On January 17, 2015, Brock Turner, a freshman member of Stanford's swimming team, assaulted an unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster. During the assault, Turner was confronted by two Stanford graduate students; he tried to flee, but they tackled him and held him until the police arrived. Covered with blood and pine needles, the victim woke up with little recollection of what had happened.
After a grueling trial, a jury found Brock Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault. But although he faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, he was sentenced last week to six months in a county jail and probation.
This light sentence provides yet another example of a survivor placing her faith in the criminal justice system, only to find that it cannot deliver the justice she seeks. And as an anti-violence advocate with Know Your IX and a survivor of sexual violence myself, I've seen countless examples of survivors who are revictimized at the hands of the criminal justice system.
This letter serves as an instructional example of how rape culture is perpetuated
A victim's search for justice doesn't end once a sentence has been handed down. So the survivor read a powerful statement at Turner's sentencing hearing so that he and his family could understand the full extent of how his violence had affected her and her family.
This letter has since gone viral — a local prosecutor called it "the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy that I've seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor."
But because we live in a rape culture that routinely dismisses victims, her advocacy was challenged by Brock's father, Dan A. Turner, who drafted a letter that is full of noxious rape myths. I've annotated it below, as it serves as an instructional example of how rape culture is perpetuated.
Honorable Judge Aaron Persky,
I am writing this letter to tell you about my son Brock and the person that I know he is. (Notice how Turner is already using language — "the person I know he is" — to dismiss claims that Brock is a perpetrator.) First of all, let me say that Brock is absolutely devastated by the events of January 17th and 18th 2015. (Turner doesn't name the violence for what it is: sexual assault of an unconscious woman. He simply refers to "the events of January 17th and 18th. This is a key component of rape culture: minimizing or even erasing violence and its victims.) He would do anything to turn back the hands of time and have that night to do over again. In many one-on-one conversations with Brock since that day, I can tell you that he is truly sorry for what occurred that night (again, Turner does not put in words what actually happened: sexual assault, which his son perpetrated) and for all the pain and suffering that it has caused for all of those involved and impacted by that night.
He has expressed true remorse for his actions on that night. Living under that same roof with Brock since this incident, I can tell you firsthand the devastating impact that it has had on my son. (This is a common tactic in excusing sexual assailants: In rape cases, commentators often dwell on the lost futures of perpetrators while erasing the impact of violence on their victims. After football players in Steubenville, Ohio, raped a teenage girl in 2012, CNN infamously commented that the rapists had, " promising futures, star football players, very good students."
By contrast, the impacts of sexual violence on victims tend to be ignored. Ignoring those impacts doesn't make them go away, though: The survivor in the Stanford swimmer case testified that she has had to put her life on hold for more than a year and that she can't work full time or sleep alone at night.)
Before I elaborate more, I would like to share some memories of my son that demonstrate the quality of his character. Brock has an easygoing personality that endears him to almost everyone he meets. He has always been a person that people like to be around whether they are male or female. (Translation: Brock is not a perpetrator because he is not a psychopathic stranger in an alley with a weapon. This extremely narrow conception of violence is commonly used to dismiss survivors of acquaintance sexual assault, even though nine in 10 college survivors report knowing the person who sexually assaulted them.)
This has been true from the time Brock was in pre-school to today. I have never seen Brock raise his voice to anyone and he doesn't pre-judge anyone. He accepts them for who they are no more, no less. He has a very gentle and quiet nature and a smile that is truly welcoming to those around him. (This case underscores why the myth of the isolated rapist is garbage — although it's frightening to contemplate, perpetrators of sexual violence are members of our families, schools, and communities. It's possible for perpetrators to be "truly welcoming" to family and friends but lack empathy for their victims.)
