Less than a week after receiving a mere six months in jail for three felonies relating to his sexual assault of an unconscious woman, Brock Turner's defense statement has been released by The Guardian. If you've been following the case, it may not come as a surprise that the problems with Turner's letter to Judge Aaron Persky are numerous. Not unlike the statements from both his father and his friend, the statement from Turner attempts to lay the blame for his actions on a wide variety of external things — none of which actually cause sexual assault. It bears repeating as many times as necessary: Sexual assault is caused by someone making the decision to sexually assault another person.
In stark contrast to the unnamed 23-year-old victim's statement, which has been read by millions and praised as an unflinching account of surviving assault, Turner's letter to Judge Aaron Perksy reflects little understanding or acknowledgment of the nature of his crime. Rather than taking full responsibility for his actions, let alone apologizing for them, Turner uses rhetoric typical of a culture that normalizes assault: Blaming circumstances for his decision, avoiding the impact his actions his had on the victim, and focusing on how his life was affected after sexually assaulting another human being.
The beginning of the letter sets the tone for the entire statement, discussing his changed social status and giving a half-hearted apology to the victim:
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. Not only have I altered my life, but I’ve also changed [redacted] and her family’s life.
Although he initially admits he is the "sole proprietor what happened on [that] night," Turner spends the rest of the statement spreading the blame around, pointing to party culture and alcohol as the root of his actions. Let's look at all the times he blamed sexual assault — which he never explicitly mentioned, by the way — on something that wasn't at fault.
These are the things he holds accountable for his actions, when the only party that actually is accountable for his actions is himself.
Turner mentions alcohol a truly staggering number of times in his statement, despite the fact that alcohol doesn't sexually assault people; people do. When he says, "I wish I had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted]," he points to drinking as the decision he would change if given the opportunity, rather than the decision he made to assault an unconcious woman. When he says, "I never want to attend a social gather that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed," he explicitly blames his decision on alcohol while simultaneously absolving himself of full responsibility. When he says, "I want to show that people's lives can be destroyed by drinking and making poor decisions while doing so," he does more of the same. This last one is the third mention of alcohol in his statement, and it's far from the last.
2. Talking To Someone At A Party
Let's go back to alcohol's first appearance in Turner's statement for a moment: "I wish U had the ability to go back in time and never pick up a drink that night, let alone interact with [redacted.]" Again, the decision he would change isn't sexually assaulting an unconscious woman; it's not talking to the victim at the party they were both at in the first place. But talking to someone at a party doesn't cause sexual assault. Choosing to sexually assault someone does.
3. Party Culture
"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," Turner says. He later comments, "I've been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school." And it's true that party atmospheres often coincide with incidents of rape and sexual assault; a recent study found that campus rape reports spike on game days, which are often framed by celebrations and parties. But game days specifically and party culture in general do not cause sexual assault. Causation is not correlation. People should be able to go to parties without having to worry that someone will sexually assault them. The argument here is the same one it always is: It's not on people to avoid getting assaulted. It's on people not to assault other people in the first place, whether there's a party going on or not.
4. An Unintentional "Mistake"
Says Turner, "I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted]." But whether it was intentional or not — and given the pervasiveness of rape culture, some people may have a faulty understanding of consent — Turner still sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. The fact that he didn't intend to hurt anyone doesn't change what he did.
Yes. Alcohol. Again. Given the number of times Turner links his actions with alcohol, it earns another spot on the list for extra emphasis. His final mention of it occurs near the end of his statement when he says, "I want no one, male or female, to have to experience the destructive consequences of making decisions while under the influence of alcohol"; he concludes with his desire to "let young people [k]now... that things can go from fun to ruined in just one night." And again — again — although it is true that alcohol and sexual assault have a complicated association, substance use doesn't absolve anyone of responsibility, nor does party culture cause sexual assault.
Unfortunately, Turner is hardly the first person to shirk responsibility for sexual assault, and he undoubtedly won't be the last. By nature, rape culture shifts the blame for sexual crimes away from the perpetrator and onto the victim, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it occurred — like, say, the kind of evidence that garners three separate felony convictions. However, the fact remains that there's only one source of blame for sexual assault — not alcohol or party culture, but the person who decided to take advantage of another human being. It's that simple.