QotD: Rape Culture and “Twenty Minutes of Action”

Aside from the obvious reversal of guilt and innocence blatantly on display here, a tactic not new in rape trials, what Dan Turner misses about rape culture is constituent of the larger social misunderstanding of what it really is: rape culture not only implicates the millions of male rapists around the planet, rather it is the larger discursive framework which allows the individual rapist or rapist apologist, to take the sexual violation of a woman and parenthetically extricate these “twenty minutes of action” as somehow anathema to that male subject’s essentially good nature. You know, the other 23 hours and 40 minutes of that particular day. It is as if we must uniquely defer to what the male subject does when he is not “out of character” raping women to constitute his holistic “happy go lucky self” who can get back to his eating his ribeye steak.

And herein lies the punctum of rape culture: that the violation of women is conceived as the rupture in behaviour and “good boy” normalcy that constitutes the civil subject. Male as always good natured (except when he is not), male as in control (except when he is not), male as well meaning (except when he is not), and woman as collateral damage for the except when he is not for the “twenty minutes of action.” To anyone contemplating rape in terms of time management, one could vulgarly frame rape within a larger temporal structure to minimise these minutes such that one might rationalise the act of violation in this manner: “She needs to get over it. After all, it only lasted a few minutes.” Indeed, women are constantly reminded to move on and focus on those events that are really worthy of their attention, as if victims of violence evaluate must forgive the date rapist because she knew him and might have, like Lucretia, encouraged him. Women are told to put a line under what was only a few minutes of a long happy future (if only she could put it behind her).

Rape culture epitomises the presumption that women are perpetually willing victims in their own rape, not because in 2016 it is assumed that she wants to be raped, that she was in the wrong part of town, too drunk for her own good, or that she was wearing tight jeans, as the historical clichés go (clichés which are not at all fantastical, but very much based on historical and juridical fact). But because it is assumed that her body is still, in the eyes of the right a private possession, and of the left a public commodity. Because a woman’s cultural value is still pinned upon her ability to concede—to concede her vulnerability in the current bathroom wars, to concede the most minuscule doubt that perhaps she shouldn’t have taken that route home, and even concede that she should not have been drinking. She is even expected to consider the facts leading up to those “twenty minutes of action,” assumed to actively participate in the casting of doubt and aspersions on her possible willingness to have taken part in her own sexual assault. Dan Turner’s perverse reversal of victim and victimiser whereby his son is bizarrely cast as a victim, is all too common today and demands of the rape victim that she have sympathy with her victimiser, that she ally herself with her aggressor, because such is the task of the contemporary female to be perpetually linked to her symbolic paterfamilias as she strays from the perceived safety of the home. Nary a word about how many political actors of the left still regard rape as an unfortunate price to pay for freedom, rather than an extenuating symptom of male violence.

The specific language of “twenty minutes of action,” is a sad indicator of the cultural temperature for reading violence against women today. When rape is regarded as an action, likened to swimming or any other sport or activity one is forced to extricate morality and violence from what is really just an activity like any other. That this action involved the penetration of an unconscious woman is incidental to Dan Turner and his son. In fact, such a letter indicates the familiar and social heritage of rape within the world. That indeed if it is possible for one person to commit this “action,” then it is even more probable that this actor is surrounded by other like-minded actors who have set the scenario, costumes, stage props, and lighting such that everyone but the victim is acclimatised to the leap of faith necessary to suspend disbelief in this his reality. Rape culture is a permanent state of this suspension of disbelief, from the perpetrator, to his father, and friends and anyone who prefers to view the staging of this tragedy as a romantic comedy, as rapist with a heart of gold, or as the potential professional swimmer who made bad judgment call. When it is time to invoke readings of male subjectivity, every effort is extended to the rapist and his clan to explain why he rapes and astonishingly, Dan Turner’s letter was only one of a pile of letters Judge Persky received.

