By: Callie Douthit
*Written: MARCH 5, 2015, before this case was even in the courtroom. As I came across this, I could not believe how I was so wrong about the possible outcomes of this case.*
According to an article by Henry K. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle a few weeks ago[April 2015], former swimmer Brock Turner from Stanford University was caught allegedly raping an intoxicated woman on campus by two Good Samaritans that were taking a night bike ride on campus. They chased the man and restrained him until the authorities arrived. The victim was taken to the hospital immediately to recover. Stanford University responded to the situation promptly and handled it in a way that advocated for the victim, even though she was not a student at the school. Their reaction was unlike how many universities have been responding to student rape allegations, causing controversy across the country and calling for more consideration of sexual assault victims. No questions asked, Stanford announced that after the student had withdrew voluntarily, he would no longer be to allowed to re-enroll for classes and is banned from campus (extracted from previous coverage of the incident). Since the fact, the student has pleaded not guilty to the charges of rape of an intoxicated woman.
This article, among many other published about the incident, takes a side that advocates for the victim of rape. This is unique in my opinion because of previous college rape cases that have been in the media over the past years. There has been criticism for how schools like Penn State have treated the sensitivity of the cases and lack of compassion for the victim. In other words, schools involved in campus rapes have not been so quick to spring to action to protect the victim and punish the alleged assailant. But, the articles also point out an important factor in the presented cases—that there are witnesses that can attest to the rape and medical testimony that proves the victim was unconscious upon arrival. Just in this article, the writer cites many sources of evidence that strengthen the case against the assailant. With this amount of evidence, the writer of this article would be a fool to not take a side on the issue that advocates for the victim, despite living in a country where citizens are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. But, the article consistently frames the article as if he is guilty of the accused.
It is interesting to observe that this article does tragically frame the wrongdoer, Brock Turner, but not through choice words that were typically used in other articles, transforming him into a monster. For example, even though there were witnesses who caught him sexually engaging the young woman, Lee still describes the situations as “Brock Turner faces rape charges” (Lee). In my opinion based on my education on law, credible witnesses willing to testify are essential to determining an outcome of a case. Even with this evidence, Lee continues to speak only to the facts of the case—which for right now, he is only accused, not charged for the crime. Though he does not use vivid choice words for the assailant, the information that Lee decided to include from the police report and the order which he compiled them, tragically frames Turner into a guilty party. Specifically, the article’s structure seems to be organized so that there is a refutation to almost every claim and excuse that the assailant explains to the police. For example, when the former swimmer denied assaulting the girl and even went as far as to say that she seemed to enjoy the activity. But, when authorities found her, however, “the woman, partially naked and lying near a tree and trash bin, was breathing but ‘completely unresponsive,’ a deputy wrote. Her hair was ‘knotted and completely covered in pine needles.’ She was treated at a hospital, where she didn’t regain consciousness for several hours” (Lee). This testament clearly refutes the assailants claim that she was enjoying it…unless he believes breathing and unresponsiveness is a sign of enjoyment. The whole article basically mocks this form in its entirety—constant claims of the assailant and refutations by the writer.
Richard Vatz, rhetorical scholar, points out that writers engage in sifting and choosing information to convey when developing a story. Per my point that the combination of structure and choice content framed the situation, Vatz states that “by the very fact of selection certain elements and presenting them to the audience, their importance and pertinency to the discussion are implied” (Vatz 157). Based on this, I think that it is also essential to point out the article’s discussion of alcohol consumption in this case, as it actually further frames the accusations of rape to be valid. Before further discussion, I would like to reiterate that by law if an individual is incoherent from alcohol, he/she absolutely cannot consent to sexual intercourse. With this piece of information, the mentioning of both parties’ alcohol consumption is vital to determining whether or not this instance is legally considered rape. Lee recalls that Turner had “stated that he was drunk but was able to remember everything…His head was a little fuzzy due to effects of alcohol but he consciously decided to engage in the sexual activity with the victim” (Lee). Based on this statement, I would argue that Turner was coherent enough to consent. But, I would not say the same for the victim. According to police reports, the victim consumed 6 shots of liquor that night. Further, the “victim does not remember kissing anyone or walking away from the house with anyone…Victim did not consent to any sexual activity or touching” (Lee). In addition as I mentioned earlier, the police found her unresponsive at the scene and was later treated at a hospital where she didn’t regain consciousness for several hours. These two accounts clearly denote that she was incoherent at the time of the incident, which legally means she was unable to consent to sexual activity. The mention of alcohol consumption of both sides was strategic in further framing the incident as a sex crime.
Another key part to this framing is how the writer categorizes the two graduate students who sprung to action and restrained the man. The author chooses a quote by the prosecutor that depicts the framing of heroes very easily: “’Luckily for the victim in this case, there were two Good Samaritans who were at the right place at the right time and, more importantly, did the right thing, and that’s the message that needs to be sent to the community’, Kianerci said. ‘Don’t just stand by if you see something inappropriate” (Lee). This sends a clear message about the wrongdoings in this case as well as ethically what is the right thing to do if you were to come across an incident like this. Based on this final message in the article, Lee certainly can be seen taking moral responsibility for the future implications that may arise by this article. Vatz makes a point that rhetors “…must assume responsibility for the salience he has created” (Vatz 158). This leads me to believe that Lee is doing that exactly by putting forth the importance of bystander intervention. Instead of this being a simple report of the incident, Lee chooses to include the quotation from the prosecutor that promotes the public to fulfill their moral duties in situations like this. In connection to structure, it is clear that his decision to include this bit at the end of the article was to generate a message that’s more important than the details of the case. Messages like this is what the past college rape cases have lacked, in my opinion.
This whole article and incident also is an example of Vatz’s view of rhetors placing urgency to issues making them an exigency is applicable in this case: “The very choice of what facts or events are relevant is a matter of pure arbitration. Once the choice is communicated, the event is imbued with salience, or what Chaim Perelman calls presence, when describing this phenomenon from the frame-work of argumentation” (Vatz 157). Though I personally believe that cases of rape do mark urgency because of the sort of rape culture we live in, it is interesting that the media only seems to cover some cases. For example, there was a sexual assault on our LMU campus a few months ago and it was not nearly as covered by the media as a case like this is. Though the circumstances were different, it leads me to believe that because this case involved a highly-sought after swimmer and a prestigious school, it was covered across the nation. This perfectly exemplifies Vatz’s point that relevant stories is more of pure arbitration than anything—because this rape case had more mitigating and interesting factors, it showed more urgency for the media then a case about another frat boy sexually assaulting a girl that drank too much at a party. As a female reader, I am just pleased that the article decided to put forth a message of how important it is to intervene in situations like the case they covered.
UPDATE: In just a few words, all I can express is that I am beyond disappointed with the punishment Brock Turner received for raping an unconscious female at Stanford back in March. Don’t even get me started on his rhetorically selfish and weak statements that both him and his family have used to defend this crime. Less than a year in jail WITH early release is a miscarriage of justice for all brave women and men out there who have been victimized in such disgusting ways. I keep these victims constantly in my prayers and I hope that they find the inner strength with help from our communities to carry on. #NotOneMore
Lee, Henry K. “Ex-Stanford Swimmer Pleads Not Guilty to Rape Charges.” San Francisco Chronicle. N.p., 2 Feb. 2015
Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 154-161.