Brock Turner leaves the Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. (Dan Honda/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images Archives)
Brock Turner is going viral again.Convicted in 2016 of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, Turner was sentenced to just six months in jail—a sentence that, to many, was proof that the criminal justice system doesn’t care about rape victims. But Turner was also required to register as a sex offender, and now, people on Facebook and TikTok are using that registry to warn one another to stay away from him.
“Brock Turner is now living in the Dayton, Ohio, area,” one recent post on Facebook read. “He is frequenting bars in the area. Do not let him leave with an intoxicated woman. Inform the women of who he is. Inform the bartender, bouncers. Brock Turner does not belong in public.”Versions of that post have popped up repeatedly on Facebook over the last several weeks. Another post read, “Just trying to spread awareness that this r@pist is back in our midst. Please tell your female and femme-presenting friends, family members, co-workers, literally everyone. This man does not deserve peace.”It’s unclear why, exactly, these warnings are popping up now. Although Ohio’s sex offender registry does not publicly list when people register or re-register, Turner is from the state and has been reported to live there for years. But the re-emergence of the warnings, years after #MeToo washed across social media and supposedly introduced the concept of consequences for sex crimes, the warnings about Turner reveal that women are still relying on so-called “whisper networks” to protect themselves when they believe the system has failed them.“It’s scary to know that these types of ‘men’ get a slap on the wrist (if that) and then get to go on about their lives as if nothing happened,” one post read. “Please be vigilant, ladies. We are not safe.”
“Put everybody on high alert,” one woman declared on TikTok.VICE News was unable to confirm the veracity of the rumors that Turner is frequenting bars, but as long as there have been men who cross lines, there have been women who warned one another to stay away from them. In 1990, women at Brown University took to scrawling the names of supposed rapists on school bathroom walls. A Brown spokesperson called them “Magic Marker terrorists” and threatened to expel them.“It was an act of desperation in an attempt to get Brown to act responsibly and provide us with a system where we can air these grievances publicly as opposed to on bathroom walls,” one student told the Associated Press at the time.Most sexual assailants never see the inside of a courtroom, much less a prison cell. Out of 1,000 sexual assaults, just 25 result in the perpetrator being incarcerated, according to RAINN, the nation’s premiere anti-sexual assault advocacy organization. The #MeToo movement, which reached its apex about a year and a half after Turner’s conviction, was supposed to empower women to speak out loud about the men they had only whispered about, to widen their networks beyond the people who might be privileged enough to join them. The writer Moira Donegan, for example, launched the short-lived Shitty Media Men List. But she then got sued for it—stark evidence that the dangers of speaking up are still very present. That lawsuit is ongoing as of April.
Turner has, of course, been convicted; anyone can look up the evidence against him. (As well as his efforts to appeal, which relied on the idea that Turner only performed “outercourse” on the unconscious woman. One judge pointed out that, whatever activity Turner was engaged in when he was interrupted by bystanders, it “does not foreclose the inference that he intended, ultimately, to rape.”) But the social media posts floating around Ohio are the modern equivalent of bathroom wall lists, an effort by the community to police what they believe the real police will not.Ironically, people only know where Turner even lives thanks to the government that they believed failed them. The sex offender registry is, after all, an invention of the criminal justice system—and a relatively recent one at that, since a federal sex offender registry law only passed in 1994. This is, perhaps, an example of the sex offender registry doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: let a community know that there may be a predator in their midst, so they can act accordingly. The stigma is the point.“If this were my client, I’d say take prison over sex offender registration,” one attorney told HuffPost around the time of the effort to recall the judge who sentenced Turner, who ultimately served just three months of his six-month sentence. (That effort succeeded.) Some of the posts also seem to go beyond mere caution and head right into aggression. People have posted Turner’s alleged exact address, details about his car, his workplace. They have suggested that eggs and toilet paper are cheap, and that people can take a “field trip” to Turner’s place.Turner’s case has attracted so much notoriety in large part because a woman decided she deserved to speak up about him: Chanel Miller’s impact statement, read at Turner’s sentencing, was incandescent with anger and frustration at how Turner and the criminal justice system had stripped her of choice and power. Her 2019 memoir elaborated on how going through the legal process victimized her again. “I will use Brock’s name, but the truth is he could be Brad or Brody or Benson, and it doesn’t matter,” she wrote. “The point is not their individual significance, but their commonality, all the people enabling a broken system.” Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.