I’m a father of boys. As such, I’m saving a letter written by the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner at Stanford University. I’ll read it to my sons when their mother and I feel each is old enough.
The letter is gut-wrenching and graphic, and it explains in stark terms all that was taken from that young woman as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster on the Stanford campus in 2015. I’ll explain to my sons what happened, how a California jury found 20-year-old Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault. How he wound up getting only six months in county jail and probation despite facing a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
And I’ll make sure they read, slowly and carefully, how the woman described the moment she read a news story about her assault: “I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize.”
They’ll read about all she must still endure: “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.”
And more: “I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events with drinking among friends where I should be comfortable being. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.”
I want my sons to read that, and I want them to understand what rape is and I want them to know, without a hint of doubt, that it is an unconscionable crime for which there is no excuse.
I’ll show them the tone-deaf statement Turner’s father made in court, asking the judge for leniency. The father said of his son: “This is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”
He said the convicted felon “is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.”
I’ll tell my boys that only cowards blame rape on alcohol or promiscuity, and that those excuses are the parlance of rape culture deniers and fools who believe sexual assault victims are somehow culpable for the attacks that forever alter their lives.
I’ll tell them that Turner refused to admit he had even committed a crime. That friends of his came forward and tried to blame the case on “political correctness” and a drunken night gone wrong. As the young woman wrote of her attacker, “By definition rape is the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.”
My sons will know that distinction. And the last thing I’ll tell them is this:
The very least I can give you, as a father and as a man, is a conscience that would forbid you from ever violating a woman, or any human being, the way Turner violated that woman. You’ll make your own decisions in life, and nothing will ever make me stop loving you. But a decision like the one Turner made, a decision that gets made by an alarming number of young men, is one I would never excuse.
I would not be Brock Turner’s father for you. I would not blame a sexual assault or a rape on anyone or anything but the perpetrator. Period.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
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