Campus Rape Culture and How the Media Perpetuates It

It’s been spreading like wildfire; the outrage and downright disgust felt by people, especially female college students, everywhere in reaction to the news of the extremely lenient sentence given to Brock Turner who was found guilty on three counts related to sexual assault. As I read through the headlines on this story, the phrases I consistently see describing Turner are “Stanford swimmer,” “All-American Swimmer,” and “20-year-old kid.” The words that are missing from these news stories are “rapist,” “felon,” and “predator.”

Turner was found by two witnesses raping a woman behind a fraternity on January 18, 2015. At first glance, the story sounds hopeful because a rapist was actually caught and arrested on campus, rather than just becoming one of the predators that slip under the radar after committing their crime. However, when Turner was finally brought to conviction, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced him to only six months in county jail and 3 years probation. Persky stated he believes “Prison would have a severe impact on him” and he thinks “he will not be a danger to others.” These statements alone show the total neglect of the victim and her right to justice, not to mention how a slap on the wrist sentence makes a mockery of campus rape cases and their victims everywhere. In this case, rape culture prevailed once again and will live on to hurt more and more people.

Despite my grave disappointment and frustration with the justice system, I am further outraged at the way the media is handling it. Turner is a rapist and a criminal, but the media is treating him like a tragic hero. In one Washington Post article, the reporter calls him a “baby-faced Stanford freshman.” He then goes on to describe all of Turner’s swimming achievements as a “member of Stanford’s varsity swimming team, one of the best in the country,” and that in high school, “he was so good that he tried out for the U.S. Olympic team before he could vote.” The reporter finishes this highlight reel with “Suddenly he was accused of rape.”

The word “suddenly” has no place here. It implies that Turner was just minding his own business, going to and from swim practice with dreams of the Olympics floating in his head when surprise! He raped someone. The reporter literally calls it a “stunning fall from grace.” Brock Turner is a rapist and a predator. And the thing is, the media knows this. They are all fully aware that Turner raped an unconscious woman, yet they write about him like he was a hometown hero who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have also noticed that no mugshot of Turner has surfaced in the media at all. In its place is a photo of the sweet, baby-faced star swimmer taken for his Stanford yearbook.

The article goes on to later detail how “Turner’s future was once so bright,” and provides an even more extensive highlight reel of his swimming career, beginning at age 2. Following that, the reporter makes sure to catalog all of the victim’s activities that night, including how much she drank and how she was acting.

This is rape culture, and this is how the media perpetuates it. No rapist is innocent, no matter how they may look. It’s time to end victim shaming in the media and stop going so easy on perpetrators of such violent crimes. Unfortunately, this case will undoubtedly turn back the clocks even further in campus rape culture. Speaking not only as a female college student, but also a human being, this greatly worries me.

In a statement following the jury conviction, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said,”Today a jury of Santa Clara County residents gave a verdict which I hope will clearly reverberate throughout colleges, in high schools, anywhere where there may be any doubt about the distinction between consent and sexual assault. No means no, drunk means no, passed out means no, and sex without consent means criminal assault.”

Unfortunately, the verdict will not clearly reverberate as Rosen hopes. The people rely on the media to deliver to them news that they can use to shape their opinions. If the media continues to portray campus rapists as good kids who just made a mistake, then that’s how the people will view them as well. This is the perfect way to ensure that the campus rape monster is well fed and can destroy more lives.

For further reading on the impact of campus rape, please read the letter that Turner’s victim read aloud to him in court. Talk about “severe impact.”

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