On Sexual Harassment and Accountability

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Content Warning: sexual assault, descriptions of rape

 

Recent events regarding sexual harassment allegations made against Judge Brett Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and two other women have caused the nominee’s competence for a spot in the Supreme Court to come into question.

Dr. Ford wrote a letter on July 30th, 2018 to Senator Dianne Feinstein stating that at the age of fifteen Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted and attempted to rape her while they were at a party together in high school.

Many are questioning the credibility of Dr. Ford’s accusations, seeing she came forward at such a late stage in the decision process, and many are demanding that the allegations be taken into account for the election of the upcoming Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

As a result of these tumultuous events, there was a hearing on September 27th, 2018 to assess both Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh’s testimonies regarding the allegations. Both remained loyal to their initial stances under oath while the hearing took place, with Dr. Ford testifying about her uncomfortable experience with the nominee and Judge Kavanaugh pledging innocence.

In light of these events, the talk of sexual harassment, victim blaming, and accountability has continued to grow in a time where an increasing amount of women – and men – have come forth about their experiences with unwanted sexual advances and assault.

As the talk continues, many questions are being raised about the nature and implications of sexual assault as a whole. Should someone be held accountable for the mistakes they made as a teenager in a drunken haze at a party? If the victim comes forward only years after the fact, should the perpetrator still face the consequences? If the assault truly happened, wouldn’t the victim have reported it and the police done something about it?

All of these questions echo the same sentiment. It’s a narrative that if the sexual assault were real, then the victim must have reported it when it happened, and the perpetrator must have faced the consequences. It’s a narrative that excuses the perpetrator for their crime because they were drunk or simply ‘messing around.’ It’s a narrative that puts the blame on the victim for hesitating to come forward or for even coming forward at all once it’s deemed too late.

With all of this in mind, we also have to understand that the boundaries within justice in sexual assault cases are a lot more blurred than what we may hope. There’s always going to be a fear that the perpetrator will not get the punishment they deserve for their crime, and there’s always going to be the speculation that the victim may not be telling the truth.

Regardless of the situation, the criminal justice system is extremely flawed when it comes to sexual assault. The outcomes for reported rapes are often few, lacking in consequence, dissatisfactory for the victim, and in some cases, resulting in perpetrators who are wrongfully convicted for crimes which did not happen.

Let’s take a look at two separate cases which outline the two extremes of the fears which concern sexual assault for both the accuser and the accused.

 

Brian Banks

Brian Banks was 16 years old when, in the summer of 2002, he was arrested and charged for the rape of Wanetta Gibson. She accused Banks of dragging her into a stairway and raping her on the school campus. On the 3rd of January 2003, he was officially charged with two counts of rape and kidnapping. Banks faced a potential 41 years to life in prison, but he agreed to a plea deal which entailed that he serve six years in prison, five years on probation, and register as a sex offender. He spent over five years of his life in jail, until he was finally released, after which he went on to serve five years on custody parole.

In 2011, Wanetta Gibson met up with Banks and verbally confessed, in front of an attorney, to having fabricated the rape accusations against him. The two of them had had a consensual and somewhat sexual encounter at school in 2002, but she had lied about the assault and hesitated to come forward in fear that her family would have to give back the money they had received from the lawsuit.

On the 24th of May 2012, when Brian Banks was 26 years old, the conviction against him was dismissed and all charges were dropped. He spent ten years of his teenage and young adult life facing consequences for a crime he did not commit.

 

Brock Turner

When Brock Turner was 19 years old, he was caught in the act of sexual assault by two graduate students who found him on top of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a fraternity party in Stanford University. When they saw the situation and shouted at him, he quickly fled the scene but was soon after tackled and detained by one of the graduates. When he was wrestled to the ground, the student recalled that Turner started laughing because he found the situation to be “ridiculous.” Back at the scene of the crime, the victim was evidently unconscious and unresponsive, and she was brought to a hospital by an ambulance.

