Unfortunately, Brock Turner is not the exception and women across the United States experience the horror of rape and will likely never receive justice.
Estimates from RAINN conclude that for every 230 rapes that are reported to police, only 46 of these reports lead to an arrest, and approximately 4.6 are incarcerated. These statistics were gathered directly from the DOJ and FBI who define rape as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The problem is that all of the statistics surrounding rape are usually estimates considering the unlikelihood that people will report their rape to the police. The reasons behind the lack of reporting vary depending on each person’s experience. There are mandatory minimums at a Federal level that, depending on the case, range from a fine to life. Most of the decisions about jail time for rape cases are made on a state by state level. States often refrain from using the word “rape” and often use the terms “sexual assault,” “sexual violence,” “criminal sexual misconduct,” “sexual abuse,” and “sexual battery,” amongst others. There are a lot of misconceptions about what rape is and debates about what needs to be done to prevent it. Imposing more severe punishments does not stop people from becoming criminals, the knowledge that they may get caught is what stops people. The prison system in the United States is not perfect, however, until there is a better system in place, rape needs to be dealt with properly under the current system and this is not happening.
Brock Turner is not the Exception
While the MeToo movement so far has a lot of success with shedding light on public figures similar Bill Cosby and Larry Nassar who either assaulted, harassed, or raped victims, there is still a lot of work to be done for justice. Even if some figures never went to prison, their names are still publicly tarnished. Brock Turner only served three months in prison and because of the publicity of the case he is now a public enemy. The fact is that the only reason he was in jail for three months was because of the publicity surrounding the case. For those who seek justice outside of the spotlight, there is a long road ahead.
Many victims do not want to be dragged through a process that often leaves them questioning whether or not they should be culpable for their own suffering. To confront their assailants face to face in a public setting is a lot to ask of anyone who was subjected to any form of abuse, especially when there are many steps along the way that makes reporting rape seem like climbing Everest.
Despite the fact that only 2% of rape reports are ever found to be false, victims still face scrutiny upon reporting their rapes. While scrutiny can be a good thing, the scrutiny surrounding rape victims often rely on stereotypes and false information. This is the reason why sometimes it takes a long time for rape victims to report what happened to them. If the victim does happen to get a rape kit done, the backlog that happens in many crime labs, public or private, may delay an arrest by years. However, in many cases rape victims either know or are intimate with the person who ends up being their abuser, another factor in the lack of reporting that occurs.
However, once the victim feels comfortable reporting their rape, the backlog of rape kits and the inherent societal stigma surrounding victims of rape is only the beginning. The discrimination does not end with the arrest of the perpetrator, but continues into the courtroom. During both the Anita Hill and Christine Blasey-Ford hearings there were accusations that both women were somehow using these moments for their own gain, that they were defaming great men, or that their credibility was in question. After all of this, if the perpetrator is found guilty. the most likely outcome is that they will never see a single day in prison, not until they receive a second guilty verdict.
The Guilty Walk Free
Though the reality is that most abusers will never see a day in court, not even if they are found guilty. The government gives a loosely defined number of years which a perpetrator must serve, which leads to a lack of jail time amongst convicts of rape. While mandatory minimums are not necessary for every crime, there needs to be a higher incarceration rate for those convicted of rape. Then there are the unknown who never get reported to the police. These stories of abuse stay behind closed doors with trusted confidants, with in human resources departments, in therapists offices, or in college safety enforcement departments.
The current conversation about rape amongst politicians in response to bans on abortion in several states shows the lack of understanding about what rape is and how it affects victims. Though this is not the first time politicians have revealed their lack of understanding of how rape is defined and how it affects people, and sadly it will not be the last.
The lack of understanding about rape and victims of abuse in the United States is one of the reasons why there is a lack of incarceration. There are parts of the system that do not work well and need to in order to make sure victims receive justice and abusers know their crimes are intolerable. However, as long as there are harmful stereotypes and stigmas that still exist in society, abusers will never be thought of as criminals.