What is a stereotype?
Definition: A stereotype is a popular and over-generalised thought or image about a certain group of individuals.
So amidst that in the forefront of your mind, what does a rapist look like to you?
If you were to judge this personification according to the stereotypes put forward by our culture today, you’d probably call to mind someone pretty ominous and foreboding.
The person you’re picturing is almost certainly male, aged somewhere between 25 and 40.
He might seem quietly angry, with a discernible air of violence about him. You know, the “scary” type.
You’re probably not imagining him as wealthy, and this is reflected in the way you’ve chosen to imagine his choice of dress.
You’re likely to be picturing him in a secluded, but public area. An alleyway, perhaps, or a park late at night.
In your mind, he’s a loner.
In your mind, you’ve never met him.
The reality of rape and the people who perpetrate it is of course vastly different to this, but society’s insistence on maintaining its commitment to this fictional male villain continues to the detriment of us all.
Nowhere has this been more apparent over recent years than in the sentencing of Brock Allen Turner, a 20-year-old American man who was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman at an on-campus party at University in January, 2015.
He was additionally convicted of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person as well as sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
Turner’s assault of the woman occurred in public behind a dumpster and was so severe that doctors found abrasions, lacerations and dirt in her vagina, after he was interrupted by two graduate students passing by on their bicycles.
His victim, who was unconscious throughout the assault, woke up hours later in hospital.
She would learn about the vicious details of the sexual violation later after reading a news report on her phone.
Published in the days following was an extraordinary, powerful impact statement in which she details the confusion, loss of confidence and damage done to her after the assault.
It’s the kind of thing that should be made mandatory reading for school students, particularly in the context of teaching consent and what it means to be a decent human being who can actively distinguish between right and wrong.
Up until now, you may have formed a picture of Turner in your mind that lines up neatly with that description at the start of this scribble.
This is because it’s generally easier for people to imagine rapists as people living on the fringes of society.
If we can imagine them as somehow damaged and inherently anti-social, we don’t have to address the complicated reality of rapists being “normal” people who we may be friends with, work with, go to school with and, for many people, share blood ties with.
But Turner did not present to the world as the archetypal monster dwelling in shadowed alleyways.
He was attending University on a sports scholarship as an accomplished swimmer with aspirations to one day compete at the Olympics.
He is from a privileged white background, with enough family money and support to hire the kind of expensive lawyers who usually appear on behalf of the well-taken-care-of-privileged-white-sons-defending-themselves-against-rape-charges.
A promising young athlete with friends, teammates and well-to-do parents can’t possibly be a rapist! There must be some other explanation – alcohol consumption, perhaps, and poor reasoning skills. Misread signals. A life-altering mistake.
Indeed, these are the arguments Turner, Turner’s father and Turner’s lawyers all put forward to explain why he pressed himself down on top of an unconscious woman, removed half her clothing to expose her naked body to the cold night air and, well, you can only begin to fathom the rest.
Of course, it was the dangers of “binge drinking” and “sexual promiscuity” that had resulted in this “mistake”- how stupid of me.
Adding gross insult to injury, Turner and his lawyers argued that she’d wanted it – that this woman who presented in hospital assaulted, bruised and unconscious and with a blood alcohol reading three times that of the legal limit had wanted to have sex on the ground behind a dumpster.
In a statement being attributed to Turner’s father, prison would be “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 years plus of life.”
The sentencing judge appeared to agree, confining Turner to a county jail for a period of no more than six months.
Judge Aaron Persky declared a prison sentence “would have a severe impact on him…I think he will not be a danger to others.”
Tell that to his victim.
Tell that to the number of men and women watching as this sentence is handed down, the ones being reassured yet again that rape is a mistake all privileged young men are entitled to make at least once.
As a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense.
Society has to let go of the fervent belief that rapists look like people we don’t know and possibly even love.
We have to accept that rape – which itself can take on a multitude of forms, not all of which (in fact most of which) follow the script we’ve been told – is a crime most often perpetrated by people known to the victim in some way, be it as a friend, family member, lover, casual acquaintance or even just someone who moves in the same circles as us.
Being a promising young athlete does not provide a protective charm against criminal activity, but this is the message that has been all too often sent by judges, lawyers and community members intent on protecting young men from the consequences of their violence and entitlement and turned onto young women as something that they did wrong.
Brock Turner was an accomplished swimmer who may have had the opportunity to compete one day at the Olympics. Brock Turner is a rapist who pinned an unconscious woman down and sexually assaulted her in the most callous of manners.
Both of these things are true.
And until society wraps its head around that reality, both of these things will happen again.
Having too much to drink is an amateur mistake and one that I’m sure many of us can admit to, but it’s not criminal. Everyone reading this has had a night where they’ve regretted drinking too much. But regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault.
“I’m-sorry-that-you-were-offended” (you pathetic snowflake), or “I’m-sorry-that-I-was-caught-in-the-act-I-wish-I’d-gotten-away-with-it” are phrases thrown around quite liberally.
This rapey peer pressure, the jokes, the misogyny, the harassment yelled from cars, and the god awful propositioning on the street. It teaches you that you’re helpless in your sexuality, that you’re something to be viewed. Once I accidentally bumped into an old man on the street. I apologised and his friend says to me “don’t worry, you’re the best he’s had all day.” It’s those flippant, sexual and degrading comments like those that are passed around regularly. Just because I am a woman wearing a nice dress, heels and a bit of lippie on a night out does not mean that I was “gagging for it” or “being a cock tease”.
So here’s the crescendo to this argument: If someone is harassed on the street, people naturally ask “what was she wearing?” If someone’s sexually assaulted, they ask “what were they drinking?” Women and victims are expected not to get raped, rather than rapists being expected not to rape.
We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school environment were harassed last year, not how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenage girls got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.
So you can see how the use of the passive voice has such a heavy political effect. It shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women. When you look at that term ‘violence against women’, nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them. Men aren’t even a part of the equation.
Women: victims for just being born with a vagina.
Women are delicate little flowers who bruise easily. Men are hulk-sized humans who think they’re untouchable. The sooner that this sort of stereotypical bullshit gets wiped, the one step closer we’ll be to equality.
Thanks for tuning into our Feminist February narratives- we trust it’s been informative, revolutionary, eye-opening and all of the adjectives in between