Julia Aldrich | contributor
After a mere three-month sentence, officials released Brock Turner, the rapist who happened to go to Stanford and swim competitively, from prison. The case, involving a fully capable man caught raping an unconscious woman, is an encapsulation of the all too common dismissal of rape culture and the power of white privilege.
Since Turner’s release, I’ve seen a multitude of posts and articles arguing how problematic his “slap on the wrist” sentence was. Largely, the discussion seems to target a failed system and recognize how, with the right privilege, someone can commit a crime so heinous and still come out unscathed. (See: the multitude of rapes committed by men of color that ended in extensive prison sentences.)
Thanks to social media, everyone is able to view or participate in this discussion — and since information about the case is so accessible, and social media is so pervasive, people who otherwise might not have been exposed to this case begin to partake in a nationwide conversation. In this case, anyone with a social media account can learn the severity of Turner’s rape case with ease.
However, as in all forms of media, trending topics die out. Over the next few months, opinions on Brock Turner will cease to circulate around the internet (as they already have begun to do). Thousands will forget Brock Turner, but the victim never will.
Neither will the thousands and thousands of survivors who experience some form of rape and sexual assault each year. People will stop talking about Turner — unless another illegal, heinous escapade lands him in the public eye once again — but the prevalence of these issues will not go away.
We need to recognize the importance of spreading awareness of and understanding rape culture, and with a larger base of people knowing an issue, change is in closer reach. By spreading information and keeping a conversation in motion, people begin to listen and pay attention. That said, perhaps our Facebook rants about Turner aren’t going to be enough. After all, he’s out of prison and on the streets once again, and no amount of Facebook rage will send him back to court for this crime.
The energy currently flooding the internet is a good start to promoting change regarding rape culture. Many people may not have been totally aware of its prevalence and severity before the Brock Turner case. As supporters of change, we need to understand the reality of rape and sexual assault on campus beyond the internet. What’s the point of awareness without some sort of application? Our angry Facebook posts can only do so much. When they die out, rape and sexual assault cases won’t.
What if we could take the rage out of Facebook threads and convert it into real action against rape culture and the enormously high rates of sexual assault? What if, before the anger fizzles out, we turned our attention to faulty legislation and ineffectual administrative practices?
The conversation needs to continue offline. If people continue to reach out and widen the discussion on rape and sexual assault, then its importance will become more visible to lawmakers, law enforcement, and university officials. In fact, the reaction to this incident was enough to result in the judge who oversaw Turner’s case being recalled.
We know that lawmakers are watching. Vice President Joe Biden wrote a meaningful response letter to the Stanford victim. This letter indicates that lawmakers and Congress see our anger and have no excuse when it comes to addressing these issues.
Our college campuses, where sexual violence statistics are significantly high, don’t always provide accessible resources to victims. The University of Pittsburgh released a survey last fall on its own sexual assault statistics, revealing that many students were afraid to come forth due to feelings of shame or emotional distress.
The survey also showed that an alarming number of students reported doing nothing when witnessing sexual assault. With better understanding of rape culture and its consequences, Pitt students could both feel more comfortable in dealing with trauma caused by sexual assault and feel more empowered to step in when witnessing an act of sexual violence. As Pitt students, we can vocalize to administration how important these issues are beyond a Facebook status.
Change is achievable — but not solely from the confines of a Facebook post. If we keep this anger going, and if we can use it to target problematic or ineffectual real-world practices, we can achieve much, much more.
Editor’s note: The University of Pittsburgh recently revised their Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedure. Visit Pitt’s Title IX website to read the revisions. If you wish to report an incident of sexual assault to the University, you may use Pitt’s Title IX “report” tool. For counseling or emotional support, consult the resources available through the University Counseling Center.