Widgets Magazine


Sympathy and blame: Responding to rape

When reports surfaced that my high school English teacher had preyed on his underage students at my alma mater, an all-girls school, I kept hearing this phrase: “How sad.” How sad, people said, for Joe. How sad for him and his reputation. He had a formative influence on my own academic career by writing a recommendation that helped get me into Stanford. He was charismatic, intelligent, inspiring. How sad.

Where does this sympathy for the aggressor come from? When Brock Turner was arrested for sexually assaulting an unconscious girl by the dumpsters outside KA, I heard it over and over again: “How awful for Brock Turner.” In his case, we receive comments on news reports and comments in conversations about just how sad it is that someone with a once bright future is being held back. These comments echo responses to the Stuebenville case, during which reporters seemed to care more about the criminals than their victims.

I’d like to make an important distinction now. I’m not talking about victim blaming, when people make excuses for a rapist based on the victim’s behavior. Though Turner’s victim has been significantly and needlessly blamed for what happened to her – “she was into it,” “she was drunk,” “she was wearing a short skirt” – I’m not discussing how people talk about victims of sexual assault.

I am discussing how people talk about perpetrators of sexual assault, for whom there seems to be less of a presumption of blame. The gut reaction of many to cases like these is not to extend their hearts to the women who are abused and exploited but to make woeful statements about the men who commit the crimes. This pattern reinforces the design of a national system that doesn’t protect women in our courts or our narratives. Victims are asked to be perfect, are interrogated for their implication in the crimes committed against them, with very minor payoff socially or legally given the fact that 97 percent of rapists walk free.

Let’s be clear: whether or not Turner believes that what he did was rape based on his intentions at the beginning of the night, an unconscious person cannot consent to sex. It constitutes a logical fallacy to claim that someone is not guilty of rape while admitting that he penetrated a person without consent. What happened is a shame. It is a shame that this happens so often and in so many ways, especially at our school. But why doesn’t this shame extend first to the predator instead of the prey?

Consider this my public non-apology for lacking sympathy for the Brock Turners of the world. Is it really so extreme of me to be just as, if not more, concerned about the girl facing a battle of recovery within a system rigged against justice? Regardless of your level of sympathy, it bears noting that rape is the only violent crime that is considered contentious and hardly taken seriously. Almost no one decries how sad it is that a murderer is caught and jailed. Rather, they breathe a sigh of relief that a criminal with a destructive nature cannot offend again. The majority of rapists tend to be repeat offenders. Consider another example. Rapes are falsely reported at a rate on par with other violent crimes: two to 10 percent. Yet when rape victims share their stories, the public is quick to point out that we should possess a healthy dose of suspicion.

What I’m asking is not for everyone to universally and without some skepticism take every victim’s side every time. I’m not even asking that the judicial system do so. Instead, I’m asking to bring down the level of resentment and culpability prescribed to victims, and often hurled at women in general. I’m asking to shift the instinctual gut reaction to rape away from one that places a disproportionately higher priority and value on the accused rather than the victim.

Why the double standard? Why are rapists deemed misunderstood and victims mistaken? Why are rapists justified by their drinking and victims condemned for it? This seems to be an area in which men – the vast majority of the accused – are blatantly shown higher respect in the aftermath of these events compared to women – most often the victims. Rapists and sexual predators should be punished for their actions, and the level of distrust reserved for victims should not outweigh the level of distrust for perpetrators of sexual violence. Proceed with caution in response to rape, and be mindful of where your sympathy and blame lie.

Contact Caitie Karasik at ckarasik ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Caitie Karasik

Caitie is a senior majoring in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. She studies generational differences in gender norms, and is particularly interested in the attitudes and behaviors that characterize Millennials ("Generation Y"). Contact her at ckarasik@stanford.edu with comments or questions.
  • Compassion please

    Thank you for writing this. I have to agree that the “poor Brock” sentiment on campus has been shocking. People should read the police report very carefully before opining. Also, there are other witnesses who’s statements are not in this initial report. All statements plus the SART/lab results are the basis for the DA’s prosecution of Turner, on behalf of the people of California – not the victim, for 5 rape-related felonies. Right now it’s his word versus a lot of evidence that he was determined to “hook up” that night. Now let’s think about the victim. This young woman was invited by a friend who is a Stanford student to a party. She drank too much and ended up unconscious. She has no recollection of having any physical contact with a young man that night. All she knows is that she woke up in the hospital and was told she had been found half-naked and raped, behind a dumpster (with at least two eye witnesses to the event). Why are we victim bashing here? What a nightmare this must be for her. She deserves compassion, not comments about her intoxication or her clothing or her age or her motivation to destroy the life of a promising young athlete (some of this stuff is crazy!). This is a very sad story all around. Turner deserves our compassion too. What a disturbed, misguided, foolish young man. He just ruined his own life, his family’s, the victim’s, her family’s, and he traumatized our community. There is a lot of emotion here, but let’s try to stick to the facts and be compassionate for everyone involved.

