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Letter to the Editor: Victim blaming, a pervasive trend

To those of you who have followed the recent news, the name Brock Turner may ring a bell. Furthermore, if you hear that name, it may incite a reaction. Many of these reactions may include anger at the failed system that we send survivors through. When a friend of mine shared the video of CNN Show Host Ashleigh Banfield reading the letter of the survivor, I was absolutely outraged at what our society was doing to this survivor. I was so ticked off and at first thought, “This must be an aberration of a case, a cruel miscarriage of justice.” I was so wrong. Unfortunately, the Brock Turner case wasn’t the first. For years there have been injustices in our system.
Recently I heard of another controversial case of sexual assault just outside of my hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts in neighboring East Longmeadow. In 2015, David Becker, an 18-year-old who was known for being a high school “soccer star,” was arrested for two counts of sexual assault. In 2016, he was convicted by a Hampden County judge. The facts consisted of Becker at a house party, violating two girls who were asleep following the gathering. He plead guilty to the charges and was facing at least two years of jail time. What was his sentence? Two years’ probation. He is allowed to attend a college in Ohio this fall, and if he “behaves,” his charges may be dropped. Following the sentence, his attorney came out and said to MassLive, “Putting this kid in jail for two years would have destroyed this kid’s life.” Again, our society and the media worries about the “soccer star.” What about the girls’ lives? This sad tale gets worse. As you read the court documents and case transcript, the defense attorney asked the survivors all kinds of loaded ad targeted questions like, “How much did you drink,” or “Were your clothes to be considered revealing?”
Why bring this case up? Three reasons. One, I am from the area and am friends with kids who knew him well, so I feel connected and it makes me ticked off that this happened in my backyard. Second, because injustice rubs me the wrong way. Finally, because this case is eerily similar to the high profile case of Brock Turner. Turner, who had assaulted a girl passed-out behind a dumpster, plead guilty, faced years in prison, got six months in jail and was released three months into sentence. As you read the court documents, Turner’s defense attorney asked this survivor questions about her entire life essentially. Finally, this judge let him off easy and the judge and his dad defended saying, “His whole life should not be ruined because of 20 minutes of action.” It is worth noting that Turner is referred to in all media again as “Stanford Swimmer,” not “convicted rapist.”  The media often incorrectly portrays the image and character of the perpetrator.
These cases highlight a prevalent issue: that we all need to open our eyes to victim blaming. The attorneys focused on asking questions about these girls’ clothes, drinking habits, social habits and lifestyles. Since when is your lifestyle or how you dress supposed to be a validation for getting sexually assaulted? Trick question, it’s not. In the media, these perpetrators are not discussed to be such. They are “soccer stars” or “swimming stars.” The way these two men should be known the rest of their life is as “rapists.” These girls have to live with it for the rest of their lives, they should too. In the end, this case should highlight a few key points. One, our society is broken in how we prosecute perpetrators of sexual assault. Second, we need, as a society, to stop considering how perpetrators of sexual assault are affected by these cases and ask first and foremost about the survivor. Our priority should be to help the survivors get good resources, safe places and some form of justice and security. Finally, this culture of victim blaming needs to cease. Through my time at UNH, I have heard my fair share of victim blaming. “She shouldn’t have drank so much” or “worn that outfit” are two of the most common things I have heard. Let me assure you that nothing anyone does merits being sexually assaulted and having their life completely altered. Results of wearing a revealing outfit should be that you get cold, not raped. A result of drinking too much should be a bad hangover, not sexual assault. UNH needs to get out and squash victim blaming in its tracks. This is a coast-to-coast problem and we have the resources to tackle it and need to make this a part of our mission to make the campus culture safe and accommodating to all. To say this needs to be a top priority is an understatement, and I challenge all students, faculty and staff to make this a priority in order to start fixing it now and forever.
         –Cameron Cook ‘17
Brother of Phi Mu Delta and Community Educator at SHARPP

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