Turner case letters distract from addressing root issues

Natalia Ruiz

The Brock Turner sexual assault case became a topic of national conversation when the victim’s letter to her attacker was published. Over the past two weeks, media coverage has shifted from the victim and her bravery to letters written on behalf of Turner’s character on sites such as Business Insider and Cosmopolitan.

Websites and social media users have reacted by attacking Turner’s defenders. One of Turner’s  friends is in the up-and-coming indie band Good English, which has been dropped from multiple events and festivals as a part of the backlash for writing in his defense. Some of these letters are misguided or just wrong — Turner’s father infamously described the rape as “20 minutes of action.” The focus on the letters directs readers away from discussion on rape culture and the light sentence handed down to Turner.

Very few rape cases are ones in which the attacker is on the prowl for victims. In approximately 80 percent of rape cases, the victims know their attackers. The letters from Turner’s family members and friends reflect the sentiment that people find it hard to accept the fact that a regular man they know could commit such a crime. The friend from Good English wrote, “rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists,” in an attempt to distinguish Turner from the perceived image a rapist should hold and reinforce the idea that rapists are only scary, masked, non-white men who grab women in dark alleys. If you believe that, it’s  no far jump to assume sex with a passed out girl isn’t rape — it’s just a really, drunk girl and your slutty self.

Some sites have editorialized the descriptions of the letters by detailing the most titillating sections of the letters, pitting readers against Turner's family and friends. A story about a letter written by Turner's ex-girlfriend published by Teen Vogue went as far as to say “Some of Brock’s supporters have … [issued] public apologies for their distasteful statements to the judge in his defense. Unfortunately, Lydia is not one of those people.” Instead of wasting time on these letters that no one takes seriously, we should turn to addressing the issues of rape culture before the attention to this case diminishes even more.

Rape is an uncomfortable topic to breach, but the prominence of the Turner case has helped facilitate conversations on the matter. The letters exemplify how people resist the idea that rapists can be normal people, and can be used to highlight this issue. Rather than attract readers with summaries of letters and details on the writers of such letters, websites should foster conversation through articles covering topics that might bear fruit, such as the movement to have Judge Persky recalled for this ruling or educating students on consent.

This case can set a positive precedent for the way people treat rape victims. The generated toward the victim in this case may make people think twice about asking whether the victim was asking for it or drunk. We just have to seize the opportunity to make necessary progress before our attention completely shifts to something else.

Ruiz is a Plan II and English junior from Houston.