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What the Dumpster Can Teach Us in the Turner Rape Case

This article was originally published by Psychology Today. It is reprinted here by permission.

By Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D.

Ever since I heard the news about Brock Turner’s rape of a young woman, I have found myself fixated on one thing. No, not Brock’s hideous and heinous crime, not his father’s ugly and desperate letter, cloaked in privilege, that reveals all that is broken about norms of masculinity and brotherhood as related to violence, not the victim, not the embarrassingly short six month sentence, not another media outlet’s construction of Brock as a prepubescent looking, very white, smiling athlete, not the (in)justice system.

I am fixated on the dumpster. On the fact that when Brock raped this young woman, he left her behind a dumpster. I am reminded of the cases of men who have raped, murdered and dismembered women and left their body parts in dumpsters. I am also reminded of all the violent offenders I counseled in intervention groups who referred to women as ***dumpsters.

I am reminded of what we leave in, and beside, dumpsters: trash. Garbage. Things we do not want anymore. Things we wish to discard, dispose of. Things that do not mean anything to us. Things we just as soon get rid of. Things that we decide no longer have value.

The problem with violence against women and society’s response to it is that we have failed to see this most basic thing: that in order to do that much damage to another person, in order to use up someone’s body and spirit like that, one must so thoroughly objectify and dehumanize the other person that then this other person becomes a thing. A commodity. Something that can be tossed or shredded and thrown away. Forgotten about.

So, when I read Brock’s father’s letter, what was most outrageous wasn’t just the comment about the “20 minutes of action” (yes, that was appalling and anyway, murder takes less time and it is still a punishable crime) or the rib-eye steaks and the swimming. Those were the desperate attempts by a father to reminisce and humanize his son. Those comments are riddled with the very minimization, denial, sidetracking, and seeing oneself as the victim that are all cornerstones of violence against women.

What strikes me is what appears to be a real absence of a father knowing the importance of teaching his son about respect for women as human beings with interests, desires, hopes, fears, dreams—and bodies—of their own. Any number of young men could have been raised by Brock’s father and become rapists themselves because the line of thinking and socialization that produces statements about fresh cuts of meat and 20 minutes of action is the sensibility we must worry about most. We must create a culture that views women and their bodies as worthy, as valuable, and indispensable. Imagine if that’s what Brock, and all the men like him, had grown up understanding.

Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort where she teaches and writes about the intersections of the self and society.