In January of this year Brock Turner was discovered publically sexually assaulting a woman at a Stanford University undergraduate party (Buzzfeed News). Once found, Turner attempted to run but was chased, tackled and restrained by two witnesses. Initially there were five charges, two charges of rape, one for attempted rape and two for sexual assault (Atlanta Journal Constitution). The charges of rape were dropped after reviewing DNA test results between the rape kit and Tuner. In March, Tuner was found guilty of three felony offenses: sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object and sexual assault with intent to rape an intoxicated person. He was sentenced to six months in jail out of the minimum of two years and maximum of fourteen years. He only served half of his sentence (three months). Though convicted of sexual assault charges and an attempted rape charge, the media continuously uses the now registered sex offender’s previous title of being a Stanford swimmer in headlines. This case is the perfect example of white and male privilege playing a major role within the judicial system and in the media.
The media continuously downplays Turner’s actions because of his status, athleticism, race and gender. According to the Intercept, “Associated Press, USA Today, TIME, CNN, Sports Illustrated, MSNBC, and the BBC were criticized by readers for failing to immediately identify Turner as someone who had committed sexual assault.” The article also shared that TIME referred to Turner as “former Stanford swimmer and star swimmer” and did not acknowledge his crimes of sexual assault until the story’s third line. Many took to twitter in response to the articles. One tweet by freelance writer and author, Danielle Campoamor, read “Dear @TIME & @SInow, you spelled “convicted rapist” wrong. Brock Turner THE CONVICTED RAPIST, not Stanford Swimmer,” and has received over 3,600 retweets and likes combined. One explanation of why media outlets never used the words “convicted rapist” was because Turner was only convicted of attempted rape and rape-related charges. Using “convicted rapists” would be legally incorrect but using statuses that formally applied to the convicted felon is downplaying his crimes. Media sources continuously used the sex offender’s most professional looking photo displayed on the internet. Tuner’s official mugshots were not released by Stanford or by the Santa Clara County’s Sheriff’s Office for 16 months, noted by NBC News. Many commented that if he was a person of color or lower status that the mug shots would have been released immediately, much more accessible and present in the media. The mug shot images were not released to the media until journalists badgered both the sheriff’s office and Stanford.
Discrimination based on race affects the judicial system and the way the media portrays the sentences. Because Turner is white, his mugshots were hidden for many months while in cases where black men were killed, mugshots were used to let the public know about their tragic deaths. Black and other minority victims are not only victims in the way that they were killed, they’re victims of the media when it comes to the use of their images. According to the Denver Post, a White Aurora officer shot and killed an unarmed Black male during a traffic stop. On the Denver Post’s twitter, the officer’s photo was an official police photo in uniform and an American flag behind him, while the man he killed had a mugshot to honor him. Another example of racial discrimination in the media was a Texas State student was killed during a home invasion and the photo used was also a mugshot. Corey Batey’s case was very similar to Turner’s. New York Daily News stated that Batey, an African-American, 19-year-old football player at Vanderbilt, also sexually assaulted an unconscious woman and was found guilty on three felony counts. He was charged with aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. “He was immediately remanded into custody and must serve a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 to 25 years in prison.” Turner only served three of his six months in a local jail out of the two-year minimum for the crimes he committed.
The media creates and enforces stereotypes that affect judicial outcomes in which the media continues to encourage after the verdicts. Turners case is a great example of this. The media continuously called and continues to call him “Stanford simmer, All-American swimmer, Stanford student, star athlete and more,” before and after he was convicted of three felony counts of rape related charges. Black men or other minority men and women do not have this luxury or privilege of being looked at differently by the judicial system. This is also the case for the media related to and surrounding their cases and images to display the crimes committed. Minorities do not even get the privilege of being honored after being killed. The photographs used for minorities continue to be mug shots even when they have done nothing wrong other than being a victim in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is a sad reflection of how the media portrays race and encourages stereotyping.