Sexual Violence, consent and our take on Stanford

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Guilty of 3 counts of sexual assault yet only 6 months in county jail and probation – taking account the age (20) of the perpetrator, the lack of previous criminal convictions and the severe impact on his life led the judge to decide to his level of sentencing, causing outrage worldwide. The case of Brock Turner in Stanford (US) has led to worldwide discussions on sexual violence, the impact on the victim (and the perpetrator) and the issue of consent.

For those unaware of the case: 20 year old student Brock Turner was found guilty of 3 counts of sexual assault but, while facing a max. of 14 years in prison he got 6 months in county jail and probation, with the justification alleging to the fact that a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a champion swimmer. Brock’s father had called on the judge to grant probation, as a sentence would be a “steep price … for 20 minutes of action” as “his son’s life had been deeply altered forever”. He also referred his son’s actions as “non-violent” and related to “sexual promiscuity.“The victim found the courage to share her very detailed and graphic victim’s statement online which has raised substantial support for her case and resulted in outrage over the sentence – with an online petition reaching over 600,000 signatures, calling for the judge’s removal.

The leniency shown through the sentencing and the responses by Brock’s father show a dangerous  and worrying lack of understanding of the damage sexual violence can have on a person, with potentially lifelong consequences for both physical and mental health with further consequences for education, employment, family and social life. The reference to “20 minutes of action “ appears to imply that it was only during the 20 minutes that the victim may have suffered any damage and while able to highlight the lifelong impact on the perpetrator this does not seem to translate into any parallel impact on the victim. The substantial impact on the victim is clearly evident from her victim statement and are as expected based on evidence available from research on the topic. Its also clear that the concept of “informed consent” was not taken into consideration (“he thought I liked it because I rubbed his back)” – thankfully in this country CPS guidance states that if there is evidence that by reason of drink or drugs the victim was unaware of what was occurring and/or or incapable of giving valid consent (in this case the victim was unconscious due to intoxication) and the perpetrator cannot reasonably believe that consent was given, then someone can be charged with sexual assault.

Yes – the victim does not remember it happening to her as she was too intoxicated. This does not mitigate any of the harm this might have caused her and the mere fact that she doensn’t  remember might in fact it might exacerbate any harm caused?

Even if the victim migth have wanted to engage in anything sexual with the defendant, as the now infamous tea-cup clip shows –its fairly normal for someone to change their mind when asked about whether they want something and its good to check this before simply “giving” someone you think they wanted a while back, especially if they not be aware of what’s happening. Worryingly – what message does it send to women around the world?

Sexual assault is still an all too frequent occurrence in the UK: Figures from Rape Crisis UK show that 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16. Young people too are subjected to sexual harassment and violence, including worryingly in schools, leading to the government launching a parliamentary enquiry into the scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools based on evidence from pre-consultation work with over 300 young people shows sexting, online bullying and the normalisation of pornography are all issues for students and they want more support in dealing with them.

Causes of RapeLike Brock and his father, many people , young and old believe (or are made to believe), that the victim could have prevented this by dressing differently or not drinking as much – there are of course protective behaviours but this does not change the answer to the question who is at fault – as this could only be the perpetrator? If you leave your bag or car open, does that make it right for someone else to steal all its contents? You would still be convicted as a thief?

Already a key theme for Basis Yorkshire, in the coming months, Basis Training will be focusing more on this area of work, by working with young people on issues around consent, sexual harassment and violence (offline and online) and the impact of pornography, sex and relationships. We’ve also just re-launched our Sexual Violence training with some great feedback already from delegates who attended and we’ll be launching our Pornography and Young People’s training, using amongst others our latest Is it Normal Resource over the next few months.