Well, I've decided to go ahead and get myself in a certain amount of trouble. Needless to say, comments will be moderated carefully. Graphic comments will be edited or deleted.
Since my Facebook news feed exploded with outraged posts about the Brock Turner case at Stanford University, I've been mulling over whether to say anything. But things have been a little quiet around here, and I do have something to say, so I've decided to launch out. I may even be bold enough to post a link on Facebook; you never know.
Here's my understanding: Brock Turner has been convicted of intending to rape an intoxicated person and of (here I am deliberately following my own rules on not being graphic) engaging in certain sexual behavior that in other circumstances would be considered foreplay or groping with an intoxicated person and with an unconscious person (those being the same person). Whether the woman (whose name I can't seem to find) actually passed out in the course of their encounter or only shortly thereafter remains, shall we say, ambiguous, but evidently prosecutors and a jury thought she passed out in the course thereof. Both were highly intoxicated. He claims that he never took his clothes off, and apparently prosecutors agree.
Turner's account and the woman's account are actually compatible, so I think it's only fair to believe both of them. She's traumatized because she doesn't remember anything about what happened, doesn't remember Turner or know him from Adam, and because the procedures for investigating possible rape after she was found, passed out behind the frat house, were in themselves highly invasive and upsetting. He's clearly a guy with a completely empty, soulless view of sex who merely thought he was "hooking up," while he was drunk, with an equally intoxicated stranger. As it turns out, apparently engaging in sexual activity with someone who's intoxicated is a crime in California, so the prosecutors had a cut and dried case on that point. The "intent to rape" seems a little more dubious as a matter of evidence, but evidently they convinced a jury.
My controversial opinion here is that both conservatives and liberals are confusing the sheer, despicable sordidness of Turner's actions with rape. Hence the outrage that he wasn't convicted of rape, the references to him as a rapist, and the calls for his head on a charger. I would even say that putting someone on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life is a tad draconian for what it appears Turner did, morally bad though it was. (This is probably the sentence that is going to get me in the most trouble in this entire post.)
There's no question that this man took advantage of an intoxicated woman. There's no question that he's a despicable cad. There's no question that his views of God's beautiful gift of sex are so badly messed up as to make one want to pound one's head (and perhaps his head) on a desk. And then go and do the same for the parents and sex ed teachers who taught him such an animalistic, soulless way of looking at the whole subject, subverting the natural light and all feelings of tenderness and naturalness, not to mention, you know, separating sex from love and commitment.
But having that view and even acting on it are not equivalent to rape, and if we treat this as a matter of "rape culture" or "people not caring enough about feminist values," or "people not caring enough about rape," and so forth, we are just misdiagnosing the problem. Badly. The solution to the cesspool that is college hookup culture is not "sex contracts" (yes, there now are such things), not micromanagement of every movement between people in the bedroom, not defining down "rape," not lowering the standard of evidence for rape convictions, not demonizing men generally, and not even the criminalization of sex while intoxicated. (I don't imagine California prosecutors care one whit if a loving, happy husband and wife happen to be tipsy when they make love. I bet they don't even care if only one of them is tipsy under those circumstances.)
The further elevation of making sure you have informed consent before having sex, including with a stranger, is like some kind of medieval medical procedure unrelated to the real cause of the problem. It's like putting a bandage on a cancerous lesion. It's like a superstitious incantation. Or, perhaps a better analogy, it's like the practice of rubbing wound salve on the sword that was thought to have caused a soldier's injury. This sometimes seemed to work, but post hoc is not propter hoc, and the actual cause of any differential recovery rates, in a world without antibiotics, was probably that the wound itself was left untouched by unwashed hands. In the same way, if heartless frat boys with an animalistic view of sex are scared by what has happened to Brock Turner and are therefore less inclined to have sordid sex, behind a dumpster, with a drunken woman whom they have never met before, that's certainly not a bad thing in and of itself. At least they will be doing less moral and physical harm to themselves and others. But it doesn't get at the real problem. It doesn't heal the wound.
Are there men who are badly confused on the matter of rape? Actual rape? Yes, there are. And some of them are creepy patriarchalists and manospherians. (Here's where I'm risking a different set of nasty comments in the comments thread. But I have the delete key at the ready.) But what we see on college campuses, I believe, is not so much "rape culture" as hookup culture. Hookup culture confuses everyone, because all the normal cues, such as love, commitment, and mutual trust and knowledge, are gone. Empty seduction is the norm. Hence the state of mind of the two people involved becomes unknown, one to the other. They behave like rutting animals, setting aside the higher human functions and all that mankind has added to sexuality that raises it above the animal level, and then they are shocked, shocked to find that consent, the one distinctively human trait they want to retain, is only ambiguously present, if present at all. And all the sexologists and sex educators are enablers of the resulting human carnage. Yet the authorities--both civil and educational--think they can tame the beast once they have released it. Eros is made a god and becomes a devil, and then nobody knows what to do with him. So they start crying "Rape," because that's the only thing they can think of to do.
Shouting loudly that Brock Turner is a rapist and that hanging is too good for him doesn't prove that we care about women. Not even if you're a Christian and also happen to believe in the Christian view of sex. Conservative Christians are rightly reacting with disgust to this story, but they need to identify correctly the source of their disgust. I hold no brief for this young man. In fact, I'm pretty disgusted at the thought of him. But what he and probably everyone who was present at that party need is a whole new worldview. Draconian punishments sometimes can play a role in conveying a new worldview, but in this case, I'm inclined to doubt it.
Those embroiled already in the hookup culture may be (humanly speaking) past saving. But if they are not, the human means for saving them will be teaching them such values as love, kindness, commitment, the sanctity of sex, and the joy of holy matrimony. Come to think of it, that's the same best recipe for preventing other people from entering the hookup culture in the first place. For that purpose, treating taking advantage of an intoxicated woman as equivalent to rape is almost certainly the wrong tool.