When Brock Turner was released from jail today after serving half of his six-month sentence for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman, headlines referring to him as a Stanford swimmer sparked renewed controversy.

Associated Press, USA Today, TIME, CNN, Sports Illustrated, MSNBC, and the BBC were criticized by readers for failing to immediately identify Turner as someone who had committed sexual assault.

TIME referred to Turner as a swimmer and didn’t note that he had committed a sexual assault until the third line of the story. The magazine called him a “former Stanford student and star swimmer.”

“I am no longer a swimmer, a student, a resident of California, or the product of the work that I put in to accomplish the goals that I set out in the first 19 years of my life,” Turner said in a court statement.

Turner will not be returning to Stanford, and he has been banned for life by USA Swimming. He will move in with his parents in Ohio, where he will register as a sex offender.

During Turner’s trial in the spring, the news media drew criticism for lauding his swimming accomplishments at the elite California school.


One problem with calls to refer to Turner as a rapist is that he was convicted of sexual assault and intent to commit rape, but not rape. Media organizations may be exercising caution so as not to misidentify Turner’s crime.

Still, Turner’s privileged treatment by the media has been disturbing.

At Bitch Media, Dahlia Grossman-Heinze wrote:

Because Turner was a star swimmer at Stanford, coverage of his trial received the “once-promising future” treatment. In reporting on sexual assault, media outlets show a pattern of focusing on how the assailant has a bright future and how the current case could ruin his upward trajectory — most articles about Turner include a nice portrait of him instead of his mugshot.

At Cosmopolitan magazine, Prachi Gupta wrote:

The rush to humanize Turner and grant him a lenient sentence is an example of a system that elevates the voices and experiences of white men, and dismisses violence against women. As a young, successful white male athlete, Turner benefits from a level of compassion and empathy rarely expressed for any other group of people in America, a benefit of the doubt that people of color and women rarely get.

Top photo: Protests at Stanford University’s graduation ceremonies, June 12, 2016, in Palo Alto, California.