Against Our Will: Rape, Lies and Leniency

A young man is going to jail for what his father calls “20 minutes of action.” Two women regret a night of partying, both thinking of what they could have done differently.  The Stanford rape case and the relatively light sentence handed down by the judge after the jury found the young man guilty has raised concerns about college student-related rapes. Between the January 2015 Stanford sexual assault and the June 2016 sentencing, two high-profile documentaries came out exposing different aspects of college campus-related rape: “The Hunting Ground” and “Fantastic Lies.”

In the Stanford case, there were two witnesses:Lars Peter Jonsson and Carl Frederik Arndt. The two graduate students from Sweden saw a man on top of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, chased and caught Stanford swim team member Brock Allen Turner. Both the unconscious woman and Turner were intoxicated. The woman didn’t recall Turner or the rape. She indulged in high risk behavior; he committed crimes against her.

Brock’s father undoubtedly grew up during a time when attitudes were different. I don’t know how old Dan Turner, father of Brock Allen Turner, is. He must be in his forties or fifties. If he is 50, then Dan Turner was born in the mid-60s. Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 book, “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape,” had not been published nor the phrases “date rape” or “acquaintance rape” been coined.

Brownmiller’s book was the first place the term “date rape” was found in print. By the 1980s, other magazines such as Mademoiselle and Ms., would use it, too. The issues of rape myths, victim blaming and slut-shaming would also be raised by feminists in the 1970s, but old ways die hard. Getting a girl or woman drunk was once an acceptable way of seduction in the old boys’ club, but as attitudes were changing laws also changed. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an informed consent law: Consent cannot be given by a person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. Stanford University is in California. Stanford has a residential population of 13,809 and a daily population of 35,000.

Turner is not from California. He was born and raised in Oakwood, Ohio (population 9,202 )which is near Dayton (population 141,527)–eight minutes away by car. He graduated from Oakwood High School in 2014. The six-foot, 180-lb. man  was a three-time All-American swimmer and Olympic hopeful. He is not, according to his friend Leslie Rasmussen, a rapist. She does “not blame her [the rape victim] directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.” Turner did not, after all kidnap a woman “as she was walking to her car in a parking lot” because “that is a rapist.” College kids who are partying “are not rapists” they are instead “idiot boys and girls having too much to drink” who have “clouded judgment.” She has changed her opinion since her statement became public.

Yet in 2012, two Ohio high school football players, both 16, raped a 16-year old girl who was incapacitated by alcohol. The two, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were convicted of the rape of a minor in what is known as the Steubenville High School rape incident. As minors themselves, the two boys were tried in juvenile court. They did transport an unconscious girl and document their acts on Facebook and Twitter and cellphone videos. So perhaps by Rasmussen’s definition these men are rapists. Trent Mays, who is white, wants to play college football. Both served longer sentences than Turner will. Steubenville has a population of 18,659  and is less than four hours away from Oakwood. The informed consent law is also in effect in the state of Ohio. Ohio and California are not so different in this regards.

The problem of rape in college campuses and college-related events and organizations is the topic of “The Hunting Ground.” Written and directed by Kirby Dick, the documentary focuses on two former students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino. Pino is from Miami and was the first in her family to leave her state and attend college. She went dancing with a man and she was pulled into a bathroom. The man slammed her head against the tile and raped her.

Clark was from Raleigh, NC. As  a freshman, Clark was raped before classes started. She was out with friends, drinking and dancing when she was pulled outside, had her head banged against the wall and was raped.  In both cases, there were no witnesses. Unlike the Stanford case, both rapes were a he-said-she-said situations. Neither reported the rapes immediately after. The two have used Title IX to file complaints against their university and later founded the advocacy organization End Rape on Campus.

When Clark finally reported her rape, the administrator advised her, “Rape is like a football game, Annie. And if you look back on a game, what would you do differently in that situation.” This angered Clark. The documentary then goes on to other victims who ridicule the kinds of questions they were asked, yet what the documentary doesn’t establish is why these kind of questions are asked.  According to the Slate article “What’s Wrong with the new Documentary About Rape on College Campuses” by Emily Yoffe, these questions are meant to establish facts. The questions are tame compared to those asked the Stanford victim during the trial.

In the Stanford University case, which is not part of either movie, both the unnamed victim and her sister are re-accessing their behavior. In her letter to the judge, the woman who was raped states that her sister “is sorry for leaving me alone that night” and feels more guilt than the rapist. What she finds worrisome is that Brock Turner’s father doesn’t call his son a rapist. Dan Turner worries about Brock Turner’s lack of appetite and the loss of his Olympic bid. He feels Brock can educate college students about “the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.” The victim states, “Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal…Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault.”

