Socialist Equality Party and the Stanford Rape Case

There’s a group of Trotskyists out of the United States called the Socialist Equality Party (SEP). The group recently published a piece condemning the public outrage over the conviction of Stanford University freshman Brock Allen Turner. As you may recall he was recently convicted of sexual assault. Why sexual assault and not rape? Because he was convicted of, “assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.” [i] According to California law, this is not rape, although it has the same effect on the victim.

The judge in the case gave the man only six months of prison time. Given good behaviour, he may only serve three of them. The public was outraged at this incredibly lenient sentence. Someone who would essentially torture a woman and violate her receives only six months? The judge in the case said he gave the sentence because he didn’t want it to ruin his life. Public anger towards the decision of the judge is just. It is a travesty of justice that such a predator should be given such an easy sentence.

So why did the Socialist Equality Party write an article for their online newspaper, the World Socialist Web Site, condemning the public outrage? In the eyes of the group and the article’s author Tom Carter, the anger is misplaced. In their view, the struggle against  “white male privilege” and “rape culture,” is wholly reactionary because it distracts from a proper class analysis and struggle.

I’ll let them speak in their own words:

“The campaign around the sentencing of Turner, it should be stated directly, is lacking entirely in anything that might remotely be described as politically and socially progressive. The feminist professors at Stanford University who have whipped up the campaign against Persky and who are screaming for a harsher sentence for Turner have not bothered to work out the implications of their positions and actions. The focus on “victims’ rights”—the notion that criminal proceedings are intended to facilitate convictions and satisfy the victim’s desire for revenge rather than ensure a fair trial for the accused—has been a trademark of right-wing legal theorists for decades.

“The American political and media establishment has, through long practice, made a science out of turning tragedies into profitable sensations and political opportunities. The participation of self-described “left” and “feminist” and “progressive” figures in these right-wing campaigns, side-by-side with state prosecutors and the gutter press, only testifies to the disoriented moods that prevail in these circles.


“Hysterical “sexual violence” campaigns, such as the one now underway with respect to the Stanford case, are designed to pollute the political atmosphere, prevent an objective and rational discussion of the most pressing issues of war and inequality, and obscure the basic class divisions in society.”[ii]

While I would agree that the mainstream discourse on the matter is overwhelmingly liberal and “Social Justice Warrior” focused; it is important to keep in mind that he is guilty of a sexual offense.  It is right to be outraged at the pitiful sentence handed down by the judge. The judge’s decision really does confirm the “white male privilege” and “rape culture,” that exists. I would agree that the mainstream discourse is not Marxist, and detracts from revolutionary struggle. However, this is not the moment to condemn it. This man is guilty of a serious crime and should receive no such defense from so-called socialists.

If, to the SEP, this case is really about the attempt to, “prevent an objective and rational discussion of the most pressing issues of war and inequality” –  then why have they taken the effort to lie about the facts of the case?

“What facts are available about the Stanford case are hazy and disputed, as they often are in such cases. On the night in question, two students discovered 20-year-old freshman Brock Allen Turner with the 22-year-old woman on the ground near a trash bin on campus. The woman was partially undressed and unconscious, with Turner on top of her.

“The woman, whose name has been withheld from the public, says she does not remember the encounter at all. In Turner’s version of events, the two met at a fraternity party earlier that evening, danced, kissed, and held hands. The subsequent sexual encounter, Turner claimed, was consensual. Both were extremely drunk. Certain social and cultural factors—immaturity, alcoholism on college campuses, the phenomenon of fraternity parties—played, as they usually do in such cases, a destructive role.”[iii]

This statement is rape apologism at its most blatant.  The facts are not “hazy” as the SEP asserts. Turner was caught red handed carrying out sexual acts upon an unconscious woman by two men. The woman was unconscious and unable to give consent. There is no gray area here, these acts were without consent. These “cultural factors” are nothing less than an excuse for abusive behaviour. Being drunk isn’t a defense either.  He knew he was doing something wrong, which is why he ran when he was discovered. This is nothing less than a defense of what Turner did.

It seems almost too painful for the SEP to admit what he did was wrong. They won’t even admit it. Instead, they lament how much Turner is going to suffer for the rest of his life.

“In addition to the prison term, Turner will have to register as a sex offender. The combination of three felony convictions, a prison term, and registration as a sex offender has forever and catastrophically altered the life of this 20-year-old youth. His academic career has been ended. Apparently a gifted swimmer, he has no future as an athlete. Moreover, he has been the subject of an unrestrained nationwide hate campaign—with his name, face and home address plastered all over the news and social media for days on end—and he has been denounced as a monster by the vice-president of the United States. Contrary to the claims of the media, Turner has not gotten off lightly.”[iv]

 In another baffling moment, they attack the Obama administration for not caring about the sexual abuses and rapes carried out by U.S. soldiers in places like Abu Ghraib and others. This has no bearing on whether or not Turner is guilty. You can rightfully claim that the bourgeois government doesn’t care about the victims of imperialism, nor do they really care about the victim in this case. This is, however, not a defense for Turner. This is not proof that he is being treated unfairly as the SEP laments. It is a total non-sequitur, an appeal to hypocrisy as a complete defense of Turner.

Why does the Socialist “Equality” Party have such an affinity for defending rapists? In the past the SEP has been quite protective of the pedophile rapist Roman Polanski. They’ve opposed his extradition numerous times, denouncing it as “imperialism.”[v] The facts of his case are well known. Why do they have a history of defending sexual predators?

The SEP has been a longstanding opponent of genuine revolutionary science by adhering to its reactionary Trotskyist line. This latest incident of defending sexual predators is just another example of why the organization should be shunned and denounced for being the terrorists against women they are


[i] Brock Turner was convicted of sexual assault but not “rape.” What does that mean?, VOX

[ii] The right-wing campaign over the Stanford University sexual assault case, World Socialist Web Site

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Search of the WSWS online archive of articles