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Beyond Panic and Punishment: Brock Turner and the Left Response to Sexual Violence


Beyond Panic and Punishment: Brock Turner and the Left Response to Sexual Violence

Sarah Cate

The Brock Turner case has reminded us of the bitter truth of the adage that in America it is better to be guilty and rich than to be innocent and poor. In early June, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner, a Stanford student who was convicted on three counts of sexual assault, to six-months in jail and three years of probation.


This is a strange, statistical, superficial, surfacial article.
It looks at the punitive solutions and offers nothing on the matters of social structure, gender roles, media narrative and jock culture.

Feminism viewpoint indeed, straight inline with the execution of power.


ZPF states that this article "... offers nothing on the matters of social structure, gender roles, media narrative and jock culture."

That's because she's focusing on something else. She answers your criticism here:

"Focusing only on sexism and a vaguely defined culture ignores the material conditions of power, inequality and subjugation that facilitate violence... While addressing sexism is laudable, devoid of material changes that give everyone economic security, housing, health care and transportation, it will not alone solve the problem."

"A more substantively progressive and feminist strategy for addressing these issues is needed in order to draw the connection between sexual violence and material inequality."

She's not "offering nothing," she's offering something else in addition. And in so doing, she makes explicit references to "matters of social structure" that support the culture of sexism and prevent escape:

"...expansion of the welfare state to address persistent gender inequality and the social subjugation of women is a more effective way to improve the treatment of victims and to prevent sexual violence."

"Victims of assault experience physical and psychological consequences that require adequate health care, financial support and paid leave time if they are employed. Maintaining employment and thereby economic security and access to health care is critical to helping someone recover from assault. About half of all sexual assault victims lose their jobs or are forced to quit their jobs after their victimization. Workplace flexibility, providing time off and medical care coverage are all essential ways to support sexual assault victims. We leave women “on their own” every day by not providing for everyone a safe workplace, housing, public transportation and employment with adequate pay and benefits."

"Further, while these protections are essential for victims, they are also important preventative measures in the wider fight to reduce sexual assaults beyond campus rapes. Women who lack economic independence, who have precarious and low-wage employment and inadequate housing are the most at-risk to experience sexual violence."

"These statistics also suggest there are certain social and economic conditions that would significantly reduce the rate of violence against women. Fighting for these conditions would be a far more effective means of combating violence against women than increasing punishments for sexual offenders. Greater housing stability, workplace protections, flexibility at work, reliable transportation, child care, medical treatment and reduced stress from financial strain all contribute to combating sexual victimization."

"... in the larger battle against sexual violence, addressing economic conditions that lead to women’s subjugation and being trapped in abusive situations is a more effective way to protect women than bolstering punishment."

"... expanding social provisions helps victims and reduces incidents of sexual violence. Those fighting to end sexual violence, and the victims for which they advocate, would be far better served by channeling their energy into fights to improve life for working class Americans rather than teaming up with law-and-order advocates working to expand the criminal justice system."

"Safety means a reliable, good job with workplace representation. It means a place to live. It means public transportation. It means access to health care. It means paid leave time. It means economic independence and equality."

She addresses the structural violence that both feeds and enables sexual violence. If this is "straight in line with the execution of power," she advocates a far superior "execution of power" than the endless expansion of the carceral state that she attacks.


This is very idiotic article. The author keeps blabbering that "punishment for sex offenders is not an effective way to deter perpetrators of sexual violence" but she never provides alternatives ways. Furthermore, how do you "deter" a privileged white guy from assuming he has a right to take whatever he wants? In this case, the judge did capitulate to wealth, the sentence was ridiculous, and the case is a travesty.


She is EXPLICITLY NOT ADDRESSING how to deal with offenders. She is outlining what she considers to be FAR MORE EFFECTIVE MEASURES than punishment, to create the social and material conditions for women's safety and security.


Cate's argument is well reasoned, and while I understand her perspective on the consequences of recalling Persky, for me this wasn't an example of a case where a judge imposed a lesser sentence in the interest of fairness, but did so because he identified on a race, class and gender basis with the defendant.

He protected his own.

Recalling him may well have a deleterious impact on the inclination of judges to indeed seek fairness in sentencing, and that must be resisted, but to my mind Persky's decision had nothing to do with that quest.


I feel weird. I will go point by point to your highlights some other time.
You have confounded me completely.
Are upper class women, like maybe those who go to Stanford, free of the fear of rape?
I am trying to make a societal co relation of the mindset that pervades the youth.
It is not solely focused on men, but the way we treat each other, which comes from a mindset, of which sexism is a small fraction.

