In case you’ve been boycotting social media for the past week, or vacationing on a desert island, we thought we’d catch you up a bit on a story involving two SPA faculty members that generated a huge amount of attention.
Professors Callie Rennison and Mary Dodge co-authored the textbook Introduction to Criminal Justice: Systems, Diversity, and Change. Now in its second edition, the book is widely used in criminal justice courses across the country — including Washington State University. There, freshman Hannah Kendall Shuman was doing homework when she noticed a familiar face in her textbook: Brock Turner, who served only three months for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford in 2015. His mugshot is featured under the definition of “rape” in the textbook, along with a caption that reads:
Brock Turner, a Stanford student who raped and assaulted an unconscious female college student behind a dumpster at a fraternity party, was recently released from jail after serving only three months. Some are shocked at how short this sentence is. Others who are more familiar with the way sexual violence has been handled in the criminal justice system are shocked that he was found guilty and served time at all. What do you think?
On Sept. 7, Shuman posted a photo of the textbook page to Facebook, stating: “He may have been able to get out of prison time but in my Criminal Justice 101 textbook, Brock Turner is the definition of rape, so he’s got that goin (sic) for him.”
From there things snowballed quickly. To date, Shuman’s post has been shared 107,000 times and liked 63,000 times. Others shared the post nearly 100,000 times on Twitter, and a Reddit thread garnered 4,100 comments.
Mainstream media quickly picked up the story and ran with it. Here’s just a sampling of the coverage:
The original Facebook post going viral and the ensuing media coverage has sparked an important conversation about the disparities in the way in which sexual violence is dealt with in the criminal justice system. It has also sparked conversation about the terms “rape” and “sexual assault.” There is no consistent use of these terms across law enforcement jurisdictions, so one may use “sexual assault” to refer to the exact same act that another jurisdiction uses to refer to “rape.”
This lack of consistency has long been recognized and is part of the reason that the International Association of Chiefs of Police and, later, the FBI, developed the Uniform Crime Reporting System, which standardizes crimes. As described in Rennison and Dodge’s textbook, rape involves nonconsensual penetration using any body part or any object. Sexual assault is generally reserved for non-penetrative actions. These standardized definitions are used by the FBI and other agencies in the Department of Justice.
As noted in the textbook, the statutory definitions of rape in the State of California (where Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault) differ from those of the FBI. Turner’s actions, as determined by the California jury, fit the standards for the FBI definition of rape, as well as certain other state definitions, but not the California definition of rape as of the time of the final book manuscript. It is important to note the California legislature passed AB701 after the Turner case (and using the Turner case) to amend the California rape statute and added a section to its Penal Code stating that “all forms of nonconsensual sexual assault may be considered rape.”
The discussion about this topic suggests an opportunity for the authors to clarify the text in the next printing. Users of the textbook can expect to see more detailed discussion about these terms and definitions at that time.
So now you’re up to speed. In an upcoming post, we’ll talk with Professors Rennison and Dodge about the experience, and any lessons learned.