Article Lead Image

Photo via Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Remix by Jason Reed

Why Brock Turner’s mugshot matters

Rapists come in many forms, including white, privileged athletes.


Avital Norman Nathman


Posted on Jun 8, 2016   Updated on Feb 29, 2020, 5:40 am CST


After much outrage, the mugshot of Brock Turner—the Stanford freshman who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman—finally made the light of day Monday. Both Stanford and Santa Clara County authorities had refused to release his booking photo, despite months of request. For a while, the only pictures of the 20-year-old rapist were from professional school photos or those of him swimming. But now the public can see that this is the face of a rapist—and that’s important for many reasons.

Everything in this case thus far has only shown the immense amount of privilege Turner is steeped in. From the fact that he has never taken responsibility for what actually happened that night (blaming it on a variety of factors, including too much alcohol), to his father essentially excusing his “20 minutes of action” that shouldn’t forever impact his life, to the fact that his mugshot wasn’t released for months.

It should be noted that this rarely, if at all, is a courtesy allotted to people of color. Their story is told through whatever lens the media would like, and usually it’s a disparaging one. All you have to do is compare the pictures used in most articles about Brock Turner (before his mugshot was released) to those of Trayvon Martin (in a hoodie with a cold stare), for instance. Martin wasn’t afforded the privilege of having a positive image crafted for him. But Turner certainly was. He and his legal team had full control over the image that was presented to the public.

And what image was that? One of a young man in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” One of a golden athlete with record times who made a “mistake.” One of a man who regrets being sucked into the drinking culture of college. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality, but it’s the one that Turner and his team of lawyers was able to put out there, in hopes of molding the story of their client.

That’s not the real story, however. The story is of a 20-year-old man who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, who only stopped when two men happened upon the scene and caused him to stop, and then to flee. And underneath the facts of this specific rape is the story of what happens when you’re told by everyone around you how special and untouchable and important you are. It is the story of rape culture and a glaringly real example of how it works in this world.

And that’s why Brock Turner’s mugshot is important. We need to continue destroying the idea that rape is perpetrated by skulking men in the shadows. Anyone could be a rapist; anyone can disregard the concept of consent and why it’s not OK to have sex with somebody who is unconscious.

It’s time to take back Brock Turner’s narrative. We need to juxtapose his mugshot with the picture of him grinning after winning a swim meet and shout that the men in these pictures ARE BOTH RAPISTS. 

There are many on my social media feeds who are frustrated and sad and requesting that people stop sharing pictures of Turner, whether it’s his mugshot or one of the other more “wholesome” pictures that have been circulating. They complain about his “smug” face. But honestly? I say keep sharing. In five years when he is job hunting, those are the first things that come up in a Google search.

Even though reality shows that a white man with a criminal history (and hella connections) will most likely do better job-wise than a black man with zero record, let’s make it as hard on Brock Turner as possible. Because six months is not long enough for the crime he committed. Because he still doesn’t quite understand why what he did is wrong and illegal. Because he comes from a family that excuses and enables this type of behavior and is more concerned over his lost swimming career than the woman their son raped. 

Share this article
*First Published: Jun 8, 2016, 1:38 pm CDT