Here is an excerpt of the letter from Turner’s childhood friend, Leslie Rasmussen:

I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.

Rasmussen, who is now bemoaning the fact that her band has recently had many gigs canceled from various events in New York is incredulous that people take issue with her having minimised a sexual assault because the victim lay unconscious while “not blaming her directly,” of course. But Rasmussen does ask a pertinent question that needs to be turned inside-out to speak to the inconsequence of rape culture in her world view since it is due to her support and the many other letters of support which enact the rationale of political correctness. Since political correctness today is commonly understood as the political discourse of policing language and policies so as not to offend or disadvantage a particular demographic, it is clear that every single letter handed to the judge in support of Brock Turner, to include that of Rasmussen, functions precisely to police the legal interpretation of what Turner committed: sexual assault. Or if we are to believe Rasmussen, “These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgement.” When rape is tantamount to getting drunk and surroundings are a proxy for penises, fingers and vaginas, the stage setting of rape is really as good as the narrative spun by the accused and friends. That is, if they really believe it.

Justice for Brock Turner’s victim, however, is turning into the “gift” that keeps on giving as we now learn that Brock Turner’s sentence has already been reduced to three months due to good behaviour credits applied ahead of time because – sit down for this one – “it was assessed that he was unlikely to misbehave behind bars.” So not only are women like Turner’s victim up against Brock Turners of the present, but we have the luxury to fight against their future persona’s constructed by the generous court system which deems the sexual assailant as benevolent. Sexual offenders are de facto assumed to be “unlikely” to misbehave while paradoxically behind bars for a brief stint because they sort of have – emphasis on the “sort of.” Together with an entourage of people who explain “twenty minutes of action” as a result of “clouded judgment” due to alcohol consumption and who blame Turner’s assault on “sexual promiscuity,” we are being told, effectively, that rapists are just men who rape women. Unpacked, this means that rapists are men who by the sheer number of the world’s population have come into social contact with other humans and who, because of this fact (plus memories), are able to procure letters of support simply because they did not rape every other of these other humans in their inner circle. Unpacked once again: rapists are really not rapists because they did not rape me.

Julian Vigo

2 responses

  1. What this does is to frame rape as a kind of avoidable accident, similar to getting hit by a car if you walk out into traffic. The difference is drivers of cars rarely go out of their way to target and intentionally hit people. Rape is a decision and men are not accidents waiting to happen, they are agents and should own their behavior.

  2. Re Rasmussen’s letter – reminded me of an article about the case that I read recently (that reads like it almost could have been written by the same person), in which the author notes:

    “I’m a rape victim and I believe a society that demonises rapists may actually perpetuate rape culture far more than Brock Turner’s sentence will.”

    “The more society typifies perpetrators as evil and as deserving our vengeance and vitriol, the harder victims find it to report what these people have done to us. They may, after all, be someone we love or someone we work with. We may not feel as though we can and/or want to report it to police for fear of social or familial shame or humiliation. We may find that, despite what they’ve done, we still love them. Or, based on society’s portrait of the evil rapist who deserves nothing other than to rot in jail, we may not even be able to acknowledge that what they’ve done really constitutes rape.”

    “If we want to address the problem we can’t keep demonising this behaviour. We have to accept this is something that happens in society and that it happens more often than we care to acknowledge. We also have to accept it is not something that’ll be solved by vitriolic hate commenting or sex registers or harsher punishments. We know prison is ultimately criminogenic and we know harsher penalties may deter offenders from accepting their guilt and discourage victims from reporting. ”

    “And before we can address this rape problem I believe we need to accept it as an element of the human condition and something that could ultimately happen to, or by, any one of us.”

    “The point is that there are many Turners out there in our country, and in our world, and we won’t solve this problem by treating every single one of them as evil social aberrations who deserve to be locked away forever more. Very few of these Turners are receiving any sort of reprimand at present due to the incredibly low rates of reporting, prosecution and guilty verdicts in rape cases.”

    . . .

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