What futuristic fantasy did I miss in her economically stable painting that would be without rape?

I am sorry sir, but if I am missing the point, then it must be a smaller one than what is foremost necessary.


In what futuristic fantasy of yours do you end rape? And just how did you manage that?

Cate's material prescriptions for empowering women are sound. i support them without reservation.

Are you saying you oppose income equality, secure jobs, time off work to deal with trauma, safe housing options, cheap accessible public transit, child care, and health care?

Or are you saying that women would not be empowered, and would not suffer less violence, under such a society?

Or are you saying that such goals are mere fantasies, unattainable in the real world?


But I don't have one, she does, and I am trying to say exactly that it will not end no matter what the future holds.

Not at all

Or are you saying that women would not be empowered, and would not suffer less violence, under such a society?
the opposite

we better be hitting that mark and I will work to make it there.



This article was badly needed and I hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears. It's honestly baffling that the same voices that champion criminal justice reform and advocate for smarter sentencing are, in the very next breath, calling for a harsher punishment or trying to remove a judge for showing leniency !

Too many people don't see the contradiction, since Brock Turner is a stereotypical privileged white boy it is easy to be angry that he got off easier than most other less fortunate people who committed similar crimes. But just like when Republicans call for more police powers and less civil liberties in response to terrorist attacks, the misdirected anger ends up harming far more people than it will help. You don't have to like Turner, but just like with Islamic terrorists, we can't fall into the trap of demonizing an "other" to unleash our anger on.


This is silly, a good example of someone with an abstract academic mindset hyper-intellectualizing a hot button topic. I've seen academics write pieces like this a million times (at least) as a way of seeking attention.....hey, look at me, I have the guts to express an unusual, unpopular opinion, and somehow make it turn out right by tying it into left wing orthodoxy! Whether a judge's biases contributed to his using his discretion to pathetically reduce Brock Turner's sentence should not be conflated with a critique of the criminal justice system. What are appropriate punishments for rape and sexual abuse? Are your standards absolute, or are they relative to current norms? How best to address white male privilege on campus at elite schools, and in the justice system more generally? Are there better ways to address crimes and criminals than America's current system of mass incarceration? Are criminals from the elite strata of society treated the same as those from minority and poor communities? There is plenty here to sink one's teeth into, rather than trying to combine totally different topics in to one tortured theoretical analysis.


A Federally Guaranteed Annual Income to all Citizens would help free abused Women from their Captors and maybe defuse some Men from predatory Antisocial Violence, Brock Turner, his Father and others of their ilk notwithstanding.


All of your comments are addressing the criminal legal system and possible issues and outcomes. These are specifically what the author was not writing about and perhaps is a valid criticism if that were the topic. This author was refocusing away from incarceration and onto what might achieve a more safe environment for women. To me that's a legitimate perspective. I didn't see anything that indicates an objection to that perspective.


It is a good article. I particularly like and agree with the following statement: "We have falsely equated punishment and protection in the United States. ". What is the purpose of punishing people? Even more punishment is the Sex Offenders Registration which allows anyone to learn about all those registered sex offenders, many of which are on those lists for life. What does society obtain from embarrassing people with the Sex Offenders Registration? Other civilized countries are opposed to embarrass its citizens, but not the most important nation in the world; the US.

The US, the most powerful nation, embarrasses its own people and their loved ones. Those in the registries are bullied, penalized, and attacked - sometimes murdered. Their relatives and loved ones suffer and their children are also penalized and bullied. As a consequence of law that is supposed to protect children. And all that while study after study show that the sex offenders registries do not help. Even worse, they are costly and we all pay with our tax dollars.


