Q&A with sportswriter and rape survivor Julie DiCaro on Brock Turner case

Stanford University campus. David Madison/Getty Images

Anya Alvarez spoke with Julie DiCaro, a Chicago-based sportswriter, about the case of ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Last week, Turner was sentenced to six months in county jail and three years' probation after being found guilty in March of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party.

The punishment sparked outrage, along with Judge Aaron Persky's statement that, "A prison sentence would have a severe impact on [Turner]. ... I think he will not be a danger to others."

Alvarez, a former LPGA player, is a sexual assault survivor working to bring awareness to sexual violence. DiCaro is a former attorney who spent 15 years working in criminal and family court. She also survived a rape in college that she didn't report out of fear she wouldn't be believed or would be blamed for the assault. She represented people accused of sexual assault during her time as a public defender and has criticized the way those cases are handled, particularly when male athletes are involved.

Anya Alvarez: You were a public defender before you got into sportswriting. You also are a survivor of rape. Do you remember when you first went to trial to defend someone accused of rape?

Julie DiCaro: I don't. I think that for so long that I didn't want to think about it. When I was a public defender, I was fairly young. As much as I believed in justice for women who had been raped, I equally believed in the justice system to work the way it was designed to work. That's something I have always been very passionate about. ... The Constitution states that you have to prove someone is guilty, and for me, the Constitution is probably the closest thing to a bible. I care about the justice system working the way it's supposed to.

One thing that influenced me was that there were very few women [accusers] during my time as a public defender that I didn't believe. I know a lot of people think a public defender might say, "Oh, she was drunk or doesn't want to get in trouble with her parents" or whatever. But I always gave the accuser the benefit of a doubt, because if you are innocent until proven guilty, then we have to also believe the accuser is being honest until proven otherwise.

Alvarez: What was your reaction when Brock Turner had been convicted of sexual assault and the judge gave him six months of jail time?

DiCaro: I was pretty appalled. I had written about that case for The Cauldron with a few others before the Washington Post article came out basically stating, "Turner found himself accused of rape," as if he had nothing to do with it, and how his whole life had been turned upside down, and how his swimming career had been derailed. For me, that was the first injustice that happened, in the way the case was being portrayed by the media.

"When we are looking at comparing the women raped and the rapists, we focus on the woman's past and focus on the man's future." Julie DiCaro

Alvarez: When I read about the sentence, I was not only sad for the survivor, but it made me worry about the precedent this could set for future convictions and the attitude that people may have toward reporting sexual assaults, about 70 percent of which go unreported [according to Department of Justice data compiled by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network]. Do you think it's going to discourage women from coming forward?

DiCaro: Look at the stuff that his friends wrote in defending Turner and what he did. ... In my particular case I was drunk in Cancun, left a party with a guy, and while we were making out I told him to stop, and he didn't, and he later held me down and did what he wanted to do. For a long time I didn't even call that rape and justified it to myself and said, "Oh, well, we were halfway there, anyway."

So, yes, I think this will definitely influence the women that decide to come forward because this ruling reinforces all the horrible stereotypes in culture about what's rape and what's not rape. You can look on Twitter and read comments from men saying, "Well she shouldn't have gotten blackout drunk." And it made me think, when guys get blackout drunk they have to worry about their friends drawing on their faces and posting pictures on social media. When women get blackout drunk, they have to worry about getting raped. Just because I was drunk, doesn't mean my punishment should have been rape.

Alvarez: In an article you wrote for Deadspin about why you believed Jameis Winston's accuser, you said it seemed clear the prosecutor "felt that he couldn't get a conviction, not that a crime had not taken place." You then said it's up to the jury, not the prosecutor, to decide if there is enough evidence to find him guilty. What do you think this says about sports culture and how male athletes are treated, and how the women accusing them are treated during the process?

DiCaro: There are a couple of problems. For many of these guys, especially guys in revenue sports, from the time they are little, they are put on a pedestal and treated like gods among men. These guys grow up with a sense of entitlement, thinking they should get what they want, when they want. If that is someone's body, then so be it. It is reinforced by so many people throughout their careers.

College coaches are also trying to protect their jobs. ... But I really think it goes beyond that, and coaches have convinced themselves that it's their team against the world, and women become collateral damage in all of that. It's the idea of, "This woman accusing this player of rape is just trying to destroy our team."

The district attorneys in these cases are often protecting their jobs as well, and most of the time they aren't even in court. A lot of this is about re-election or someone seeking higher office, so they don't want to pursue cases by making fools of themselves and losing a huge case. So much of the attitude surrounding how schools and prosecutors handle rape cases is about self-preservation.

Alvarez: Do you believe we pay enough attention to the survivors of sexual assault by asking them what we can do to help them feel safe again? Much of the criticism in the case of Brock Turner is that his future was deemed more valuable than his accuser's, because of dreams he had as a professional athlete that were derailed.

DiCaro: I think that's a problem. To focus on how it's going to affect his life, rather than how it has affected hers, shows a lack of understanding of how rape affects someone. It's like the victims of rape are portrayed as people who got in the way of what the men were supposed to accomplish in their careers. When we are looking at comparing the women raped and the rapists, we focus on the woman's past and focus on the man's future.

Alvarez: Do you think universities or high schools should have mandatory seminars for their athletes, explaining what consent is in order to help prevent sexual assault?

DiCaro: Definitely. In regards to the Jameis Winston case, he said he thought she consented because she was "moaning." How a 21-year-old does not know what consent actually is is beyond me. But so many of these guys are not taught that, because they are often told, "Who wouldn't want you?"

Alvarez: Do you believe there is a silver lining in all of this?

DiCaro: Yes, because now we are having a national discussion about violence against women that we've needed to have for hundreds of years. I think it would take so little to work in [talking about] what consent means in our culture. The more we continue to discuss this and shed light on the rape culture -- not just in sports, but in general -- attitudes toward rape can change and hopefully will.

Julie DiCaro is the founder Aerys Sports Network, an online network run by women. You can also watch her Just Not Sports video with espnW's Sarah Spain, highlighting the online harassment female sports reporters face daily.