In 2016, Brock Turner was charged with three counts of sexual assault – including one count of assault with intent to rape against an anonymous woman, known as Emily Doe. This week, in Turner’s appeal, his lawyer, Eric Multhaup, argued that his client never intended to rape Doe, but rather, that he was seeking “outercourse”. Multhaup explained that this was a form of sexual contact where the participants were clothed. He argued that this was a “version of safe sex”.
I literally shuddered at my desk when I read that line: a “version of safe sex”.
Doe was found unconscious behind a rubbish bin. She was found with her bra pulled out of her dress. Her dress hiked up to her waist. Her hair tangled and matted with pine needles. According to her testimony: “I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognise.”
A version of safe sex.
Doe was found by two Swedish men, Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, who happened to be cycling past. At the trial in 2016, Ardnt testified: “Peter said to the man, 'What the fuck are you doing? She's fucking unconscious.' Then the man started running.” Jonsson testified that when he tackled Turner to the ground and sat on top of him to prevent him from trying to escape, he asked Turner, “What are you smiling for?”
What Turner’s lawyer means when he says 'a version of safe sex' isn’t sex where both parties felt safe. Or both parties consented. Or even where both parties were in a position to consent
A version of safe sex.
The audacity of that statement – the audacity of this appeal – is revolting. Turner was sentenced to six months in jail, of which he only served three. The judge who sentenced him has since been recalled for his lenient sentencing and the sympathy he expressed for Turner during the sentencing, when he asserted: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him”. Talking to The Guardian, Anne Coughlin, a University of Virginia law professor, said: “It’s just breathtaking in its cruelty. It feels like a juvenile, adolescent joke that utterly denies the extent of the injury that was proved at the trial. It’s just awful.”
What Turner’s lawyer means when he says “a version of safe sex” isn’t sex where both parties felt safe. Or both parties consented. Or even where both parties were in a position to consent. What he means is that, because Turner’s genitals weren’t exposed when he lay on top of an unconscious woman and thrust himself against her, there was no risk of an STI or an unwanted pregnancy. In the early hours of 18 January 2015, Emily Doe was not safe. When she finally regained consciousness in hospital, at around 4.30am, to find her body covered in bruises and abrasions, she did not even feel safe in her own body, she recalls thinking: “I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it…”
Emily Doe was not safe.