Monday, August 08, 2016

On Brock Turner

I was called upon, not specifically but generally, as a man to pay attention to the Victim Impact Statement read out in the trial of 'The People Vs Brock Turner' and so I did. The first two instances or callings, came from male friends, and not ones that would easily be labelled or dismissed as 'progressives' or 'sjw' terms I have recently learned.

I read the Victim Impact Statement, and it is a good piece of prose, to my recollection it in itself called no general call to action. My feeling is that its power, lies in the fact that the victim kept focused in her mind while composing and delivering it, that her audience was one specific person - Brock Turner.

The statement itself, may well be, one of the great speeches of this era, certainly more memorable than anything President Obama has delivered, and he appears to be one of the few/only active politicians in the English speaking world capable of delivering a good speech. So this victim impact statement is one for the ages, but by an anonymous author because the very experiences that gave her the authority to compose and speak such words, are ones the author would never want to define her nor her place in history.

My presumption is that the 'call' my fellow male counterparts put out by sharing the statement was a call for us men to actually identify with Brock Turner, rather than like Brock Turner, avoid taking responsibility for our actions and seize any psychological opportunity to avoid being held to account.

I never presumed I was being called to add my voice to the specific injustice of the lenient sentencing Brock Turner received. The reason men needed to pay attention was for the general, rather than the specific.

And for what little it's worth, I have put some introspective effort into placing myself in the shoes of Brock Turner. That were I to possess the knowledge (assumed) that I was guilty of these crimes, were I to receive lenient sentencing it would be as the result of submitting a guilty plea. What is more difficult, is taking the inventory of my own character and to say that given how I feel about the US penitentiary system, including the sex-offenders registry - I would brace myself for the almost certainly destructive consequences of taking responsibility. I would expect no mercy.

Here, being Brock Turner's father is a harder exercise in perspective taking, on the one hand, much as I like to think that I would be able to sit in the police interview room alone with my son and say 'you fucking idiot, you've done this thing and you're going to take responsibility for it.' there I feel the genuine dilemma, of facing a justice system that appears capable of salvaging nothing and only making things worse for all. I do not have the experience of being a father so I cannot feel the bias nor need to defend the image I hold and the emotional investment I have in a son that I don't have. But would like to think I have the integrity that if the justice system will only make things worse in its punitive measures, then at the very least I would be able to tell my son that it was his responsibility to bear that cost, not the victim.

But it does pose for me an issue of reconciliation. Because outside of this case, this victim impact statement, I'm all about Norway's approach to penance. Which is to say, just about the only punitive measure to be taken is a restriction of freedom. The rest is actually a focused direction of energy on rehabilitation.

I am well aware that individuals like Brock Turner need to be interrupted. Psychology 101 is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Once you reveal yourself as capable of sexual assault (see the case details) some intervention is necessary if you are ever to enjoy the privilege of free passage through society again.

But honestly there's no part of me that feels that intervention should entail incarceration in an institution where a person is likely to be physically or sexually assaulted themselves, where the authority figures establish their authority not to be role models, but simply to be the ruling class within the facility - (ie. the prison staff are there to ensure you are not free, not to eclipse your fellow inmates as role models of civil conduct) nor do I see a program whereby you are forced and legally required to accept the identity of sex-offender somehow leading to a day where that person is going to be a low risk of recidivism.

To be honest, from the outside, and having watched enough of Louis Theroux's documentaries about life for American Sex Offenders (not to mention the Mr Show sketch 'Larry Kleist - Rapist') such a program is so restrictive and so hopeless (except tragically, for the hope of recidivism) that I see little point to registered sex offenders serving a jail sentence on top of being a registered sex offender.

Which is to say, if we were talking about the Norwegian Penal system, and a Judge sat me down and said 'okay you can serve 11 years in Norway's Maximum security facility, OR serve no time and be a registered sex-offender' losing 11 years of freedom would be less debilitating to my life (and society) than being a sex-offender under the US system. I must claim ignorance of whether Norway operates a similar sex-offender registry as the US. In short though, while I recognize a priority in protecting the innocent forms the basis of a sex-offender registry, it is also a program that I can see no possibility of rehabilitation or reform taking place, it is closer to the state simply washing its hands of undesirables.

My feeling is, that if there is any outrage to be felt over the specifics of Brock Turner's case, it is, that by the one account I have read - Brock Turner has failed to take responsibility for his actions. He also appears to live in a social environment where he is not seen as responsible, even a victim. And the Justice system has failed to get through to him that he is not a victim, with the sole exception of being a victim of his own actions. The onus is on society to actually communicate this to him, and to those who make up his social environment, and good as the victim impact statement is - based on what I have heard of the responding statements by father and friends - that message has yet to be received.

It should be acknowledged though, that here the issues of rape culture, the subset of campus rape culture, male privilege, white privilege etc. collide with all the issues of dysfunction with the US Justice system. That needs to be reconciled and what stands revealed is that not just Brock Turner, but any man has incentive to avoid taking responsibility when it also means taking with it the cruel and unusual punishments a US Justice is capable of sentencing a person to.

There was another reconciliation that I was curious about, and that was how the Brock Turner case would be reconciled in such close succession with the Orlando Shooting.

On the one hand, men were being called to own Brock Turner's case as a general issue affecting all men, however based on my past experience, the same category of people are quick to urge the same audience to not generalise concerning the actions of one Muslim to that of all people of the Islamic faith.

I do not feel any cognitive dissonance in this case, because I can apply the general rule of always identifying with and taking an inventory of any category I might share with any individual. I am not a fan of dismissing argument and debate as 'Islamaphobic' or 'racist' if you follow me. I believe there is no subject on earth that is not worthy of dissection and or ridicule, including my own core beliefs and values.

I was quite impressed with the reconciliation I percieved though, they went lowest common denominator. Both Brock Turner and the Orlando Shooter are men. This is the story that ran. It was brilliant, but useless.

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