Brock Turner Case Sheds The Dangerous Myth about Who Perpetrates Rape
But he’s such a good guy.
All too often, this is the response many survivors of sexual violence hear when they disclose someone has harmed them. While Canada has recognized sexual violence as a criminal act for decades, rape myths still influence our understanding of who perpetrates these crimes. Too often, violence committed by the perpetrator is minimized, the survivor is blamed and or shamed, and the rape is constructed as one big misunderstanding. It’s shrugged off as campus culture, or a regrettable evening. But seeking justice around sexual violence means challenging victim-blaming myths, as well as notions of who is an abuser.
The Brock Turner rape trial demonstrated that dangerous rape myths are entrenched in media reporting and the judicial system. His mugshot was only released after the trial had concluded. During the trial, multiple media outlets used a photo of him as a well-groomed athlete, framing him as the All American Swimmer or Stanford Athlete. These reports downplayed his horrific actions, and focused on his achievements – and what a conviction would mean to his polished reputation. That smiling photo, and the absence of his mug shot, shaped the public discourse away from victim rights and justice to how the crime might affect a rapist’s supposedly bright future.
And yet: The shiny image of Brock Turner should remind us all to put to rest the dangerous idea that rapists cannot be privileged white men.
Who we construct as predators tells us about racism, classism and the long held view that outsiders are always a threat. Whether it is migrants, Black men, Indigenous people, trans people – myths about perpetrators are built on oppressive stereotypes. According to the judge in Brock Turner’s case: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” The myth here – that somehow a man convicted of three sexual assault felonies – would not be a danger was upheld in a court, as the judge excused the harmful action of an upper-class white criminal.
This distorted view leads to misplaced sympathy towards the rapist and neglects to empathize with, or even consider, the potentially lifelong physical, mental, economic and spiritual impact of sexual violence on the survivor, Emily Doe.
It is easier to believe that people who cause harm, who commit acts of sexual violence are seedy criminals. Not the nice guys, the wealthy guys, or co-workers, friends or family members.
What’s more – and this is the piece that our society still seems to be greatly conflicted with – the person who causes harm might have a positive reputation in the community and may have a long list of accomplishments. In fact, some rapists go out of their way to cultivate a polished public persona because they know it will enable them to cover up their offences. When we cling to myths of who a rapist can and can’t be, it makes us discount and doubt survivors who disclose sexual assault that was perpetrated by someone thought of as good, accomplished (should we delete this since we already use the word in the paragraph) or a person of status.
We can move closer to a world where healing and justice is possible for all.
Farrah Khan is the sexual violence support and education coordinator at Ryerson University
Sidrah Ahmad is an community-based educator and writer based out of Toronto.