About three years before the police would discover eleven decomposing bodies in the house and grounds of Anthony Sowell, a black woman stumbled into the nearby police station and said that Sowell had tried to rape her. The police went to the house, looked around, and talked to Sowell. That was the extent of their investigation; no charges were filed. Years later, when the horrors in Sowell's house were discovered, the police chief defended his department's inaction by noting that the police had seen blood in the house, but "we couldn't tell whose it was." Honest to God. I slapped my forehead when I read that and wailed, "If only science would come up with a way!"
Her experience wasn't unusual. The county prosecutor's office has a cold case division which handles virtually nothing other than rapes committed fifteen or twenty years ago, testimony to the indifferent attitude of the Cleveland Police Department toward that crime. It wasn't a backlog at BCI that caused the delay; most of the rape kits collected in those crimes gathered dust in police evidence rooms for well over a decade.
That indifference wasn't limited to the rape kits. The woman in Sowell's case wasn't atypical. In one case I had, despite the woman's immediately reporting the allegation, and despite the detective having the name and address of the suspect, he closed his file five days after he got it because he didn't get an answer when he called the woman's phone number. In another, involving a juvenile, the police interviewed about the incident, and sent the file over to Juvenile Court. Nobody knows what happened to the case.
There's a tendency to think that if this had been a white woman from the suburbs, the detective wouldn't close out his file in less than a week because somebody didn't answer the phone.
But maybe not, because this brings us to the case of Brock Turner. Turner was on a full scholarship for swimming at Stanford, and was a likely try-out for the Olympic team. Back in March, he was found guilty in a California court of "assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman," "sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object" and "sexually penetrating an unconscious woman with a foreign object." The facts are less formal. Turner, who was drunk, met a woman who was drunk at a fraternity party, and it ended with two Swedish exchange students chasing Turner when they found him on top of the unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Not exactly what you'd call meeting cute. The girl was so intoxicated she didn't regain unconsciousness until four hours later.
For that, Turner got six months in jail. Although Turner faced up to fourteen years in prison, the judge went along with the probation department's recommendation, fearing that a longer sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner.
You'd know all this if you've read a paper in the past three days. The case has opened that festering sore about how we look at rape. The argument for leniency for Turner wasn't helped by the victim's moving statement in court, which you can read here, and which begins
You don't know me, but you've been inside me, and that's why we're here today.
Nor was he helped by his father's tone-deaf statement, in which he lamented that Brock has "lost his appetite" since the trial. "I used to be excited to buy him a big ribeye steak ... Now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist."
His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.
The campus sexual assault thing is a good bit more muddied than a lot of people would like to believe. In 2011, the Department of Education's office sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to all colleges, telling them that sexual violence is a subset of sexual harassment under Title IX, and threatening to investigate schools that weren't sufficiently ardent in prosecuting sexual assault cases. Most colleges have since adopted a preponderance of evidence standard with regard to proving claims, and put other mechanisms in place which most of the people reading this blog would find, shall we say, inconsistent with some of the concepts of due process. There are substantial disputes as to the validity of the claim that one in four women at college report having been sexually assaulted, and in how many of the claims are false; Harvard's recent report placed the latter figure at one in five.
But not this one. The probation department recommended a light sentence because they believed Turner was truly remorseful. As in many cases, that remorse seems to extend only to how the case has impacted Turner, and not his victim. At trial, he testified that "I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong." As the victim put it,
You were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me. You were wrong for doing what nobody else was doing, which was pushing your erect dick in your pants against my naked, defenseless body concealed in a dark area, where partygoers could no longer see or protect me, and my own sister could not find me. Sipping fireball is not your crime. Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong.
Twenty minutes of "action" indeed. Maybe if Brock Turner's father had spent twenty minutes explaining to his son how to be a decent human being and have respect for women, Turner would still have an appetite for steak.