Why Death Threats Against Brock Turner Are Not The Right Response

On Friday, convicted sex offender Brock Turner will rejoin the free population after serving only three months of his original six-month sentence. Given the highly public nature of his case and the ensuing (arguably too short) sentence, people are understandably very angry. In the opinion of many, the "Stanford rapist" is a monster who escaped serious punishment because he's white and affluent. But death threats against Brock Turner are not the right response, if for no other reason than that such threats are themselves the result of a system aimed at stifling change and discourse.

I want to go on the record here and say that I'm a victim of sexual assault and abuse, and there are few people who are as vitriolic in their opposition to Turner's sentencing (or lack thereof) as I am. But I'm also a female journalist who's made her career online, and as a result, I've received my fair share of death threats (in addition to rape threats). It's been my experience, and that of plenty others, that death threats only serve to silence and intimidate, and are the byproducts of a culture that seems to believe that threatening individuals will result in suppression of their voices.

This isn't to say that I, by any means, care about Turner's well-being, either physically or mentally. Rather, I believe a culture that accepts or even encourages death threats in any circumstance is not progressive in the least — even if the target is a vile sex offender.

This isn't a call for anti-violence, because death threats, in and of themselves, are not about the actual violence itself. Yes, they allude to violent actions, but they are very often not carried out. The violence contained within death threats is found in the rejection of an idea or worldview, often as exemplified by an individual.

In this instance, Turner has become a poster boy for white privilege and rape culture. When people threaten figures like him, they are lashing out at the injustice of the fact that someone actually guilty of a violent crime got the legal equivalent of a slap on the wrist when Black people have been killed and jailed for nothing more than the racist suspicion of law enforcement. That anger is understandable, but when the means for that resistance utilizes the same violent silencing tactics leveled against the most vulnerable members of our societies simply for existing, it is not revolutionary — it's a cop-out.

The "Stanford Rapist" is not on the same playing field as all the groups targeted by death-threatening trolls, and those who issue death threats towards him are far from the typical slime bags who target us — in fact, many of them are likely sexual assault and rape survivors themselves. But to use this specific form of violence not only sanctions the overall culture of trolling, doxxing, and death threats — it also does nothing to solve the issues of white privilege and rape culture endemic in the Turner case.

One sex offender might fear for his life, but that would not deter thousands of others from committing the life-shattering act of sexual assault. To participate in this kind of patriarchal violence is to further its ends, and no self-professed anti-rape activist should stoop to the level of agents of violent misogyny like Turner.

Image: NBC (1)