Last week, Judge Aaron Persky made an appalling decision. He gave Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unnamed 23-year-old woman who had passed out behind a dumpster, a sentence of only six months.
The judge may have been influenced by lengthy letters from Turner’s family and friends, begging him to see what they saw as the real problem here: not Turner’s decision to assault a woman, but the fact that both parties were too drunk to know what was happening, labeling the victim as “a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank.”
Turner’s father, his childhood friend Leslie Rasmussen and other rape apologists refuse to even acknowledge that an assault took place in this case. “This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot,” wrote Rasmussen. “That is a rapist. These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgement.”
My heavy drinking days are behind me, for which my liver and mental health are grateful, but back in university, I could be found propping up the bar with my fellow 18- and 19-year-olds on a regular basis, putting the world to rights in an increasingly incoherent manner as we drank whatever was our quickest, cheapest ticket to inebriation.
The plan was never to get so drunk we passed out or threw up or ended up someplace — or in a bed — that we shouldn’t. But sometimes we did, because there’s a fine line between having the best night ever and being so smashed that it’s impossible to walk or speak or make anything resembling a sensible decision.
I can think of a few situations I got myself into in my younger drinking days that were pretty irresponsible and potentially dangerous. Sitting on the roof of my friend’s house to smoke because it was more fun than going downstairs and unlocking the back door. Downing tequila shots until I blacked out and lost several hours of my life. Skinny-dipping in the sea (in Scotland, in the middle of winter). I survived intact despite not always being a responsible drinker.
I may have made some silly mistakes, but I had — have — the right to do so. Just like a man does. Drinking isn’t a crime, and neither is it consent. If a woman drinks — responsibly or otherwise — and is then sexually assaulted, she shouldn’t have to shoulder even the tiniest fraction of the blame. Of all the valid reasons to drink responsibly, fear of sexual assault isn’t one of them.
Even some people who accept what is ultimately the only crucial fact of the Brock Turner case — a woman was raped — have suggested that it’s somehow a less serious assault because the victim was drunk. “She was drunk so wasn’t able to stop herself getting assaulted.” “If she hadn’t been drunk, it wouldn’t have happened.” Bullshit. A young woman who is legally allowed to drink should be able to go out and get drunk without being scared she’s going to be raped. Heck, she should be able to drink so much that she passes out behind a Dumpster without being scared she’s going to be raped. It may not be behavior everyone approves of, but she’s committing no crime. If you have to accuse her of something, accuse her of killing her brain cells and poisoning her liver. Never accuse her of being responsible for — or consenting to — her rape.