Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Unconscious means just no

"I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more
Oh, oh, the damage done."

I read the 12-page victim impact statement Emily Doe submitted to Judge Aaron Persky in advance of Thursday's sentencing of Brock Turner. Turner earlier had been convicted on three felony charges:

  • Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman
  • Sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object
  • Sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object

Because no sexual intercourse had taken place at the time Turner was spotted, captured and turned in to police by passing students, his crime did not fit the technical definition of rape under California law. Nonetheless Turner will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life.

At the sentencing hearing, Doe gave an abbreviated version of her statement, asking for a sentence to include time in state prison, without probation. Persky sentenced Turner to six months in county jail (which could be reduced to three months for good behavior) and three year's probation.

Public condemnation in response was deafening. Social media exploded with outrage at the light sentence.

Shortly after the January 17, 2015 incident, Stanford University, where Turner as a freshman and a member of the swim team, conducted an investigation, expelled Turner and banned him from campus. Turner also has been banned from USA swimming and any chance of representing the USA at the Olympics.

All this has made me reflect back on my own experiences with alcohol when I was an 18-year-old freshman at Colgate. I'd never drank much before college. There was alcohol in my home and my parents enjoyed an evening drink most nights. My dad would offer me a drink, back when the drinking age was still 18. His theory was that if it wasn't forbidden, if I had access at home, then I wouldn't go out and drink with friends.

No fear of that. I was pretty straight arrow. During my high school years, I sometimes went to parties where there was alcohol (and weed) but there was never any peer pressure to drink. A benefit of going to an all-girls school I suppose. At home I tasted wine and beer and cocktails and wasn't impressed. I never once got intoxicated until I went to college.

Colgate was a party school and there was alcohol everywhere, all the time. There were free keg parties and kids with money to buy booze and host drinkfests in their rooms. I started drinking, started liking the taste, liking the feeling, and then of course I had to test my limits.

Luckily for me, I choose a party in a room in my dorm to find out just how hollow my legs were. I think I actually drank six beers in the course of a couple of hours. I was feeling good, and then suddenly I wasn't. I knew one thing, I had to get back to my room. I really didn't want to pass out in a strange room with people I barely knew. So I staggered out of the party and down the stairs and into the suite I shared with three other women. I made it into my bed and then I was violently sick.

It wasn't pretty. My roommate helped me clean up, change into clean clothes and change the sheets. I kept apologizing and she kept saying it was all right, she'd been through it before with her younger sisters and brothers. Funny the things you remember more than 40 years later. So if you are reading this Karen W, thank you again for helping me and not shaming me or judging me. I know I wasn't your favorite person but we made it through that first year together, different as two people could be, sharing a small bedroom and we came out alive. And I have never gotten sick from drinking too much again.

I learned something from that one experience. My limits. Don't drink six beers. Don't drink so much that you are at risk of passing out. If you even start to feel like you may have had a little too much alcohol, go home, go someplace safe. Drink with friends you know and trust, people who will have your back if you do get a little sauced.

That reminds me of another freshman college experience. I was with friends, my best friend Sara and four boys we knew well. We climbed on the roof of the art center with a gallon of Julio Gallo. Why ask why? Because college kids. We sat in a row on the ridgeline and passed the bottle up and down the line. I was in the middle and the bottle just kept coming by, from the left, from the right. All four guys were tall and strapping. I weighed 110 lbs. soaking wet.

It wasn't until the bottle was empty and it was time to climb down that I realized my legs were made of rubber. No worries. The boys and Sara, who had the good sense not to take a swig every time the bottle went by, lowered me down and walked me back to my dorm. I remember the walk, remember meeting another friend on the climb up the infamous hill and joking with him, so I really wasn't totally three sheets to the wind. Two sheets maybe.

After that I was even more careful. I nursed a beer, I raised a bottle to my mouth but didn't drink, I put a joint in my mouth but didn't inhale. Pretty soon I realized no one was watching anyway, so I just passed that bottle and joint right on along.

I wasn't a saint. I drove when I was too tipsy to walk and it's only by the mercy of the universe that I'm alive and so are the other drivers on the roads I travelled. I'm not even sure why I drank at all. Getting a buzz for me meant spending a lot of energy not to show it, to act stone cold sober. Not to mention that I had killer hangovers, two-damn-day hangovers. If I woke with a hangover I had it for the rest of the day at least. And I could get a hangover from sitting in a bar, with loud music and, in those days, cigarette smoke, drinking ginger ale.