Drinking can be risky behavior. Brownmiller has been critical of the rape activism on college campuses. Brownmiller commented in an article by Katie Van Syckle for “The Cut,” that campus rape activists “have been tremendously influenced by the idea that ‘You can drink as much as you want because you are the equal of a guy,’ and it is not true. They don’t accept the fact there are predators out there, and that all women have to take special precautions. They think they can drink as much as men, which is crazy because they can’t drink as much as men. I find the position ‘Don’t blame us, we’re survivors’ to be appalling.'”

To a certain extent, the two documentaries do not consider what one could have done differently to prevent rape or even false accusations of rape. The documentary “The Hunting Ground” does note there are male victims of rape so perhaps the best advice is to drink responsibly.  Brownmiller has been accused of victim-blaming. Yet according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “Alcohol and drugs are implicated in an estimated 80% of offenses leading to incarceration in the United States such as domestic violence, driving while intoxicated, property offenses, drug offenses, and public-order offenses.”

In “The Hunting Ground,” the administration is often viewed as being part of the problem. Stanford was quick to issue a statement after sentencing that stated  the school “did everything within its power to assure that justice was served in this case.” Unlike so many incidents in the documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” this wasn’t a he-said-she-said case. There were witnesses. While the victim wasn’t a Stanford student, Turner and the two witnesses were. According to its official statement, “Once Stanford learned the identity of the young woman involved, the university reached out confidentially to offer her support and to tell her the steps we were taking. In less than two weeks after the incident, Stanford had conducted an investigation and banned Turner from setting foot on campus — as a student or otherwise. This is the harshest sanction that a university can impose on a student.”

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky is 54 and received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford where he was captain of the lacrosse team. His reasoning behind giving Turner a light six-month sentence in the county jail with three years probation was Brock Turner’s age and his lack of criminal history. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”

One wonders if Persky isn’t reminded of another off-campus rape trial: The 2006 criminal case against Duke University men’s lacrosse team. Three members of the lacrosse team, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, were accused of raping one of two strippers, Crystal Mangum, who they had hired for a private performance at the off-campus house where many of the lacrosse team lived.  The ESPN movie, “Fantastic Lies,” is about that case. Part of the 30 for 30 series, the movie is number seven of Volume III. ESPN subscribers are 94 percent male and 47 percent single. The subscribers are 87 percent are college educated. “Fantastic Lies” may play upon a male fear of false rape allegations but it serves as a cautionary tale for both college administrators and college rape activists.

Director Marina Zenovich doesn’t give any solutions. The offensiveness and hostile environment that the two strippers performed in isn’t questioned. That might make the lacrosse team members less sympathetic in a world that now finds a hostile work environment a symptom of sexual harassment and misogyny. The documentary mainly looks at a rush to judgment by the university and its rape activists as well as misconduct by the prosecutor. The incident supposedly occurred on March 13, 2006. Duke suspended the lacrosse team from two games by the end of the month and in April, the head coach was forced to resign and the rest of the lacrosse season was cancelled. Watching “The Hunting Ground,” one sometimes feels this is the kind of quick strident action the activists want.

Yet in the Duke case, the charges were dropped against the three men over a year later. Duke University ended up settling out of court with its three former lacrosse players. The lead prosecutor, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong was forced to resign and was eventually disbarred for misconduct.  The three accused lacrosse players only settled their lawsuit against the city of Durham in 2014.

The Durham case isn’t explored in “The Hunting Ground.” Neither is the discredited University of Virginia story in “Rolling Stone” nor the 2013 Vanderbilt University incident.  Yoffe notes that critical details are left out of “The Hunting Ground” in its coverage of the 19-year-old Lizzy Seeberg who committed suicide and the rape allegations against former Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston. FSU President John Thrasher published a statement the week CNN aired “The Hunting Ground.” Nineteen Harvard law professors  protested the documentary’s unfair representation of a case between two law students.

One thing years of Law & Order should have taught us is that the truth can’t always be proven in court. The movie “Rashomon” teaches us that the truth isn’t always the same for each witness. If a woman was assaulted, without witnesses, that will be hard to prove. Any situation that is a he-said-she-said needs more evidence. Being found not guilty in court is not the same as actually being not guilty. Yet in our legal system, one is supposed to assume innocence until proven guilty. What’s troubling about “The Hunting Ground” is not only a lack of perspective, hearing from both the accused and the victim or of the legal or administrative arguments, but also the lack of responsibility taken for actions.

One of the things that stuck with me in the discussion of “The Hunting Ground” review by Brian Tallerico was Vicki Rush Siegel recalling that “In 1977 I was surprised to find two men in my dorm room in the middle of the night locking my door behind them. The light from the hall had awakened me.” Siegel then answers the obvious first question, “I had left the door unlocked for her [roommate’s] convenience.”