  • Wouter Dito

    Bill Cosby is scheduled to put on a show June 7 at De Anza College in Cupertino. Poor guy has been accused of attacking more than 30 girls and women so far (1965-2008). What are you going to do about it?

  • Hey Caitie

    I sympathize for Brock because he was a dumb drunk freshman.

    Call me a victim blamer, but you can’t deny that this entire thing could have been avoided if the TWENTY-SIX year old victim didn’t get blackout drunk at a frat party.

    Honestly, if you remove that factor this mishap unequivocally would have been avoided. You can point your finger at Brock all you want because he’s a white cisgendered dude, but at the end of the day I think it’s perfectly reasonably to believe that as a dumb reasonably intoxicated freshman without experience around alcohol or drunk people, he probably didn’t know she was drunk and about to pass out.

    At 26, you shouldn’t be blacking out at frat parties and hooking up with freshman. And if you read the police report, this wasn’t the first time she had done this whole routine either.

  • Sanity

    In what world is Karasik seeing the majority of people sympathizing with Brock Turner or others accused of rape? It sure isn’t the one in which I live.

    The notion that society holds greater esteem for people accused of rape than the alleged victim is outright laughable. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people turned out to support Leah Francis. Do you really think people would do the same for Brock?

    Karasik, and many others, are conflating victim blaming with neutral judgement. Treating the word of the victim as anything less than sacred and infallible in a sexual assault case is considered blaming the victim. Even at this institution, students are found guilty of with nothing but testimony of the accuser, as was the case in Leah Francis’ case. Fancis’ case is not the only one producing a conviction with hardly a shred of evidence, “It’s pretty much just a survivor and one witness [to convict],” she said. “As soon as they proved I was drunk via witness, they were able to stop the case right there.” (http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/06/05/rape-survivor-demands-change-to-sexual-assault-policies/). When all it takes is the testimony of the accuser – and maybe also a friend of the accuser – to produce a guilty verdict, who can honestly take such a justice system seriously?

    When articles such as these are written, I can’t help but wonder how the authors’ views would change if they were accused of rape.

  • Sanity

    In case there is any misreading of my closing sentence, I am not in any way, shape, or form advocating for the false accusation of Caitie Karasik or any other author. I am only expressing the doubt that many writers do not consider the perspectives of students accused of rape.

  • Grad Student

    Well, Hey_Catie’s post pretty much refutes everything Sanity was trying to argue. People clearly are sympathizing with Brock and victim-blaming. I’m male and I find such sentiments absolutely infuriating.

    Rape is not difficult to understand. It is penetration without consent. It is not “hooking up” (which requires mutual CONSENT) and it is not penetration of someone who “blacks out” (which simply means that person cannot remember later what happened). Anyone who penetrates without consent damn well knows what they are doing.

    The act alleged here is penetrating someone who was UNCONSCIOUS. Unless she told him ahead of time she wanted to be penetrated without any conscious ability to actually participate, it is rape. End of story. If the alleged acts are proven he will have no sympathy from me.

  • The Survival Wire

    Instead of complaining, DO SOMETHING TODAY! Join the 2nd Amendment Sisters. Get a concealed carry license, a Glock and firearms training. Lobby the democrats to remove victim disarmament laws(gun control) and shoot the perps. If women and girls would start ventilating criminal rapists, those sleezebags might reconsider assaulting people. It starts with demanding the social democrats eliminate their gun control laws because you can’t beat a woman who shoots. However I suspect most liberals would prefer you get raped, and, or killed to you defending yourself with a politically incorrect firearm. They certainly vote that way. Call them on it.

  • “The gut reaction of many to cases like these is not to extend their hearts to the women who are abused and exploited but to make woeful statements about the men who commit the crimes.” Because women only get raped and only by men.

  • From reading the story I would say she is planning to ignore it because it is inconvenient.