Stanford Rape Case: Will Cyber-Vigilantism Become the New Norm?

JaredWhitleySo because I have not spent the last month on Mars in a cave with my eyes closed and my fingers in my ears, I have heard about this Stanford rape case.

To sum up: 20-year-old swimmer Brock Turner sexually assaulted an intoxicated woman outside a fraternity party, was caught, convicted, and given a very light sentence by Judge Aaron Persky.

Once this came to international attention, with the victim bravely sharing online how this had hurt her, the Internet exploded with (justifiable) rage, with people calling for the judge’s recall, campus reform, and Turner’s head.


Note that the reaction to this horrible crime, and miscarriage of justice, dispels the notion that we have a “rape culture” in this country. We believe that rape is evil, we have enacted laws to make it criminal, and we have attached incomparable social stigma to perpetrators. We have an anti-rape culture (much as I hate to break it to those who feel otherwise).

The problem here is not a widespread cultural one: one bad actor violated the laws of society and, after he was caught by his classmates and convicted by a jury of his peers, one bad judge gave him a slap on the wrist. Stanford didn’t try to cover this up or protect Turner.

(Note that Persky is a liberal judge appointed by Democrat Gray Davis – the California governor who was recalled in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Remember folks: if you want harsher sentencing, you have an alternative.)

But three things occur to me.

First, so much worldwide shame has been heaped upon Turner that it is only a matter of time before he kills himself. I don’t believe he will ever register as a sex offender because he won’t live that long. I don’t generally feel sympathy for convicted felons of violent crimes and I support capital punishment, but a lot of people who talk about “rape culture” don’t feel that way, so it’s interesting to see their unrestrained vitriol that will inevitably result in Turner’s suicide.

(Note: when it happens, I won’t cry – and if this scares future attackers into good behavior, I will cheer.)

Two, eventually this kind of cyber-vigilantism – which is what this is: citizens taking criminal reciprocity into their own hands – will target a wrongly accused person who might also kill himself to avoid the Internet’s powerful shame offensive. I believe that most professional journalists are ethical, but no such restraint exists in the blogosphere and social media is a hate-fueled cesspool of mobocracy.

(Maybe I’m wrong and cyber-vigilantism will end up exonerating some innocent people instead, but I’m not that optimistic.)

Three, despite the fact that the ingredients of this case were alcohol, fraternities, and a liberal judge, The Salt Lake Tribune will find some way to blame this on the BYU Honor Code.