You are living in a shared facility with complete strangers and you leave your door unlocked?  Unlocked doors were not brought up in “The Hunting Ground,” but I suspect this might have been an aspect in some of the incidents.  Leaving dorm room doors unlocked is not an uncommon scenario but an open door or window can lead to robbery or rape.

In a 2013 article by Jo Erickson for MintPressNews, Dallas Jessop, founder of Just Yell Fire, discusses the false sense of security that men and women have on campus, including while living dormitories. Jessop said, “Women don’t realize that people will ‘Hall graze’ — walking up and down the dorm hallways looking for unlock doors or enter rooms if they hear someone in the shower.”

Unlocked doors may be convenient, but also a critical lapse in judgment. In 1986, 19-year-old Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered by a fellow student; her roommate at the Lehigh University dorm left the room door unlocked. Prior to her death, over a hundred incidents or auto-locking doors being propped open had been reported.  In 1990, a 28-year-old campus security guard entered the unlocked door of a freshman at Columbia University and raped her.

The dangers “The Hunting Ground” polemics are that it encourages a rush to judgment and pits administrators and law enforcement against victims, making rape victims defensive when they are being asked pragmatic and required investigative questions and encouraging men and women to refuse possible defensive actions, from locking their doors in dorms to drinking responsibly if at all. “The Hunting Ground” assigns blame instead of admitting that some cases can’t be prosecuted and means to pressure college administrators to punish the perpetrators even if the public defenders find there isn’t enough evidence for a case to proceed to trial.

The case against Brock Turner didn’t depend upon the victim’s testimony; she didn’t remember the events at all. The case hinged on the testimony of two witnesses. Likewise, the Vanderbilt case which involved four football players and an unconscious woman, did not rely on the testimony of the victim. The case came to light because of surveillance camera video. In the Vanderbilt case, the administration was pro-active, something that contradicts the thesis of “The Hunting Ground.” The documentary fails to address a real fear of both the accused and the administrators: false accusations.

“Fantastic Lies” addresses specifically male fear: false accusation of rape. The victims aren’t particularly sympathetic to me yet what happened to them could have been avoided. The documentary acknowledges that the lacrosse team had a certain arrogance but doesn’t question the kind of abusive and frightening situation that the two strippers began performing in. That doesn’t excuse the lies told by the one woman nor the misconduct of the prosecutor. Like “The Hunting Ground,” the documentary “Fantastic Lies” doesn’t tell its audience about possible preventive measures.

There are websites, some with the unpleasant whiff of misogyny, that do advise men how to avoid false accusations of rape. Most of the suggestions can be summed up with the old-fashioned advice of getting to know a woman well before getting any state of naked or becoming sexually involved. Be wary of much younger/older women or women who are married or otherwise involved in committed relationships. Beware of women who are ashamed or otherwise unwilling to reveal your relationship to relatives or friends, and beware of mentally unstable people. All of those things are difficult if you’re caught up in the instant-hookup or sex-by-date-three culture.

As an employer, there are other safeguards. The lacrosse team could have investigated the record of their freelance employee. She had already been arrested for stealing a taxi cab in 2002 and assaulting a police officer. They could have turned her away when she arrived that night intoxicated. They should have provided a safe or less hostile work environment. If all that was too much trouble, they could have gone to a strip club in Durham.

Further, the focus on rape at colleges is in its own way about privilege. While most colleges have female students, not all women will attend colleges. Most will not. Brownmiller points out that college women “are not the chief targets of rapists. Young women and all women in housing projects and ghettos are still in far greater danger than college girls.” Brownmiller advises that college activists extend their focus “to the larger percentage of women and girls who are in danger of being raped.”

False accusations ruin lives. That was true in the Duke case as it was for Brian Banks. Banks served six years for a false accusation, losing a football scholarship. Banks has more sympathy for the Stanford rape victim than Brock Turner. He realizes that neither six months nor six years will erase the ruin she has suffered. Rape ruins lives–whether it is linked to a college or not.

What both documentaries and the Stanford case point out is how society has changed and people haven’t kept up with those changes. If people really suffer, “worrying about being politically correct every second of the day,” then something somewhere has gone wrong in how people are being raised and their subsequent values. Men like Brock Turner and Persky were raised with values that no longer match the laws. The problem of rape won’t be solved on colleges campuses or in the low-income housing areas until the dialogue acknowledges people like Brock Turner, Brian Banks, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans and even Crystal Mangum. We have to acknowledge that campus-related rapes are a small part of the so-called rape culture and that false allegations do occur. We all have to ask: What do we need to do differently. If we look at what universities did wrong, we also need to see what Stanford and Vanderbilt did right.

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