Earlier this year, Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was convicted for the brutal rape of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster during his freshman year. The presiding judge, Aaron Persky, gave Turner a light, six-month sentence – which was commuted to three for good behavior – igniting a firestorm of criticism over how schools handle sexual assault, how the legal system handles "good kid perpetrators" and how deeply ingrained and prevalent rape culture still is.
Yesterday, Stanford's college president John Hennessy and provost John Etchemendy issued a statement to all students outlining a new policy that bans undergraduates from consuming any hard liquor on campus. This policy is part of the university's effort to address concerns surrounding on-campus rape in the wake of the Turner case, but unfortunately, it merely serves as another reminder of the problematic logic that suggests alcohol is to blame for assault.
Worse, this is the very logic used by Turner's lawyers and himself in his defense.
I wake up having dreamt of these horrific events that I have caused. I am completely consumed by my poor judgment and ill thought actions .... I've been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school
At best, this is the overzealous work of a school that doesn't know how to handle and curb sexual assault, as so many don't. At worst, it suggests that the administration actually believes that alcohol is an equalizer when it comes to sexual assault, and sympathize with Turner.
Hennessy and Etchemendy's decision indicates that Stanford agrees with Turner's laughable "party culture" argument. There's also peculiar emphasis on "young" female undergraduates (as if sexual assault disappears for grad students) and external factors (i.e. the "misinterpreted intentions" that come with women drinking) that tend to excuse the rapist. Making matters worse, a new "Female Bodies and Alcohol" page on Stanford's website tells us "science" has an explanation for why banning alcohol is the best way to prevent sexual assault.
The section has since been deleted, but an archived version of the original page reads, "Research tells us that women who are seen drinking alcohol are perceived to be more sexually available than they may actually be. Individuals who are even a little intoxicated are more likely to be victimized than those who are not drinking. Other research studies have shown that men who think they have been drinking alcohol…feel sexually aroused and are more responsive to erotic stimuli, including rape scenarios."
Rather than setting forth policies to more aggressively demonstrate that the behavior of rapists will not be tolerated, Stanford continues to serve as an incubator for the kind of privilege that thinks it can steamroll its way over "justice."
Though Stanford clearly feels the need to create new policies that address campus rape, this seems like another bungled attempt by an institution of higher learning to address a real problem. The school has had months to reflect on what's one of the most publicized and controversial campus rape stories in recent memory, and yet here we are back at square one with a statement that sounds like it was written in 1965.
Meanwhile, Judge Aaron Persky, who came under fire for his lenient ruling of Turner -- a "star swimmer" who he feared jail would have a "severe" impact upon (although he continued to serve a years-long sentence to Latino man convicted of similar crime) -- has recently taken a back seat. This week he recused himself from making another ruling on another sex crime case. Stanford seems to just be picking up where Persky left off.