An Open Letter to Dan Turner, the Father of Convicted Stanford Sex Offender Brock Turner


Dear Mr. Turner,

There are a lot of things that could have a "severe impact" on a person. Being sexually assaulted by a stranger while intoxicated and/or unconscious is one of them. So is waking up in a hospital to find your underwear missing, before being told by doctors a man you don't know sexually assaulted you behind a dumpster. So is being forced to confront your assailant in court. 

Another thing that could really have a "severe impact" on a person is telling them the man who raped them is not responsible for committing an act of violence. That is exactly what you and the justice system have done.

Your son, Brock Turner, is a former Stanford University swimmer. He is also a convicted sex offender. When he was sentenced Thursday to a mere six months in a county jail, he managed to avoid serving up to 14 years in prison, in part because of a letter you sent ahead of his sentencing requesting leniency.

In the letter, you wrote that prison would be "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action" out of your son's "20-plus years of life." You wrote that your son's life "has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan. 17 and 18 [2015]." You expressed concern "he will never be his happy-go-lucky self with that easygoing personality and welcoming smile" and claimed "his every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear and depression." 

Do you know whose life has also been deeply altered forever by the "events" that January night? That "20 minutes of action" a panel of jurors agreed was sexual assault? That would be Brock's victim, the young woman he penetrated behind a dumpster while she was unconscious, without her consent. 

That woman — a survivor — is the victim of your son's actions. But the truth is, so are you. 

In your letter to Judge Aaron Persky, you said it was the verdict in your son's case that "have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways," adding Brock's life "will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve." And the thing is, you're partly right. Your son and your family are no doubt shattered because he was found guilty of sexually assaulting someone, but that's not because of the verdict. It's because Brock sexually assaulted someone. 

When you refuse to refer to the rape your son committed as anything but "the events of Jan. 17 and 18," and when you claim he "has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan. 17, 2015," you don't just refuse to acknowledge your son did anything wrong. You also refuse to acknowledge that rape — an act that inherently involves being violent toward another person, an act your son has perpetrated — is wrong as well. Such comments perfectly capture the sort of victim-blaming thinking that often underpins acts of sexual violence, erasing and invalidating survivors' pain in lieu of portraying perpetrators like Brock as those who suffer most from rape — instead of the victims themselves. 

Your letter is a sign of the troubling thinking that is reinforced by individuals and institutions. It's a reflection of the male entitlement endemic in our own homes and more importantly, reinforced by the criminal justice system. It is society's way of saying rape really isn't so bad — that it is not an act of violence, but the sort of thing that has a negative impact on nobody but the perpetrator. 

You are not alone in buying into this viewpoint, nor are you alone in perpetuating it. Plenty of others are in your company, like the people who bemoaned the squandered sports careers of two Steubenville, Ohio, football players after they sexually assaulted a teenage girl, or those who worried about the Vanderbilt athletes who were convicted of forcibly penetrating a young woman with "random objects" while she was passed out.

Another person who has followed your twisted logic, who apparently agrees Brock has been victimized, is, of course, Persky. His sentence is merely a continuation of your line of thinking, signaling to others that sexual assault isn't a crime worthy of punishment

This is what rape culture looks like, how it functions, what it does. It's also what some people might call a vicious cycle. When you refuse to hold your son accountable for his actions and instead treat him like the victim of "events" that he, and he alone, instigated, you participate in that cycle. Rape culture is not simply blaming victims. It's erasing them entirely from their own stories.

Correction: June 8, 2016