Turner was charged with two counts of rape and three counts of sexual assault, but was ultimately found guilty of three felonies, including assault with intent to rape, sexual penetration of an unconscious person with a foreign object, and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person with a foreign object. Prosecutors recommended that he be given six years in prison, but he was given a much more lenient sentence of only six months. Despite the already significantly short sentence, he only spent three months in the protective custody of his prison guards.

The final legal repercussions for his crime were to register as a sex offender in Ohio (which is where his parents lived and where he returned to after his jail time), serve three years probation, and attend a sex offender rehabilitation programme.

After he was found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at the age of 19, Turner only served 3 months in protective custody for his crime.

 

It’s safe to conclude that both of these cases are extremes in which the situations were handled very poorly, but it just goes to show how inconsistent the criminal justice system it when it comes to dealing sexual assault. These instances of wrong accountability and limited consequences are what makes the discussion about sexual assault so important. How can it be that an innocent man spent five years in prison while one who was proved guilty of a violent crime only served three months in jail? This is precisely why rape allegations are handled the way that they are – with speculation, scrutiny, shame, disinterest – no one is sure what to believe anymore or whose side to take.

So where does this leave us with the Kavanaugh case? We need to look at this as an example of what can happen when someone speaks out about assault, because this situation is setting a precedent on a national (and international) level of how accusations will be dealt with.

It is a universal principle that the accused are innocent until proven guilty, and that right cannot be taken away. We must not jump to conclusions without unfounded evidence, but we must also take the accusers seriously when they speak out, and do everything possible to find answers and draw educated conclusions about the ordeal.

An investigation by the FBI has been launched to look into the allegations and Brett Kavanaugh’s past, delaying the Supreme Court vote until further notice.

I invite everyone to think and analyze this situation carefully and with a critical eye. Government flaws and bias, as mentioned earlier with both the Brian Banks and Brock Turner cases, can result in disastrous and unfair results to very serious accusations. Whether you believe that Dr. Ford is telling the truth or not, or whether Judge Kavanaugh is fit for a spot in the Supreme Court or not, we must always remember to think for ourselves and draw conclusions based on the information that is presented to us.

Regardless of my personal take of the situation, it is my hopes that the conversation about sexual assault and accountability will only continue to grow, and the shame and stigma that comes along with coming forward about unwanted sexual encounters will diminish as we continue to advocate for a more fair and just system that will bring accountability to the people who truly deserve it.

 

Sources:

“Brian Banks | Brian Banks NFL.” California Innocence Project, californiainnocenceproject.org/read-their-stories/brian-banks/.

Chappell, Bill. “Brock Turner Freed From Jail After Serving Half Of 6-Month Sentence.” NPR, NPR, 2 Sept. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/09/02/492390163/brock-turner-freed-from-jail-after-serving-half-of-6-month-sentence.

Knowles, Hannah. “Brock Turner Found Guilty on Three Felony Counts.” The Stanford Daily, 31 Mar. 2016, www.stanforddaily.com/2016/03/30/brock-turner-found-guilty-on-three-felony-counts/.

Levin, Sam. “Brock Turner Laughed after Bystanders Stopped Stanford Sex Assault, Files Show.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Aug. 2016, www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/26/brock-turner-stanford-sexual-assault-victim-testimony-laugh.

Possley, Maurice. “Brian Banks – National Registry of Exonerations.” Charles Chatman – National Registry of Exonerations, June 2012, www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=3901.

“Read the Letter Christine Blasey Ford Sent Accusing Brett Kavanaugh of Sexual Misconduct.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Sept. 2018, edition.cnn.com/2018/09/16/politics/blasey-ford-kavanaugh-letter-feinstein/index.html.

Watkins, Eli, et al. “FBI’s Kavanaugh Investigation Narrow in Scope.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Sept. 2018, edition.cnn.com/2018/09/30/politics/fbi-brett-kavanaugh-investigation/index.html.

Xu, Victor. “Brock Turner Sentenced to Six Months in County Jail, Three Years Probation.” The Stanford Daily, 6 June 2016, www.stanforddaily.com/2016/06/02/brock-turner-sentenced-to-six-months-in-county-jail-three-years-probation/.

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