Norway has five million people. Total. Los Angeles proper has just under four million people. The metropolitan Detroit area has just over five million people. These countries are also physically smaller, and less diverse. I’m not saying we can’t learn anything from how they do things, I am saying it’s difficult to conclude that something that works there will automatically work here.
Deterrence is an important goal, and I agree that it should be more of a priority here, absolutely, and rehabilitation too.
In cases of sexual assault (his actions do not meet the statutory requirement for rape in California, or so I have been told), I don’t believe a six month “jail” sentence and three years’ probation is enough to accomplish either.
The maximum sentence, according to the New York Times, is fourteen years. Fourteen years. That’s a long time. More than a decade. Too long? Not if it were my daughter.
I hope Brock Turner gets the help he needs. I hope some part of me says that because I believe in human dignity for all people, but I’m mostly (if not entirely) saying so he doesn’t hurt somebody else.
Mostly I hope the victim is getting the support she wants and needs, whatever that means for her. I hope she is able to move on from this, to know that this thing that happened to her doesn’t define her.
I hope this never happens again. I hope we all wake up and take rape and sexual assault seriously. I hope we institute a zero tolerance policy. I hope we start respecting women.
I won’t hold my breath, and not just because I have bronchitis.