Still, I spent more than 20 years drinking, not every day and not too much at a time, because I was a habitual social drinker. All my friends drank, almost all of them still do. And we're still friends, even though it's been more than 20 years now since I stopped drinking.

When I stopped, I thought I was just taking a break, not going cold turkey. I was unhappily married and depressed and alcohol sapped my energy and made me feel even more tired and listless and sad. Quitting drinking was instrumental in my finding the strength to dissolve my failed marriage and move forward toward a happier life. I can't imagine ever again drinking more than a glass of champagne on a special occasion.

So, Emily Doe, I wish you could have been a little wiser at the age of 23. I wish you hadn't drunk so much that you remember nothing between being at the fraternity party and waking up in the hospital. I wish you hadn't had a reported blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. I wish your knowledge of the events for which Turner was tried was not pieced together from news reports and testimony after the fact.

Did that give Turner the right to hump your unconscious body, to viciously invade your unconscious body with his fingers? These are the facts that we know to be true, because we have two witnesses and physical evidence. How you came to be primarily unclothed remains in the realm between your blackout and how Turner spun the story. And the answer to my question is emphatically, of course not. Emily says it best.
Future reference, if you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence. .. If she can't do that, then no. Don't touch her, just no. Not maybe, just no. ... This is common sense, human decency.

According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down. Note; if a girl falls help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her vagina. ... If she is wearing a cardigan over her dress don't take it off so that you can touch her breasts. Maybe she is cold, maybe that's why she wore the cardigan. If her bare ass and legs are rubbing the pinecones and needles, while the weight of you pushes into her, get off her.
A jury of 12 men and women, who heard the evidence presented by both sides, unanimously found Turner guilty on the three counts of sexual assault he was charged with. The maximum sentence would have been 14 years in prison.

Those who are offended by the relatively light sentence may be overlooking the fact that the price Turner has to pay is far higher than three months in country jail.

In a letter to the judge, prior to sentencing, Turner's father had this to say.
Brock's life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression.
I know, a lot of people would say, boo hoo. But prison or no, I imagine that he is paying dearly. Among other things beyond the public disgrace, beyond the expulsion from Stanford, the loss of his Olympic dreams, the end of his long-term plans to go to medical school, I imagine Turner is thinking about his actions in the clear light of day, with remorse.

For legal reasons, of course he could not take responsibility, could not admit to having nonconsenual sex with an unconscious woman, could not apologize to Emily. But that doesn't mean he isn't sorry, and I don't mean he is sorry he got caught. I don't doubt he feels anxious and depressed. His life, as he knew it is over. He will always be that guy who got kicked out of Stanford for sexually assaulting a falling-down-drunk woman. He will always be that drunk guy in the mug shot with the red eyes. He will have to live with himself, every day.

Emily has recovered from her physical wounds. She will recover from her emotional wounds. She can throw off the mantle of being a victim and become a survivor. She can make her life whatever she chooses to make it.

Countless men have raped countless women on campus and paid absolutely no price. This is so wrong. Women have been deliberately been given sedatives, roofies, and then raped while unconscious. This is so wrong. Women have been raped off campus by strangers, women have been raped and brutally beaten, women have been raped and left for dead, women have been raped after death. This is so, so, so wrong.

But would sentencing Turner to six years in prison (as requested by the prosecution) send a deterring message to all those drunk misogynist undergraduate predators? Would it punish him more sufficiently than he is already punished by the natural consequences of his own actions? Would it encourage him to accept accountability for his actions on the night of January 17, 2015, if he has not already been able to do so?

Those are questions we each must answer for ourselves. I have the world of compassion for Emily. But my heart is not a stone, and there is that troubling gray area where alcohol wiped out both judgment and memory. No number of years in prison will erase the events of that ugly night for Emily, for Turner, for the rest of us.

No man is going to say, I can rape a woman and all it will cost me is a few months in jail, widespread public censure, and the loss of my life dreams, self-respect and peace of mind, so why not?

Rape culture won't be fixed with one man's punishment.

It's enough now. I hope we are able to let this one go and move on.

I caught you knockin' at my cellar door
I love you, baby, can I have some more
Oh, oh, the damage done

I hit the city and I lost my band
I watched the needle take another man
Gone, gone, the damage done

I sing the song because I love the man
I know that some of you won't understand
Milk blood to keep from running out.

I've seen the needle and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie's like a settin' sun.

(Neil Young)

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