Why Brock Turner's Dad's Statement Might Actually Help Assault Victims
On June 2, Brock Turner was sentenced following a March conviction of three counts of sexual assault against an unconscious woman. Although he could have been sentenced to spend up to 14 years in prison for the charges, he was sentenced to six months in county jail — a sentence that Brock Turner's dad wrote an open statement pleading against, which has since gone viral. He claimed in the letter that his son shouldn't be punished for "20 minutes of action" with this sentencing, citing Brock's accomplishments and potential to contribute to society. It has, unsurprisingly, sparked outrage — the entitlement is shameless, and very openly disregards any harm caused to the victim. In fact, with thousands of retweets and hundreds of articles quoting it in the past few days, there is an upsetting but highly likely chance that Brock Turner's father's statement has been read more times over than the unnamed victim's impact statement.
For that matter: if you haven't already, and it won't be triggering to you, stop what you're doing and go read the victim's impact statement. Read it in its entirety. It will take a half hour of your day, and it will stick with you for life. It is more important than any statement that has come out of this case or ever will, and it deeply saddens me that because of the high profile nature of her assaulter, her words might be glossed over while people paid more attention to Brock Turner's sports career or his age or the university he attended.
But it is these markers of status and invincibility that Brock Turner's father capitalizes on in his open statement. In it he cites his son's youth, and how "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." He harkens back to his son's swimming talents by saying that "His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve." The very same things that attracted media attention to the case are the ones that Brock Turner's father attempts to capitalize on to gain sympathy for his son's sentencing. Here is Mr. Turner's statement in full.
This tone deaf plea for sympathy has resulted in another round of public backlash against the case, particularly Mr. Turner's use of the infamous line underscored in red: "20 minutes of action."
In that small phrase, he reduces the victim's experience — the violence committed against her, and the devastating aftermath of it, both of which are brutally outlined in her statement — to nothing more than a petty mistake. I am not happy that the unnamed victim's impact statement isn't getting the attention it deserves, but I am happy that Brock Turner's father's statement is getting the attention it doesn't — because it is crassly putting all that rape culture on display for everyone to see.
So often these notions of entitlement that result in privileged people getting lighter sentences seem to happen behind closed doors. We don't see the process, just the results: two people commit the same crime, a crime that ostensibly would result in the same punishment, but somehow the more privileged one ends up serving less time, ends up less scrutinized, and ends up — as in Turner's case — even getting their accomplishments outside of the crime lauded, as if to justify the lighter sentence. We see the aftermath, but we don't see the root of it. We know it's a problem, but we don't have the concrete proof to stop it.
Until now. Until Brock Turner's father released this letter defending his son on such baseless, irrelevant ground that there is no way to explain it aside from blind entitlement.
The thing is, this letter was hardly necessary. The sentence had been made at the time of publishing. Not only that, the sentence was made far more leniently than they had any reason to expect it to be. Brock Turner may even be released as early as three months for "good behavior," which is a far cry from the 14 years he could have spent in prison.
But in other ways, this letter was deeply, profoundly necessary — not for Brock Turner's sake, but for the sake of sexual assault victims everywhere. For the first time, this injustice wasn't just noted and internalized, argued about on Twitter and then dissolved into internet dust. Brock Turner's father, however unintentionally, put his son and every other person who has used privilege to avoid punishment on blast. Now the case isn't just noteworthy because Brock Turner is an athlete. The case is noteworthy because his father's defense is so steeped in entitlement, so servicing to the assaulter at the victim's expense, that it has become a poster for what rape culture looks like in 2016.
We know what rape culture looks like, in its broadest sense. In cases of sexual assault, victims are often made out to be an unreliable witness to their own trauma. The case is reduced to a series of questions from the defense — how much were you drinking that night, what were you wearing, how sexually active are you — that unrepentantly victim blame. This case was no exception. In her statement, the unnamed victim listed a grueling series of questions she was forced to answer at trial, despite the fact that none of them changed the plain and true definition of rape, or the fact that it happened to her.
This isn't news to any of us. In fact, it is sad how unsurprising it is; despite efforts to reframe the culture surrounding sexual assault, not much has changed. But Brock Turner's father takes this same culture of victim blaming that extra step that pushes it from upsetting to unconscionable. He pushes past what we already know rape culture looks like, and into the insidious territory of what we only suspected — namely, that anybody could justify an unforgivable crime with their perceived status in the world, and make it easier for other people to commit that crime with lesser punishment in their wake.
So I'm glad that we're sharing it. I'm glad that we're angry. If this horrible thing had to happen, then I'm glad that it led the eyes of the nation to Brock Turner's father's awful words. This is the one of the few moments that the injustice won't just happen behind closed doors, but right in everyone's faces. This is one of the few moments that rape culture is so blatant that it cannot be ignored. And while it isn't going to revolutionize the way we handle sexual assault overnight, or set some new precedent in recognizing the abuse of privilege going forward, it's a start. People are angry, and people are noticing, and it's a start — a start toward reframing the way we talk about sexual assault, a start toward creating a culture where victims feel safe coming forward, a start where the only consideration when sentencing a crime is the nature of the crime itself. If nothing else, let's thank Brock Turner's father for that.
Images: Pexels; Courtesy of the Santa Clara Police Department