Days after he was sentenced to six month's jail time for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, The Guardian released Brock Turner's defense letter to Judge Aaron Persky. In the statement, the former Stanford athlete shirked responsibility for his actions, blaming "excessive drinking" and "party culture." For the judge, the "apology" was sufficient to assign Turner just four percent of the maximum 14 years he faced for committing three felonies. Turner requested he receive only probation.
As opposed to apologizing for the trauma experienced by the woman he sexually assaulted, Turner began his letter by explaining how he lost his status in various social groups:
The night of January 17th changed my life and the lives of everyone involved forever. I can never go back to being the person I was before that day. I am no longer a swimmer, a student, a resident of California, or the product of the work that I put in to accomplish the goals that I set out in the first nineteen years of my life.
He went on to claim that the crime he committed traumatized him, even causing him to "shake uncontrollably" every day. After that, he stressed that he had already lost two jobs for reporting his case. He didn't go into much detail about how he made the woman he sexually assaulted feel.
During the day, I shake uncontrollably from the amount I torment myself by thinking about what has happened. I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted]. I can barely hold a conversation with someone without having my mind drift into thinking these thoughts. They torture me. I go to sleep every night having been crippled by these thoughts to the point of exhaustion.
By protocol, a defendant's letter explains how he or she has changed for the better so that the judge might be convinced to assign a shorter sentence. As Ken White of Mimesis Law wrote in response to Turner's case, a defense attorney's job is to "humanize" the defendant. In this sense, Turner's focus on the losses he's experienced isn't out of the ordinary, but that doesn't make it any less offensive in this particular case.
For the record, Turner mentioned "drinking" or "alcohol" a total of eight times in his letter. He even went as far to mention "sexual promiscuity," though it's unclear whether he blames himself or the woman he sexually assaulted for it.
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. One decision has the potential to change your entire life. I know I can impact and change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student.
While party culture and drinking are two major factors that contribute to the rape epidemic on college campuses nationwide, they don't explicitly cause rape or ever make it less horrifying. In his letter, Turner seems to forget the fact that frat party circumstances don't justify his decision to assault a woman behind a dumpster.
At the end of Turner's trial, however, the Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge claimed that jail time, probation, and having to register as a sex offender is punishment enough:
A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.
His ruling came after two other letters were read in court, one written by Turner's father and one written by the woman Turner sexually assaulted. His father's dismissal of the rape as "20 minutes of action" sparked national outrage, while the woman's unfiltered account of how the incident impacted her entire life rendered the defendant's lack of accountability inconceivable. Shockingly, the victim's articulate letter didn't hold as much clout for the judge.
A judge wouldn't dismiss a murderer for claiming that murder is common in his or her neighborhood. And on a lesser scale, it's incredibly unlikely a judge would take pity on a drug dealer who explained how difficult it is to separate yourself from the industry when you're surrounded by it. Yet, somehow, this young white male was able to effectively blame his external conditions, which included attending an Ivy League school and coming from a well-off family. How is sexual assault considered a lesser crime when someone like Turner commits it? The decision to withhold his mugshot and, instead, circulate smiling yearbook photos of the unassuming sex offender speaks volumes.
Image: NBC (1)