This One Tweet Sums Up The Insidious Problem With Brock Turner's Mugshots
It's been over a year since Brock Turner was arrested for assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after a party at Stanford University; it's been days since his sentencing. Yet, we are only now seeing Brock Turner's mugshots for the first time. One mugshot was taken the night of the assault, the other taken the day he was handed over to state custody.
The second mugshot — Brock Turner's sentencing booking photo — was released on Monday by Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. In this photo, taken on June 2, 2016, the day he was sentenced to six months in prison, Brock Turner wears a suit. He's clean shaven. He seems reasonably well-rested. He has a haircut.
Later on Monday, Stanford University's Department Of Public Safety released the first mugshot, which was taken after his arrest on Jan. 18, 2015, the morning after the assault took place. This photo shows us a very different Brock Turner. His eyes are bloodshot. His hair is mussed.
In other words: in one mugshot, he looks the part of an all-American swimmer and Stanford University student. In the other mugshot, he looks like someone who just might have raped an unconscious, intoxicated woman.
Jenny Han, the author of P.S. I Still Love You, compared the differences between Turner's two mugshots to the differences in the images of another athlete-scholar accused of rape, Owen Labrie.
Owen Labrie was accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old classmate in 2014, during his senior year at the elite St. Paul's School in New Hampshire. He, like Brock Turner, was a star athlete bound for a prestigious university — in his case, Harvard. He was ultimately found guilty of a felony related to his online communication with the victim and three misdemeanor sexual assault charges, as well as one misdemeanor related to child welfare endangerment.
In the mugshot from the night of his arrest, Labrie is not wearing glasses, and his hair is streaked with blonde and honey brown highlights. He looks like a bit of a jock. (In a <Vanity Fair piece published earlier this year, writer Todd S. Purdum says that social-media and yearbook photos of Owen Labrie show a "handsome, suntanned, windblown frat-boy-in-training.")
But when Labrie appeared in court, his appearance had changed dramatically. His hair was several shades darker, and he wore a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. He looked, now, like a bit of a "nerd." Like someone who was too smart, too awkward, too nice to assault a 15-year-old girl.
In a piece about the case for The Boston Globe, writer Eric Levenson dissected the "nerd" defense, a tactic that exploits jurors' tendencies to evaluate the demeanor of the accused. The "nerd" defense rests upon the assumption that jurors will ask, "Is he the kind of person who would do this?" instead of asking, "Did he do this?"
The glasses aren't just to help with vision. Legal experts said wearing frames are part of the regular, tried-and-true strategy of making a defendant look more sympathetic for a jury trial.
That assumption — the idea that only certain people assault others — is steeped in rape culture. But the sad reality is, this "nerd" defense worked, to some degree.
In a Fox News segment, a defense attorney named Keith Sullivan told host Bill Hemmer that Labrie couldn't have possibly raped a girl because he looks like Harry Potter:
And as she pointed out, the prosecution, on the clip, he doesn't look like a rapist. He sits there, he looks like Harry Potter. He sits there with his glasses on, this young innocent kid. How could be possibly violently and maliciously rape this woman and plan it for months and months at a time as the prosecution claims?
This mentality isn't new, and withholding Brock Turner's mugshot is part of the same pattern. The lawyers for Brock Turner and Owen Labrie had the same agenda: to control the image of their client so people saw what they wanted them to see: bright, clean, athletic, intelligent young men with their whole futures ahead of them. The kind of men we've been conditioned to believe don't rape.
Because the media did not have access to Turner's original mugshot until June 7, the public was forced to see the pictures of Brock Turner that were available: photos of him smiling in a suit and tie; pictures of him receiving medals for his competitive swimming successes; pictures of him affably grinning while wearing his Stanford sweatshirt. These photos show Brock Turner as an athlete, a scholar, a success. They don't show Brock Turner as a convicted rapist.
There an inherent racism and classism in the action of withholding mugshots or changing appearances of accused rapists. Such privileges would never be allowed to men of color, or to poor men. This action reinforces the stereotype that only one "kind of guy" rapes — and it's not the kind of guy who attends Ivy League institutions on athletic scholarships. This is a dangerous mentality, and one that can only be overcome when we all accept the brutal truth of the matter: if you rape someone, you are a rapist.
It doesn't matter if you are a champion swimmer or celebrated soccer player. It doesn't matter if you attend one of the top universities or high schools in the world. And it certainly doesn't matter what you wear or how you look.