Social Media and the Stanford Rape Case

By now, the Brock Turner case (or perhaps more familiarly, the Stanford Rape Case) is common household knowledge. The leniency of Turner’s sentence has both sparked public outrage and kindled a much-needed national conversation on sexual assault and rape. Undoubtedly, this reaction is warranted, but some were surprised by the intensity of it. After all, it is estimated that an American is sexually assaulted once every two minutes. Sexual violence on campuses is an obvious problem, as is rape culture in athletics. At least 11% of college students will experience sexual assault and rape. A small percentage of these assaults are reported, but almost none of those cases get the publicity of the Turner case. Additionally, Turner committed and was arrested for this rape over one year ago in January of 2015, with significantly less national attention.

When Turner’s sentence was handed down by Judge Aaron Persky, however, a media frenzy ensued. Renewed outrage followed the publication of a letter from Brock Turner’s father, pleading on his son’s behalf. Politicians organized a reading of the survivor’s letter on the House floor, uniting Democrats and Republicans alike. Petitions were started to remove Judge Persky, and a dissatisfied juror came forward to share a scathing letter to the judge. Even popular celebrities like Channing Tatum took a stand. But what makes this case so unique?

How did this happen?

Undeniably, the bravery of the survivor in publicly sharing her letter to Turner was crucial. If you have not already, you can read the letter in its entirety here. The letter quickly went viral after being shared on BuzzFeed. From there, social media caught fire with the story as individuals repeatedly reposted, retweeted, shared, blogged, and commented extensively on the case, the sentence, and the survivor’s powerful statement. Media reports about the case and public portrayals of Brock Turner came under intense scrutiny, as the public was quick to point out that the focus on the perpetrator’s athletic prowess, privileged upbringing, and studies at a prestigious university were irrelevant to the crime committed and the survivor’s pain and suffering. Slowly, Turner’s mugshot began to replace his groomed, professional headshot on television and online. Journalists, reporters, and Americans in general were challenged to consider their choice of language and its contribution to victim blaming and rape culture in America. Although often bemoaned as being detrimental to our youth, social media was the star in this case, as it became the perfect platform to stimulate national outrage over injustice.

How can we use this to our advantage?

So where do we go from here? There is fear that the leniency of Turner’s sentence would discourage other survivors from reporting sexual assaults, potentially viewing the whole, agonizing process as futile for such a slap on the wrist. Although it is unreasonable to expect every rape survivor to share such a powerful, intimate message with the world on social media, there is hope that the courage of the survivor in the Turner rape case inspires other individuals who have experienced sexual assault to come forward to seek justice and share their stories, while maintaining their privacy and anonymity if so desired. This case thoroughly demonstrates the utility of social media in bringing major societal issues into the spotlight on a national (and international) stage, forcing public recognition, discussion, and action. Americans, particularly young Americans, are active and verbose on social media, and this is a force that can be appropriately channeled to effect great changes both socially and politically.

How can YOU use social media to make a difference?

Briana Snyder, PhD(c), RN-BC, CNE is a board certified nurse with The Trauma Disorders Program at Sheppard Pratt Health System. She is pursuing her PhD in nursing with a focus on intimate partner violence, which she will complete in December 2016.