Culture

This Father’s Letter Defending His Rapist Son Is All The Proof You Need That Rape Culture Exists

"[Jail] is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

Note: this post contains discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Last week Stanford University student Brock Turner was found guilty on three counts of sexual assault after a year-long trial, and sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. Turner was arrested in January after two men spotted him lying on top of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside a college party.

The case has become a textbook example of the pervasive rape culture that pervades the legal system and society more broadly, and the immense privileges still granted to perpetrators of rape and sexual assault over their victims. The leniency of Turner’s sentence, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years jail, was in part due to the fact that he was a talented swimmer. When handing down the sentence the case’s judge, Aaron Persky, said that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him”.

The woman Turner assaulted, by contrast, was dragged through the court system for close to a year, had her privacy invaded by the defence, and was forced to constantly relive the assault and its aftermath. In the letter she read aloud to her attacker at the trial’s conclusion, which has since gone viral, she outlined the intense suffering she underwent under hostile trial questioning sessions that sought to paint her as promiscuous, irresponsible or eagerly consenting to her own assault, despite being unresponsive when authorities arrived at the scene of the crime.

quotes

Questions posed to the victim by Turner’s attorney (source).

Now the letter Turner’s father Dan wrote to the court to plead a light sentence for his son has been released as well. Besides being a deeply offensive and wrongheaded piece of thinking, it is a useful tool to understand how a young man can sexually assault a woman, be found guilty by a jury of doing so, and still have no conception that he has done anything wrong.

The letter is in full below, and it’s worth going through it line by line.

“As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th”, Dan Turner’s letter starts. Note how he refers to his son’s actions of sexual assault as “the events”. Already, Turner is seeking to turn Brock’s behaviour and its consequences into something that happened to him, rather than something that he did.

He goes on to outline the “anxiety, fear and depression” Brock has suffered throughout the trial. “These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways…Brock always enjoyed certain kinds of food and is a very good cook himself. I was always excited to buy him a big ribeye steak to grill or to get his favorite snack for him…Now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist.”

An excerpt from Brock’s victim’s letter, by contrast:

“I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five-year-old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up. I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o’clock in the morning.”

Throughout this plea for mercy, Dan Turner makes no mention of his son’s victim, let alone acknowledges how her life has been irreversibly warped and damaged by the actions of his son. Instead, Brock is the victim. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

I’m not sure about the logic contained in that last sentence. 20 minutes of trying to rape an unconscious woman is a lot more than most people manage in their lifetimes. Would it have been more serious if it were 40 minutes? Less serious if it were only 5? Do you get a free pass on assaulting someone if you do it really fast?

“What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock,” Turner continues. “He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015.”

Here, Brock’s father straight-up refuses to admit the reality of what his son did. Sexually assaulting someone is among the most profoundly violent acts one person can inflict on another without killing them. Not to mention the particulars of this crime itself — in her letter, Brock’s victim detailed how there were “abrasions, lacerations, and dirt in my genitalia”.

Unbelievably, Dan Turner then makes the case that, far from being a danger to society, Brock can actually find redemption as a role model for other young men. “Brock can do many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity. By having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.”

Besides the ‘lesson’ inviting a convicted rapist onto college campuses as a mentor would teach young men, it’s clear Dan Turner is just as wilfully ignorant as his son in admitting the gravity of Brock’s crimes. Throughout the trial, Brock only expressed regret and remorse for drinking heavily. As his victim said in her statement:

“Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. Everyone in this room has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much, or knows someone close to them who has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much. Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault.”

He certainly didn’t mean to, but Dan Turner has provided a valuable insight into the mindset of rape culture. Of men who refuse to take responsibility for their actions; who refuse to understand the concept of consent; who refuse to acknowledge how their actions have consequences, both in a legal sense and in the trauma and hurt they cause others.

It’s that mindset, passed on from father to son and enforced on myriad societal levels, that explains how a young man can be found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman, and receive a light sentence because he’s good at swimming.