The Stanford Rape Case: the Judge Made the Right Decision
The recent sentencing of Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of sexual assault on an unconscious woman while she was face down on the pavement behind a dumpster, has generated a firestorm of debate. The sickening details of the attack, his refusal to admit culpability, and the odor of entitlement that wafts from his and his father’s sentencing statements make Turner a very unforgiveable offender. But the judge in the case, Aaron Persky, gave him what virtually everyone considers a slap on the wrist: 3-6 months in jail and three years of probation. Petitions to impeach the judge have already garnered millions of signatures , prospective jurors in Santa Clara County are refusing to serve if Judge Persky presides, and even some of Turner’s own character witnesses have said that they disagree with the sentence. But everyone should slow down for a minute and carefully consider the details of the sentencing.
First, the newly convicted felon is far from “free to go” even if he can get out of jail in the minimum of three months, and his incarceration can be extended if he misbehaves. The conditions of his probation have not been made public, but it is likely that he will be on a very short leash; he will be on a curfew, be made to wear an ankle bracelet, and have to submit to regular drug and alcohol tests, given that the crime involved a copious amount of alcohol. Failure to comply with these requirements will send him back to court, and likely to jail or prison. That is what probation is for, to test a person’s ability to change his behaviors; fail the test and suffer the consequences. For example, consider the notorious case of the affluenza teen in Texas who got probation after killing several people while driving drunk. He couldn’t adhere to his probation restrictions and is now serving time in prison.
Secondly, the judge followed the recommendations of the county probation office, which cited the lack of a criminal record, Turner’s youth, and his prospects for rehabilitation (usually measured by purportedly objective risk assessment instruments.) A female probation officer interviewed the defendant, the victim, and other parties, and the judge apparently followed her report closely, possibly completely. Some brave attorneys have risked public rebuke and gone on record to state that the recommendation and sentence comport with the usual practice in Santa Clara County, and that the judge, a former prosecutor, is fair and balanced in his rulings. It is always very difficult to ascertain the correct sentence, if there is such a thing, but blaming the judge in this case focusses too narrowly on one actor in the system.
Third, it has largely gone unmentioned that Turner, as a registered sex offender—for the rest of his life—is effectively under the control of the justice system forever. Wherever he goes and whenever he changes his address he will have to register or face jail. His career choices will be severely restricted, above and beyond the innumerable restrictions placed on all felons. Many persons listed on sex offender registries are guilty of the crime of consensual sex, albeit with someone a year or two younger but under the age of consent. The registries are another example of the American impulse for overly harsh punishment. People on the registries can have very significant problems finding employment and housing, and often suffer public humiliation and attacks from vigilantes, years after the crime took place, and even in cases where the offender and the “victim” eventually marry.
There is a rising consensus that reflexive and interminable incarceration, even for violent offenses, is not a just, or sound, policy. As one Santa Clara attorney put it, “We lock up more people in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. To what end in this case?” America is, famously, one of the few places in the western world that still has the death penalty and life sentences. As a general policy, “lock 'em-up and throw away the key” is not a good solution, especially for young first offenders and Turner is only 20 years old. There is solid neuroscience research showing that personality—particularly impulsivity—is plastic in many people under 24 years, and scholars argue that this fact should lead us to emphasize rehabilitation and not punishment.
All victims of rape are horribly wronged and injured and may have many years of recovery ahead, but lengthy prison sentences for young offenders produce unemployable outcasts and that makes us all less safe. Calls for brutal punishment (a true description of an American prison) are an understandable reaction from those who see only the terrible crime and not the longer view and the larger picture. I would prefer that our rage and energy be focused on, for example, the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits, a lost opportunity to identify serial rapists and murderers, cases where lengthy prison sentences can truly protect potential victims. We could also direct our outrage on the fact that a poor black person is much less likely to get the reasonable treatment that Turner received, for at least two reasons. First, he will likely have a series of lesser criminal charges, like jumping turnstiles or possessing a joint, and this will increase (falsely) his “objectively calculated” risk of recidivism. Second, many young black men do not have the same opportunity as Turner to earn a stellar educational background, which is associated with lower recidivism. There are many things wrong with the criminal justice system, but a sentence of probation for a first time offender is not one of them. Two wrongs do not make a right. Both rape and reflexive harsh punishment are wrong.


The Brock Turner case was a propaganda event managed by a feminist radical professor who doe snot believe in due process for accused men.
Brock Turner was not “privileged” he was at Stanford on scholarship and was known to study hard.

There was no violence, and Turner’s claim the alleged victim consented are totally plausible.

The alleged victim is highly privileged - grew up in a $3.5M house in Palo Alto - the Turner home is valued around $300k.

The alleged victim lied extensively in her famous statement - some of it was just being deliberately misleading - if she had blood on her hand, it was from medical treatment for alcohol overdose - not due to Turner in any way - she did not think she fell and was in an office of the school - she thought she was in the drunk tank - she did not tell the cops about the phone calls to her boyfriend - from a yet richer family - he grew up in a $5.4M house and went to all private schools.

She did not have pine needles and debris jabbed into her vagina - by Turner or anyone - just more lies there - but you have to keep in mind, this was solely intended as a propaganda piece.