Dan Turner, the father of the freshman rapist at Stanford University, wrote a foul letter of opposition to his son Brock’s six-month jail sentence for assaulting an unconscious woman. Before getting into the fucked-upness of this gesture, it must be stated that according to California law, the maximum sentence for the younger Turner’s crimes is 14 years, and prosecutors pushed for six years. You would think that Turner Sr would be grateful for such a lenient sentencing, given that Brock will spend less time in jail than it took the trial to conclude. You would think that Daddy Dan would be counting his blessings and keeping his head down given the fact that his son received a slap on the wrist for the violation he committed against another human being.
But that’s not how privilege works. Privilege is a potent cocktail that allows those who choose to leave it unchecked to sustain a fantasy. Male privilege, class privilege, and white privilege have all worked to create an alternate reality for the Turners, a reality in which they are unable to accept that a crime was committed against another person, or that Brock needs to be held accountable for committing said crime.
After being convicted of three felony crimes, including sexual assault with attempt to commit rape, Brock Turner used his testimony to turn himself into a victim as well. He found that the only culprits in the events of January 17, 2015 were alcohol and “the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.” Brock does not think he raped anyone. This is a delusion that only privilege can provide. given that he penetrated an unconscious woman and attempted to leave her naked next to a dumpster. Inherent in male privilege is the idea that women’s bodies are always available for whatever sexual experiences males want to create for them, irrespective of the owners of those bodies’ cognitive states. Based on his own testimony, Brock Turner is a young man who felt so entitled — and, might I add, thirsty as hell — to have a sexual encounter with a girl that he took her falling down as an opportunity to finger and grope her. Privilege allows Brock to think he was within his full legal rights to treat another being like a blow-up doll.
And still, not the fact that his son tried to get laid by a girl next to a trash receptacle and ran when confronted about it, nor the victim’s own compelling statement, could stop Dan Brock from trying to defend his son. In a letter he submitted to the court, Dan insisted that jail time would be “too steep” a price to pay for “20 minutes of action.” He insists that his son’s loss of appetite was punishment enough in this situation and that Brock “has never been violent to anyone, including his actions on Jan 17th 2015.” Dan Turner, also heavily dosed up on privilege, can’t admit that Brock raped anyone either. This is the privilege that allows rape culture to function.
Dan’s idea of justice in this situation suggests that he isn’t used to holding Brock accountable; or that perhaps he does not exactly know what accountability is. For those with white male privilege, accountability is a process that can be avoided because the implications of your race and gender mean that people are always giving you the benefit of the doubt, forgiving your misdoings and crimes, and generally allowing you to do whatever horrible things you want to do, all the while acknowledging your humanity.
One of the things that makes privilege so dangerous is that it’s widely accepted and at play in our institutions. Brock’s trifling ass six-month sentence is evidence of this. Judge Aaron Persky, who presided over the case, defended his sentencing on the grounds that prison would have a “severe impact” on Brock. Privilege protects white men at the cost of those they hurt. Crimes against women, like rape and intimate partner violence, become “teachable moments” for white men to practice getting in trouble in hopes that they won’t do it again. Imagine if our lawmakers and justice figures took a similar stance on murder or terrorism.
Privilege is dangerous, much more dangerous than the alcohol that Brock blames for his crimes, because it can only exist at the expense of other people who are seen as less human than the privileged few. Privilege is the reason that only three out of 100 rapists will ever spend a day in jail. Privilege allows people to think that swimming well and eating steak makes a white college freshman an exceptional citizen of society. Privilege blinds people to their own bullshit and tells them to stand up for their right to be assholes. Privilege means that there is suddenly room to consider the impact of a crime on the offender in spite of the victim’s testimony. Privilege will probably allow Brock Turner to spend Christmas with his family, finish his degree, and ultimately get a degree, even with his sex offender status.