I have never once heard him brag or boast about any accomplishment that he has ever achieved. He is simply a very humble person who would rather hear about someone else's accomplishments rather than talk about his own. Brock has an inner strength and fortitude that is beyond anything I have ever seen. This was no doubt honed over many years of competitive swimming and has been a major reason for his ability to cope over the last 15 months. (In rape culture, perpetrators like Brock have a future, but their victims only have a past. In the 15 months since she came forward, the victim went through a brutal process that underscores why the criminal justice system is anathema to many survivors.
During the trial, Brock's attorney attempted to discredit her by asking questions about her drinking history, sexual behavior, and clothing choices. The goal of this line of questioning was to convince jurors that the victim wanted the sexual assault, even though she was passed out and could not consent. If she confused minor details in her recounting of the assault — something that is not uncommon in victims of trauma — she was accused of lying, even though the prevalence of false reporting is very low.)
Brock has always been an extremely dedicated person whether it was academics, Sports, or developing and maintaining friendships and relationships. Brock's dedication to academics started early in grade school. My fondest memory is of helping Brock prepare for his weekly Spelling test. Doing well on these tests was very important to Brock and he would start preparing the day before by memorizing the words and making sure he had everything together in his mind. I would have to quiz him over and over just so he was sure he would do well on the test. He would make me give him a final preparation quiz as we drove to school on Friday mornings. I can assure you that Brock always did well on these exams. While this example may seem trivial, it was an early indicator of the importance he placed on academic achievement that never left him. As he got older and progressed in school, he needed my intervention less and less as he is gifted in his ability to understand very complicated subject matter. This natural ability along with an extremely strong work ethic lead to academic success at all levels. (If only Brock's stellar education had included learning not to assault people.)
Brock was equally talented in athletics participating in baseball, basketball, and swimming. I was his baseball and basketball coach and his Cub Scout den leader for many years during his grade school years. I was so proud to participate and serve as his coach and leader as it meant that I got to spend more time with him. I was also a parent chaperone for many school outings and often times was the only dad along on these field trips. For me, I loved every minute of it because Brock was a pleasure to be around and he always treated the other kids, parents, and teachers with-respect. I will cherish the memories of those years forever. (None of this is relevant. Brock can be a Cub Scout, star athlete, and an academic powerhouse at Stanford while also assaulting someone behind a dumpster.)
In the late summer before Brock's senior year in high school, he applied to Stanford with the dream of taking both his academic and athletic talents to the next level. Brock had a large amount of interest from many Division-1 coaches due to his swimming success and outstanding grades in school. Many college coaches pursued Brock based on the entire body of work that he represented. However, Stanford was always the apple of his and the ultimate prize for someone who had worked so hard for so long. Brock and first visited Stanford in the summer of 2011 between his freshman and sophomore years in high school. Brock was there to compete in his first national level swim meet called the USA Junior Nationals. We were both totally in awe of the campus, the swimming facilities, and the rich history that the university represented. I remember commenting to Brock at the time that wouldn't this be a great place to go to school. It was swimmers that had attended Stanford. This first exposure to Stanford made a lasting impression on Brock. Our family was full of pride and joy when we found out in the fall of 2013 that Brock had been accepted to Stanford. This was a culminating event for Brock as we knew how much work he had put in to get to that point. The thing that made us most proud was the fact that Brock had to be accepted academically before he could be considered for an athletic scholarship. This was especially significant given Stanford's 4 percent acceptance rate for that particular year. (Athletes are held up as inspirational role models, which can lead to communities dismissing claims of sexual violence against them. But some of the most prominent cases over the past several years have resulted in the convictions of star athletes. [See: Steubenville, Baylor, and Darren Sharper.] And a recent study found that more than half the men who played an intramural or intercollegiate sport reported coercing a partner into sex.)
Brock was awarded a 60 percent swimming scholarship by the university. Even with such a generous offer, my wife and I both knew it would be a financial struggle for our family for Brock to attend Stanford, but we were determined to make it work because we knew the value of a Stanford education. As Brock's senior year passed, he was characteristically humble about being admitted to Stanford and continued to work hard until the very last minute of high school on academics and swimming.
