The Stanford 'Rape' Trial

Here is the basic information pertaining to the case, as per various media accounts, the court file, the police report cited in Cosmopolitan  (which, if you wait long enough, flips to a full-page ad for “The 31 Sexiest Movies”—what else!) and which is also embedded in the court file, and the victim impact statement (cited in BuzzFeed, naturally), a lengthy but indispensable read. One must keep in mind that these instruments are not a cold, objective, God’s-eye view of the event, but, as my attached commentary below suggests, a human survey subject in considerable measure to bias, interpretation, conjecture and inference. While interesting and necessary for research purposes, these documents taken together do not establish an airtight case for Turner’s guilt. The reader should examine them for himself or herself.

  • Jane Doe was drinking (4 shots of whiskey and champagne, she says) before she and her sister went with a mutual friend to a frat party. Her mother dropped them off around 11 p.m., both daughters already in a state of partial inebriation. Yet it is not Jane Doe’s mother—who should have known better—who has had to face public opprobrium; it is Turner’s father who has felt the brunt of public outrage for defending his son.
  • By 12 a.m., they were all in their cups. The sister left the party to help a drunken friend home, leaving Jane Doe standing on the back porch of the frat house. Between then and 12:30, the “victim” spoke with her boyfriend on the phone several times. If Jane Doe was on the verge of complete incapacitation, her sister’s departure and her facility in punching numbers on a cell phone are, to put it mildly, rather curious.
  • At 1:01 police officers were dispatched to the scene, where they found the woman unconscious and Brock Turner being held by two witnesses who had bicycled by and found him on top of the unconscious woman. No one saw what happened between 12:30 and (approximately) 12:50 or 12:55 when the two witnesses happened upon the scene.
  • Another witness declares that he saw a man standing over an unconscious woman and taking a picture of her with his cell phone (maybe) or maybe just shining a light on her—the witness was drunk and he's not sure. There is speculation that Turner sent around a picture of the woman's breast to friends, but police could not find the picture on his cell phone when they checked afterwards.
  • A woman has come forward to say that Turner was acting “aggressively” at a party the week before, trying to dance with her and touch her. As a student I attended many parties in which such behavior was pro forma. The girls were often no less forward. Nobody saw it as denoting a criminal mindset. But then, we were not living in Salem redux.
  • Jane Doe claimed in her impact statement that had she not been assaulted on that night, Turner would have victimized someone else in her stead. This is a mere inference that cannot possibly be substantiated and serves only to render Turner culpable for an act he did not commit, helping to paint him as a sexual predator.
  • Turner’s blood alcohol level was .17%, twice the legal driving limit, and Jane Doe’s was .24%, three times the legal driving limit. It is likely that both experienced severely impaired judgment. This means that neither of their stories can be accepted at face value; memory lapses and distortions of reported details are unavoidable in such circumstances, and personal depositions are wholly undependable. Who knows what went on between Turner and Jane Doe before the drunken encounter? Was Turner the salivating fiend he is depicted as? Was Jane Doe the innocent victim most everyone has empathized with? The young woman affirmed that she had no recollection of what took place. Why then should Turner, who was also saturated, be held fully accountable? This smacks of a double standard.
  • Turner’s high school guidance counselor came to the young man’s defense, calling him an “outstanding student” of good character, as did a high school friend, Leslie Rasmussen, the drummer of the Indie band Good English. Not for long though. The backlash was so severe that the counselor publicly apologized for supporting Turner. The drummer also succumbed to the pressure after several gigs were cancelled for her apostasy. Are we to assume that both character witnesses suddenly and simultaneously realized they had been dreadfully wrong about Turner over the years in which they knew him and recanted their advocacy owing to some mysterious, overnight revelation? Or might some other, more self-interested factor have come into play? At any rate, one can gauge the degree to which mob sentiment has pejoratively shaped attestations on Turner’s behalf. It is obviously career suicide to publicly oppose what has come to resemble a community lynching.
  • The police report initially stipulated that “a rape occurred on the Stanford University campus,” although there was no forensic evidence of rape and the charge was later withdrawn. The two aforementioned witnesses who came upon the scene claimed they saw Turner pumping his hips as he presumably raped the woman, which shows once again how unreliable such testimony is. One may wonder whether they were simply deceived or seizing an opportunity to cash in on notoriety. No matter, the die had been cast. In the mind of a feverish public intent on retribution, before or despite the facts, judgment had already been rendered. The woman was innocent and the man was guilty.
  • Officer B. Shaw deponed in the police report that when he observed Turner, who had fled the scene and been chased down, being detained by the two witnesses who had apprehended him, “he had what appeared to be a cylindrical bulge consistent with an erect penis underneath his pants.” Pardon my indelicacy, but this is a long time in which to retain an erection, especially under the circumstances. And the policeman’s fixation seems salaciously crude and factually unverifiable. This plainly is not the way to build a plausible case. The whole episode is reminiscent of the keystone cops and would induce laughter were it not so fateful.

Questions pose themselves. Did Jane Doe pass out before or while they were, in Turner’s words, “making out”?  Did he force her or was the encounter consensual? The entire sequence of events remains obscure and no clear determination can be made. Neither participant was sober and no witnesses have come forward to credibly report on the in flagrante moment or on the crucial minutes leading up to it. Are we to believe that Turner dragged an unwilling or semi-conscious woman from the frat house without anyone noticing or objecting? Or was there, as seems at least feasible, prior consent or mutual nonverbal agreement as they staggered out together? Clearly, what is needed is not another kangaroo tribunal presiding over resident uncertainties, but a campus-wide campaign warning students about the perils of getting blotto.