Though we don’t even know her name, a survivor of a violent Stanford University campus rape has become known in households all over America because of the poignant and brave statement she delivered at her rapist’s sentencing last week. “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” the woman’s 13-page missive to Brock Turner began. The statement was first published by Buzzfeed, and with five million views and counting, her message has clearly struck a chord.
But before they all gathered in court, the convicted rapist’s father, Dan A. Turner, made a personal effort to convince the judge, Aaron Persky, to deliver a light sentence—which may have contributed to the paltry six months his son was given.
In doing so, however, the elder Turner likely did not realize that his language reveals his—and so many others—core misunderstandings about the trauma of sexual assault.
He starts off his letter like this:
First of all, let me say that Brock is absolutely devastated by the events of January 17th and 18th 2015. He would do anything to turn back the hands of time and have that night to do over again…I can tell you that he is truly sorry for what occurred that night and for all the pain and suffering that it has caused for all of those involved and impacted by that night. He has expressed true remorse for his actions.
While Dan Turner notes his son’s remorse, you’ll notice the way he carefully dances around an admission of guilt: He’s sorry for “what occurred” and feels “true remorse” for his actions. The language is decidedly passive, as if Brock, much like the unnamed victim, was an innocent bystander. What Dan is really saying is that we should not only feel sorry for the victim, but for his kid, too.
Dan then goes onto explain bits about his son’s character, as if to soften the horrible thing he’s been convicted of doing. He describes him as easygoing, endearing, fiercely likeable, non-judgmental, humble, strong, gentle and quiet with a great smile. Sounds like a great guy—until you remember how he forced himself on an unconscious woman behind a dumpster.
He then speaks of his “dedication to academics” while detailing the way in which he’d quiz Brock for spelling tests.
I can assure you that Brock always did well on these exams. While this example may seem trivial, it was an early indicator of the importance he placed on academic achievement that never left him. As he got older and progressed in school, he needed my intervention less and less as he is gifted in his ability to understand very complicated subject matter. This natural ability along with an extremely strong work ethic lead to academic success at all levels.
Again, we are presented with a portrait of a young man who couldn’t have possibly carried out the crime charged against him. Scholars don’t do that. Athletes don’t do that. Scholar athletes certainly don’t do that. But the thing is—they actually do.
A recent online study in the journal Violence Against Women surveyed 379 heterosexual collegiate males, 188 of whom were either intercollegiate or intramural athletes. In the study, the researchers asked the men questions about sexual activity and attitudes—and found that more than half of the athletes surveyed admitted to coercing a partner into sex.
Belinda-Rose Young, lead author of the study, told the Washington Post that she was surprised that intramural athletes showed just as high of a level of coercive behavior as intercollegiate athletes, including the use of threats for oral or anal sex. “We saw that that attitude is just a part of the general sporting environment," she said. It seems that Dan Turner shares this attitude of entitlement for his athlete son.
After sharing a litany of his son’s other honorable accomplishments—Cub Scout, baseball and basketball player, hotly pursued high school swimmer, acceptance at a top university—the rapist’s father segues into a story about how Brock struggled his first semester at Stanford.
We even questioned whether it was the right move to send him back to Stanford for the winter quarter. In hindsight, it’s clear that Brock was desperately trying to fit in at Stanford and fell into the culture of alcohol consumption and partying. This culture was modeled by many of the upperclassmen on the swim team and played a role in the event of Jan 17th and 18th 2015.
Not only has the victim been blamed for the events of that night–which could have been even worse had two graduate students not chased and tackled Brock when they saw what he was doing—but Dan also places blame on his son’s teammates. Even if another man brags about forcing himself on a woman, actually committing that act is a personal choice. The only person to blame is the perpetrator of the crime. And that is something Dan Turner—and others defending him—cannot seem to get his head around.
But perhaps the most incomprehensible part of Dan’s letter comes at the end when he describes how Brock’s life “has been deeply altered forever” by his sentencing, how he’s lost his appetite for “a big ribeye steak” and his “favorite snack,” and how he now “only eats to exist.” Most troublesome of all is this:
These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways. His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.
Allow that to sink in for just a moment.
Dan Turner’s choice to refer to it as “action” and not “rape” is a laser-sharp look into his psyche: His attitude towards sexual violence, the seriousness with which he takes his son’s crime, the way he feels about victims.
Victims are the ones who deserve our attention. The unrepentant fathers of convicted rapists do not.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct timing of Dan Turner's letter.
Marisa Kabas is a Sex + Life reporter based in New York City. She loves baseball, bunnies and bagels.