Brock Turner: A Rapist, Not a Swimmer

By Theresa King

Brock Turner. That name has been plastered across social media for months, and for good reason. 21-year-old Turner, a former swimmer at Stanford University, was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault in March after raping an unnamed victim behind a dumpster, until he was stopped by two Swedish bicyclists.

One aspect of the case that has been controversial, aside from the case itself, has been the media portrayal of Turner throughout the trial. Praise and sympathy have been common in news articles about Turner, because he was a college swimmer, which have included his swim times and formal athletic photos rather than his mug shot. This biased coverage of Turner’s case has displayed detrimental issues in media and society, including double standards, rape culture and victimization.

Decision-making is vital in journalism. Reporters are responsible for choosing which information in a story is most important, where to place it, how to word it and, more importantly, how to remain objective. The latter has proved difficult for various media outlets in Turner’s case.

Often for news stories, mug shots or normal photos of the alleged criminals are chosen as the main graphic for the articles. For Turner, an upper class white athlete, a university-taken photo was chosen, where he is shown smiling and chipper. Moreover, the headlines often included his status as a swimmer and athlete, rather than identity as a convicted rapist.

One Washington Post article was headlined, “All-American swimmer found guilty of sexually assaulting unconscious woman on Stanford campus.” The choice of describing Turner as an “All-American swimmer,” as well as avoiding the use of the word ‘rape’ emphasizes that he is a swimmer first and convicted sexual predator last, which should not be the case.

When The Washington Post reports on other sexual assault cases, such as ones with an African-American suspect, the headlines read, “Man is sentenced to three life terms for Prince William County rape” and “Montgomery County beer-pong rape case ends in 150-year sentence.” Even more, those stories included mug shots of the convicted rapists, not yearbook photos, calling Turner “baby-faced” and the sexual assault “a stunning fall from grace.”

The Washington Post is not the only source with double standards, though. According to Fusion, NBC, BBC and CNN all used a mug shot from a previous, unrelated arrest to attach to reports of Sam DuBose, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing at a traffic stop in 2015.

Turner’s swimming times, hobbies or future in athleticism are not excuses for the crime he committed, and the media is partially responsible to make that clear. Unfortunately, double standards are evident, and because Turner is an upper class white male, he is viewed differently. Turner is not an athlete who made a mistake, he assaulted and took advantage of a woman behind a dumpster.