Yet in a written statement to the judge in his case, Turner placed the blame for his assault on "drinking," the college "party culture," and his desire to "fit in."
Turner's case gained national attention after a powerful letter from his victim about the attack went viral. The unnamed woman discussed her disbelief and anger at Turner's lenient sentence (six months in jail and three years' probation for a crime that should carry a penalty of two to 14 years in jail in California), and at the way Turner "failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct."
The Guardian on Tuesday published a portion of Turner's statement to the judge in his case to illustrate what the victim was talking about. Turner's statement expresses regret for what happened, but it also reveals him as unwilling to acknowledge that he committed a serious crime.
Initially, Turner begins to own up to his actions, calling himself the "sole proprietor of what happened" on the night of January 17, 2015. "I would give anything to change what happened that night," Turner writes. "I can never forgive myself for imposing trauma and pain on [redacted]."
At no point, however, does Turner acknowledge that he sexually assaulted the victim. It's all very indirect — he talks about "what happened" and a few times acknowledges that his "actions" caused what happened.
But as the letter goes on, Turner appears to blame his "actions" on how much he drank, and on "the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student."
He writes about why he never wants to touch alcohol again, and suggests that he made the decision to assault the victim based on how much he drank:
At this point in my life, I never want to have a drop of alcohol again. I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed.
He makes some self-indulgent, occasionally bizarre remarks about how the crime has affected his life (emphasis added):
I never want to experience being in a position where it will have a negative impact on my life or someone else’s ever again. I’ve lost two jobs solely based on the reporting of my case. I wish I never was good at swimming or had the opportunity to attend Stanford, so maybe the newspapers wouldn’t want to write stories about me.
He says he wants to be placed on probation so that he has a chance "to be a benefit to society" — specifically, to speak out about the dangers of college party culture. And he ties himself in some convoluted linguistic knots to explain how that culture is relevant to what he did:
I know I can show people who were like me the dangers of assuming what college life can be like without thinking about the consequences one would potentially have to make if one were to make the same decisions that I made. I want to show that people’s lives can be destroyed by drinking and making poor decisions while doing so. One needs to recognize the influence that peer pressure and the attitude of having to fit in can have on someone.
This last part about "peer pressure" is especially startling. Does he mean he felt peer pressure to drink? It seems so.
But what about peer pressure to commit sexual assault? To assume that foisting sexual contact upon an unconscious woman is somehow acceptable? Or at least, the peer pressure to minimize sexual assault?
After all, other people surrounding Turner shared the same outlook that partying and alcohol are the overpowering factors here. Turner's father wrote a stunningly tone-deaf letter defending his son and minimizing the victim's suffering — even referring to the sexual assault as "20 minutes of action." The Guardian published numerous excerpts of similar letters from other friends and family members begging the judge for mercy on Turner's behalf.
If Turner admitted that sexual assault was so normalized in his peer group that he felt pressure to commit it in order to conform, for instance, that would be an important and sobering admission worth discussing. That, after all, is the definition of rape culture — social norms that support treating sexual assault as normal and no big deal.
But that's not what Turner admitted to. He admitted to drinking and feeling pressured to drink. The rest, well … it just "happened."
"People need to know that this way of thinking is dangerous," Turner's victim told the Guardian. "It’s threatening. More than my emotions, it’s my safety, everyone else’s safety. It’s not just me feeling sad and defeated. It’s honest fear."
Turner's attitude is indeed dangerous. Not just because he holds it, but because so many others do.