Ways of seeing: A campus assault sends ripples through the world

Could this happen in Middlebury? Brock Turner, a Stanford student, a star athlete, sexually assaults an unconscious young woman outside a frat house. He is charged with rape because two people who happen to be bicycling by witness the assault and tackle him when he runs away. The victim, covered with abrasions, her hair full of pine needles after being dragged on the ground, is examined, photographed and treated at the local hospital.
The young woman who was raped finds out the graphic details of the assault by reading about it in the news. At the end of the article, the perpetrator’s swim times are listed.
The case goes to trial, where the defendant (rapist)’s attorney puts the victim through a barrage of questions, meant to call into question her integrity, her character, her sexual history. The victim and her family endure listening to the rapist claim she had given consent. The rapist is convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault. Although he faced a maximum of fourteen years in state prison, the judge sentences him to six months in the county jail and probation. The judge expresses fears that a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a champion swimmer who once aspired to compete in the Olympics — a point repeatedly brought up during the trial.
The survivor of the assault addressed her attacker, and her statement has been read almost six million times, as I type these words. You can read her powerful statement by googling Stanford rape. The offender’s father spoke up in defense of his son. He pleaded for leniency, while claiming that his son is paying a steep price for “20 minutes of action.”
The story is heartbreaking for so many, many reasons. Why did the judge care so much more about the impact a longer sentence would have on the perpetrator than about the message he was sending to the world? The message to victims is that their suffering doesn’t matter very much. The message to rapists is that this is not a very serious crime. The message to boys is that their future is so very important. The message to girls is that this was probably their fault.
These messages have been a part of our culture for a very long time. This culture is called Rape Culture. Rape Culture teaches that “boys will be boys,” and that women and girls need to be careful about what they wear, how much they drink, where they walk and whether to ever go anywhere alone or at night. Rape Culture means that in the United States there are about 293,000 victims of sexual assault every year. Sixty-eight percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police. When you hear the details of this Stanford case, is that any wonder? After enduring the pain of the trial, the victim and her family must watch the offender receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist, as the judge has more sympathy for the rapist than for the survivor. And Brock Turner, who committed this assault, is part of a tiny minority of rapists who will do any time at all for their crime — 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail or prison.
To read the victim’s statement about the impact this assault has had on her is painful because we know that so many more similar crimes are unreported and unacknowledged. But I see a crack in the wall of Rape Culture. Things are changing, though much, much more slowly than we would like. I think about all my friends in Middlebury who will soon be seeing their daughters off to college. We are so excited for these young women and so afraid for them. In the victim’s statement to her attacker, she addresses girls everywhere, and quotes the author Anne Lamott: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save? they just stand there shining.”
Being willing to deliver this statement to her rapist was an act of amazing bravery, and a chisel into the crack in the wall. It is change taking place right in front of us. The master yogi of the lineage in which I practice, B.K.S. Iyengar, said this about change: “Change is not something we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in the world would ever become the person they’re meant to be.”
Rape Culture, like racism, damages everyone. And just as it is incumbent upon white people to understand and dismantle racism in our own minds, as well as in the societal structures it pervades, men, (as judges, teachers, fathers and coaches) must teach young boys to respect everyone’s body. Campus rape is not different from any other rape. It doesn’t matter how incredible an athlete you are, or how much you drank at that party. Men, it is up to you not to rape. Women are not putting up with this anymore.
Joanna Colwell is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who founded and directs Otter Creek Yoga, in Middlebury’s Marble Works. Joanna lives with her family in East Middlebury. When not practicing or teaching yoga, Joanna enjoys taking walks, cooking and sharing anti-racist articles on social media.

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