When Carleen and I took Brock to Stanford in September 2014 to begin his freshman year, we both felt he was totally prepared for the experience. He had been to many national level swim camps and meets and was comfortable being away from home.
We were very excited for Brock as he settled into Stanford during that first quarter as a brand new student athlete. He excelled in school that quarter earning the top GPA for all freshmen on the swim team. What we didn't realize was the extent to which Brock was struggling being so far from home. Brock was working hard to adapt to the rigors of both school and swimming. When Brock was home during Christmas break, he broke down and told us how much he was struggling to fit in socially and the fact that he did not like being so far from home. Brock was nearly-distraught knowing that he had to return early from Christmas break for swimming training camp. We even questioned whether it was the right move to send him back to Stanford for the winter quarter. In hindsight, it's clear that Brock was desperately trying to fit in at Stanford and fell into the culture of alcohol consumption and partying. This culture was modeled by many of the upperclassmen on the swim team and played a role in the events of Jan. 17th and 18th 2015. (Rape apologists argue that sexual violence, particularly if it takes place when both parties have been drinking, is a misunderstanding that falls within a "gray area." This conception ignores the ways in which perpetrators get their victims drunk or target individuals who are incapacitated after consuming alcohol voluntarily.
This rape myth has damaging impacts on reporting — individuals who are assaulted after consuming alcohol are less likely to report than individuals who were sober and often blame themselves for violence they experienced.
Conversely, being intoxicated in not an excuse for failing to secure consent to sexual activity. As the survivor in this case states, "Sipping fireball is not your crime. Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong.")
Looking back at Brock's brief experience at Stanford, I honestly don't believe it was the best fit for him. He was ready academically and athletically, but it was simply too far from home for someone who was born and raised in the Midwest. He needed the support structure of being closer to family and friends. As it stands now, Brock's life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan. 17th and 18th. (Yet again, let's name it: assaulting someone who was unconscious.) He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his lack of appetite. Brock always enjoyed certain types 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. I had to make sure to hide some of my favorite pretzels or chips because I knew they wouldn't be around long after Brock walked in from a long swim practice. Now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist. (Let's review the comparison for a minute: Although the victim of Brock's actions is terrified and has lost weight due to the stress and trauma following the assault, Dan Turner is sad Brock can no longer enjoy his rib-eye steak.)
These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. (Brock is not the victim here. He is being held accountable because he assaulted someone.) That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. (This is incredibly disturbing on a number of levels. Penetrating someone who is unconscious isn't "action" — it's assault. Sexual violence is about consent, not the time it took to violate someone.)
The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work, and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations. What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock. He has no prior criminal history (neither do many of his fellow perpetrators; the criminal justice system is awful at securing convictions on behalf of victims) and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan. 17th 2015. (Violence takes many forms. It can be verbal, psychological, sexual, economic, and physical. Defining violence solely as a forcible act where the victim was overpowered by the perpetrator after resisting is rape culture. Brock took advantage of the victim's incapacitation, did not secure her consent, and left her lying behind a dumpster with no concern for her well-being. If that is not violence, I don't know what is.)
Brock can do so 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. (This sentence seems to indicate just how little Dan Turner has learned from this experience. This case is NOT about sexual promiscuity and binge drinking — it is about respecting people as full human beings and accepting accountability when you cause harm. To suggest otherwise is rape culture in its purest form.) 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. Probation is the best answer for Brock in this situation and allows him to give back to society in a net positive way. (Brock and his family need to accept accountability for the violence he perpetrated and make amends. Dismantling rape culture means that we cannot quietly excuse his actions.)
Dan A. Turner (Enabling parent extraordinaire)
Alyssa Peterson is a policy and advocacy coordinator for Know Your IX, a student survivor organization that empowers students to end sexual and dating violence in their schools.