Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What to make of Brock Turner

Over the last few weeks, the Internet has been awash about the news of Stanford student Brock Turner and his six month conviction for the rape of a fellow student at a college party. There is quite a bit of (justified) outrage at the very light sentence he got, and his father's testimony in court about his son's "20 minutes of action". This case brings back the perverse nature of college campus parties, where anything seems to be OK in the name of peer pressure. There is something deeply wrong with the ethics that students are learning, where fitting in to the crowd seem to be more important that upholding individual self-righteousness.

The biggest mistake here is certainly that of the judge, with a very light sentence for a very serous crime. And it was a crime, committed by an adult, no matter how much the parents try to show him as a child. He is an adult who made a huge mistake and, like everything in life, has to face the consequences for it. While judicial discretion is in the books, it should not be arbitrary. Rape on college campuses is a very serious issue that made headlines last year, and Vice President Joe Biden has been talking about it for a long time. The University of Illinois has a student initiative to stop the violent culture that seems to be continue to exist despite everybody knowing that it is wrong. A lenient sentencing does not help.

However, even as we call for a more commensurate punishment, we must also stop and think about the limits of the lynch mob that Mr. Turner is being subject too. Certainly he deserves more punishment, but does he deserve, as many have suggested, to have his life ruined forever, or even to be killed? That betrays a deep misunderstanding of the law itself. Modern law outside of Islamic countries is not about eye-for-an-eye reactions, it is about protecting society from the perpetrator while simultaneously trying to make the perpetrator repent and hopefully come back as a responsible member of society. In this case, we are talking about a 19 year old young adult who can still do something for himself and society in the future - certainly not what he wanted to do, but something productive nonetheless. Of course, he must first stay in jail for a substantial period of time (more than he has been sentenced to right now) so that he understands the error he made and hopefully comes out with better wisdom for the world ahead. But locking him away forever, or killing him, again as some over-enthusiastic people have called for, defies the very purpose for having a civilized rule of law.

The most shameful part of the whole affair has been the testimonies of the parents, particularly the father. While nobody expects them to simply fall in line, there seems to be a lack of acknowledgement of just how serious the crime was. And perhaps that explains why the young Mr. Turner's judgment was found so lacking that night - he never really seemed to get any sense of it while growing up from the people who were supposed to instill it to him. That is the biggest problem with the way kids are being raised today, and it is showing on college campuses.

On a side note, the people who saved the victim were graduate students. Maybe there is still some hope on college campuses!


Kartikey said...

What do you think about the efforts to recall the judge and get him disciplined by the judicial ethics committee?

Sushobhan Sen said...

As long as it is done legally, I think it's fine. The victim may also consider an appeal.