Celina Oseguera/Mustang News

Abbie Lauten-Scrivner is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.

This week, libertarian Lauren Southern will speak on campus by invitation of the Cal Poly Republicans Club. Southern is known for her critique of the claim that rape culture exists in the west — a critique I have a problem with.

Rape culture occurs in “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” The attitudes of such a society shape the way cases of sexual assault are talked about, reported, covered in the news and treated within the judicial system.

American society employs some form of punishment against those legally proven to be perpetrators of sexual assault; that much is certain. But how easy does our system make it for victims to report abuse, without once again encountering a host of maltreatment? Do we believe victims when they speak out? Do we facilitate the preservation of their dignity? The answer to both of these questions is disheartening due to legal loopholes, victim doubting and a readiness to forgive rapists plaguing the process of bringing justice to victims.

Look at the high profile cases in the news recently. There was the so-called “Stanford Rape Case” (People v. Turner), where Brock Turner preyed upon, assaulted and raped an unconscious woman. Twenty-year-old Turner’s feigned flimsy claim of ignorance and confusion about what constituted consent suckered the media and the judiciary system into relieving him of any punishment that would have fit his crime.

Platforms such as the Associated Press, USA Today, TIME, CNN, Sports Illustrated, MSNBC and the BBC began stories by citing Turner as a “star swimmer” whose life was horribly disrupted. These stories failed to report him as someone convicted of sexual assault until several lines later. This framed Turner as a tragic character instead of a villain.

Despite staggering evidence, Turner managed to twist the narrative so that he became the victimized party. His masterful ability to garner sympathy wooed the media and the judge, knocking his sentence from 14 years in prison to six months in jail. Can’t let “20 minutes of action” ruin the poor boy’s life, never mind the woman he brutalized and dehumanized.

As the victim stated in her letter to Turner, he never grasped that his actions constituted rape. “He has only apologized for drinking,” she said, “and has yet to define what he did to me as sexual assault.” It just would not compute for him.

The gross misunderstanding between what Turner believed happened and what actually occurred is evidence Turner grew up in a culture that so completely normalized his monstrous actions that he could not clearly understand them even after a year in court.

The inability to recognize rape as rape and the readiness to forgive such poor, confused individuals is seen again in Bill Cosby’s high profile case. Years of victim blaming and the stubborn persistence of the toxic notion of a “gray area” in consent allowed Cosby to drug and assault women for decades.

Though Cosby admits to drugging women to sleep with them, he insists he never raped them.

This socially perpetuated “gray area” is not the only gaping hole in our judicial defense of victims of rape. Statute of limitations acted in Cosby’s favor for years as older cases couldn’t bring charges against him. It was only after charges of him recently assaulting a woman were brought that there is a possibility he may finally be brought to justice.

Now, yet again, a newer case is disturbing audiences with its claims. Baylor University’s football team has been accused of promoting gang rape as a bonding experience for players. Supposedly, this went on for more than four years without being stopped. College football is a fixture of American culture and this fan-favorite certainly sounds like it has a culture of rape to me.

Everyone acts shocked when cases such as these come to light. We wonder how it could ever have happened and tell ourselves it must have been an anomaly. This is fallacious, especially when so many cases go unreported or receive much less attention than the aforementioned high profile cases. These aren’t anomalies. They are symptomatic of a culture that failed to remove the gray areas and loopholes which fail sexual assault survivors on a regular basis.

Our inaction to remove these loopholes and surprised reactions when these cases come to light serve as proof that we are “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” Rape culture exists and it exists in this country.

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