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Outrage in Brock Turner case should be applied to all sexual assault cases

Tribune News Service • Jun 14, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Since the astonishingly unjust and insultingly lenient six-month jail sentence of a Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault, outrage has erupted nationwide.

Vice President Joe Biden is among the many who have weighed in with disgust toward offender Brock Turner, the sentence he received from a California judge and a culture that normalizes behavior that should be described only as rape. For advocates who speak out against the often vile reproach women receive in nationally publicized rape cases, hearing the outcry is a moment of “finally.”

Sadly, this usually isn’t the response when athletes are accused of sexual assault or domestic violence.

What’s different this time?

Is it because people feel like they know the woman, a 23-year-old who read a heart-wrenching 12-page letter to her attacker at his sentencing, detailing her life-altering trauma,? Is it because Turner’s father wrote a letter that downplayed his son’s crime, referring to the assault as “20 minutes of action,” while asking the judge for leniency?

Is it because the judge’s sentence was so recklessly forgiving, focusing his empathy on the attacker rather than the victim? Is it because swimming isn’t as popular as sports such as football, basketball and baseball, in which we fanatically root for the athletes?

It’s probably all of that.

The case of Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting the unconscious woman behind a dumpster, comes on the heels of national disgust with the revelation that accusations against Baylor football players were systematically ignored.

Perhaps many are finally opening their eyes to the atrocities victims of sexual assault face, not only from their offenders, but also from our justice system and the public.

But we will see if there has been progress the next time an athlete from a local professional or popular college team is accused of sexual assault. Time and again, fans typically rush to find gray areas and grasp for excuses to support their sports idols, while shaming the female accusers.

The next time this happens — and sadly it will — it’s important to remember your outrage at a flawed system. It’s important to remember your empathy for the victim at Stanford.

It’s important we don’t pretend like Turner and his case are anomalies. Victims rarely see their perpetrators punished, and typically the public shrugs, especially if the accused is a famous athlete.

According to a 2012 report from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, using data from the Justice Department, less than half of rapes are reported to police, and only one of four reported rapes leads to an arrest. One of four arrests leads to a felony conviction and incarceration, the study also noted, resulting in an estimated 6 percent of rapists going to prison.

Obviously there is work to be done.

USA Swimming banned Turner from ever competing for the organization, effectively keeping him from swimming for the U.S. in the Olympics. Usually, sports leagues wring their hands worrying about what punishment might be too harsh for the accused.

The son of Brenda Tracy, who said she was gang raped by four football players at Oregon State in 1998, started an online petition to pressure the NCAA to ban athletes who commit violent offenses. The NCAA and professional leagues should adopt this policy — and the public should support it.

Not only when an unknown athlete is the offender, but also when it’s your favorite one.

—Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune

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