I had a hard time coming up with a topic or theme for this blog and as I thought about what to write, the song “If I only had a brain/heart/nerve” from the Wizard of Oz kept playing in my head. With few exceptions, this has been a bad week for humankind. Whether it is the mainstream media or social media; the flow of information this week has been relentless. The pace that we receive information has become so rapid that we do not leave ourselves the luxury of sitting and thinking about an issue before we pronounce judgement.
One of the topics that consumed space in my head this week was Brock Turner and overwhelming reaction to his sentence for sexual assault. As way of background, my father was a lawyer and we were encouraged to try to look at all sides of an issue before forming an opinion. While this is a good intellectual exercise it can easily put you at odds with popular thought and opens up some uncomfortable debate and that is where I find myself this week in a head versus heart tug-of-war for which I have no real answers.
I have thought a great deal about the young woman who lost so much of herself that night but who has through her words has given voice to the countless nameless and faceless survivors of sexual violence whose stories we have never heard but know by heart because they are just so prevalent. That is an incredible burden to bear, and I hope that she remains anonymous. Learning her identity would be tantamount to revealing the secret identity of a superhero. I am thankful that she is protected by rape shield laws and that she is finding her way forward and that despite, what can only be described as a lenient sentence, the perpetrator will serve jail time. According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, in the US out of every 1000 rapes only 6 perpetrators end up being incarcerated. (https://rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system ) Moving beyond all of outrage about duration of his sentence, this has to be seen as a victory, albeit a very small one. In our demand for justice are we letting the good become the enemy of the perfect?
There has been a lot of discussion around privilege and race and a lot of unhelpful invective thrown around. There are those that have decried the delay of the release of his arrest photo as racism and a sign of privilege. I can’t speak to the hearts and minds of the police in Stanford and am not willing to label anyone without fact but that said, and as perverse as it may seem, there is some advantage in having his clean-cut boy next door photo so widely circulated. Just as how stranger danger myth has been debunked, so now has the cartoonish central casting image of what a bad guy looks like. The man in the photo has an every-kid quality about him, nothing remarkable either way but certainly nothing that screamed predator. I wonder if the negative reaction to this crime would have been so widespread and pronounced had he not been a high achieving, athletic frat boy? His conviction has forced people to rethink some pretty well ingrained stereotypes and there has to be some benefit to that.
I have also spent time considering what I would do if a person I loved and thought I knew committed a horrible, indefensible crime. What if it were my child? Could I leave his fate entirely to the judicial system? Would you hope for the most lenient sentence possible? Hire the best lawyer? Implore the judge to give him a second chance? These are the questions to which there are no easy answers and much depends of what side of the fence you find yourself.
This case and its aftermath has unleashed a torrent of opinion but very little considered debate about a way forward. This could be a watershed moment and this opportunity it is too important to be played out in memes and cartoons about drinking tea. I worry for the safety of my daughter and her friends. Barely a day goes by that they don’t tell me about being catcalled and being critiqued by strangers both male and female. We need to do better and like Scarecrow we have the power we just need to believe we can achieve change.
I’d unravel every riddle for any individ’le,
In trouble or in pain.
With the thoughts I’d be thinkin’
I could be another Lincoln
If I only had a brain.