Does the Stanford rapist deserve love and compassion?


It seems like we’ve all heard the story of the rape at Stanford and the rapist’s lenient (to put it lightly) treatment by the courts. After being found guilty of sexual assault, Brock Turner was only given a six month sentence, seemingly out of concern for what a longer sentence might do to his swimming career. This is a crystal clear example of white male privilege. This is BS. It is a disgrace to see people trying to sweep under the table what is clearly rape and a vile, heinous crime.

I cannot imagine how this must feel for women who for millennia have been told to keep quiet and that being raped is their own fault. I cannot imagine how it must feel for people of color who do not get the benefit of the doubt from our society and many of which are now in jail for no reason. I cannot image how it must feel for poor people who are thrown in jail because they don’t have the money to pay for a good lawyer. What an incredible injustice that our society seems to have compassion and understanding only for rich white men.

I share the anger and sadness that so many of us have been expressing over the last few days. These reactions are not only warranted, but also healing and cathartic for people who have been ignored and victimized by our society for far too long.

But after seeing so many of us react with anger and vitriol, I’ve also been wondering something else. Do these reactions represent our “best selves” – what we aspire to be? Are they enough for us to transcend this injustice and create a better world?

More directly, is the point of this story that we ought to treat the rapist more like we’ve been treating the marginalized in our society for so long? Do we want more harsh jail sentences intended to shame and dehumanize that do nothing to rehabilitate? Do we want to widen the circle of people in our society who “deserve” punishment?

Or rather – do we want everyone, not just rich white men, to have our sympathy and compassion, to be seen as human, and to be given the benefit of the doubt?

I know that coming from a white man, to some, these questions are likely eye-roll worthy at best and rage-inducing at worst. Let’s be clear. I don’t mean to say that the anger and deep sadness expressed in the last few days aren’t justified or welcome. I don’t mean to say that this story isn’t indicative of a history of deep injustice in our society that must be rectified immediately. I don’t mean to strip anyone of their experience and their reaction. I don’t mean to suggest that we continue to treat college rape as not that big of a deal.

I do wonder though: How do we build a new system that truly offers equality and justice for all? How do we act meaningfully to make stories like this a thing of the past? Is it possible that by spitting hate and vitriol at Brock we simply reinforce the thought processes that got us here in the first place?

When we do have the capacity to choose, do we want to use our energy to further shame the rapist and make him feel ugly and worthless? Or rather – do we want to use our energy to offer support and love to the victim (and the countless others who have fallen victim to rape and told to shut up about it); to honor the bicyclists who stepped in to offer help; and to acknowledge and help those who our legal system have not treated with such leniency?

How can we expect different outcomes if we still operate under a mindset of punishment and shame, even for rapists?

What if we strived to build a system that heals both the victim and the perpetrator?

How do we have this conversation while still welcoming the very real and legitimate reactions of those who have been victimized by our broken system for so long?