Oprah’s inspiring acceptance speech was met with enthusiastic applause at the 75th annual Golden Globes, where this year, celebrities dressed for a cause instead of red carpet trendiness. Donning their black gowns and #TimesUp pins as a public display of unity for sexual harassment survivors and allies, they roared in solidarity as Oprah powerfully boomed, “the time is up!” In the same week, however, 1500 miles away from the festivities, another young man became a convicted sex offender. This is the truth of sexual violence.
Sexual Interference with a 13-Year-Old
His name is Connor Neurauter: a talented young goaltender who previously played for the prestigious Canadian Junior Hockey League, and a hardworking student at the University of Calgary. When it comes to social power, he’s got it all – being exceptional will do that for you. But two years ago, he abused his power by means of sexual interference with a minor, and as a result, forever changed not only his life but the life of a young girl. She was just 13 years old.
Sexual interference is a crime in which a person sexually touches any part of the body of a person under the age of 16 years. The punishment for such an offense varies but ranges from a minimum of 90 days to a maximum of 14 years.
Power and Privilege vs. The Law
Neurauter is a man with social power and therefore was sentenced to only 90 days. But his powerful influence didn’t end there. He was granted countless extensions for his hearings and court dates due to his studies, and even his hockey schedule on occasion.
He was finally convicted after accepting a plea bargain (one that enabled him to drop a secondary charge: possession of child pornography. But who’s counting?) He was then given until May to begin his sentence so that he could finish his semester in university, unhindered. His sentence will also be served intermittently, to suit his schedule.
This decision was met with outrage, not only by the victim’s family but by thousands of sexual assault survivors and allies in Calgary. While he didn’t rape his victim, the now infamous #metoo movement has made it clear that assault is assault, regardless of the extent. And yet, Neurauter somehow managed to walk away with all the power, while his young victim still struggles to find any of her own.
Survivors of sexual violence have recently found the strength to fight back against sexual predators, thanks in part to the #metoo campaign. The aftermath of #MeToo, such as the Weinstein Effect, and subsequently, the #TimesUp movement, has given victims of sexual violence a face. These women – and even some men – are no longer meek, silent victims, they are the powerful celebrities we see in the movies, in magazines, and on the red carpet. They are a growing, powerful army.
So when yet another judge provides an inappropriately lenient sentence to a sex offender, it sends a strong statement: that the offender’s future is more important than the well-being of his 13-year-old victim. And that makes people very angry.
Unfortunately, this is no news to survivors. In fact, a judge providing some wiggle room to a sexual assault sentence is, frankly, an old hat.
Brock Turner: The Beginning
Not long ago, Brock Turner, another young man with a promising academic and athletic future, was granted a decidedly lenient sentence, potentially due to his privilege in life. Turner, who dragged an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and sexually assaulted her, who would have raped her had he not been interrupted, could have been sentenced to 14 years in jail. The minimum he should have served is 6 years. Instead, he was sentenced to a mere 6 months, of which he served only 3.
And that, folks, is the incredible influence of societal privilege and power.
Sexual Violence: An Imbalance of Power
From what we have seen in the media, the Turners and Neurauters of the world have all the power – the kind of power that even the strong arm of the law can’t overtake.
What’s more, Turner is appealing his extremely lenient sentence and asking for a retrial as we speak. According to him, his assault on this young woman was not, in fact, a crime.
These are not the actions of a remorseful, reformed man.
As for Neurauter, his sentence will not start until May and will be carried out intermittently to allow him to continue his studies. Students of the University of Calgary and survivors of sexual violence allies are, understandably, outraged.
The Fight for Change
A petition circulated earlier this month to request the expulsion of Neurauter from the University of Calgary, considering his status as a sex offender. The petition, which garnered more than a whopping 69,000 signatures (the University of Calgary has only a little over 30,000 students enrolled annually), still did not sway the University’s decision. He will not be expelled.
The originator of the petition, Kaitlyn Casswell, says that allowing Neurauter this privilege sends a negative message to victims of sexual violence. With outcomes such as this, it’s hardly a surprise that the reporting rate for sexual assault in Canada is a mere 6%. Considering that worldwide, 1 in 4 North American women and girls are affected by sexual violence at some point in their lives, a 6% reporting rate is appallingly low. But what is the incentive to speak up when the law does not, as promised, deliver justice?
Sexual Assault: Time’s Up
The effort to expel Neurauter, while unsuccessful, is still progress. For those who have survived sexual violence, being in the same classroom as a sex offender may be more than they can bear, and for that, the University of Calgary’s decision to allow Neurauter to stay is an incredible disappointment. We can only hope that survivors worldwide will carry on, and will know that even if justice isn’t served in this case alone, there is an army of men and women at their backs fighting for their cause, and they are louder than ever. Justice will, in time, prevail over predators. The time for unchecked sexual violence is most definitely Up.