WOMEN

This Letter From The Stanford Sex Offender's Dad Epitomizes Rape Culture

Only in a rape culture can sexual assault be referred to as "20 minutes of action."

07/06/2016 3:07 AM AEST | Updated 07/06/2016 3:07 AM AEST
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In March, Stanford student Brock Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Last week, he was sentenced to six months in county jail with a three-year probation -- a notably lenient sentence, considering that he faced up to 14 years in prison.

Over the weekend, a character-witness letter from Turner's father to the judge in his son's case surfaced. In the letter, which was written in advance of Turner's sentencing, Dan Turner writes about the many ways in which his son's life has been "deeply altered forever" over what he terms "20 minutes of action."

(Turner has since told The Huffington Post in a statement that he feels his words have been "misinterpreted," and that he was "not referring to sexual activity by the word ‘action.’" His full letter is available on Document Cloud if you want to read it/possibly feel compelled to throw things.)

What Dan Turner does not do is admit that his son, who had already been convicted, had committed a violent crime -- one that unquestionably deeply altered the life of the victim of that crime, who read a heart-wrenching 12-page victim impact statement to the court. (You can and should read it in full.)

"My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me," the statement reads, addressing Turner. "You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today."

After reading Turner's letter, and shaking with rage at how cavalierly it described the utter violation of a young woman, I realized that it distills many of the worst parts of rape culture into one document.

Below are five truths about sexual assault and rape culture that should not have to be spelled out; but given the world we live in -- one where a 19-year-old man believes it is acceptable to assault a woman who cannot speak or walk, and whose father believes the ultimate lesson is that college students shouldn't binge drink -- they still have to be:

Sexual assault is a violent crime.

It is, by definition, the violation of another human being's body. That is violence. When Dan Turner writes that Brock "has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of January 17th 2015," that is a bald-faced lie. Again: sexual violence is violence. 

People who commit sexual assault are human beings. 

As I have written before, it feels safer to pretend that rapists are monstrous bogeyman living in the shadows -- not human beings with friends, parents, lovers and colleagues. But that idea is damaging to everyone. The fact that Brock, by his father's account, "has always been a person that people like to be around whether they are male or female" could be 100 percent true. But his "easygoing personality" still does not preclude him from the ability to commit a violent sexual assault. Neither does his impressive swimming record or his love of ribeye steaks or his commitment to academic success or the fact that he was nice to other kids on school field trips.

It is possible to drink and not commit sexual assault. 

There are a lot of reasons to interrogate binge-drinking culture. Drinking and driving is a major public health hazard! Alcohol is terrible for your liver! And, yes, binge-drinking can impact one's decision-making abilities. But what alcohol does not do is magically turn someone into a rapist.  There are many, many, many, many people in this world who have nights where they drink too much -- maybe even much too much -- and they do not sexually assault another person.

Going to college away from home is not the problem here. Misogyny, entitlement, dehumanization and objectification are.

Dan Turner writes about how Stanford was "simply too far from home for someone who was born and raised in the midwest," as though Brock could never have assaulted someone had he stayed closer to home for college. But sexual assault does not occur in a vacuum. Just as alcohol cannot magically turn someone into a person who commits sexual assault, neither can distance from one's hometown.

Of course freshman year of university is a huge, life-altering transition. Of course young men and young women want to fit in to the culture that surrounds them. But teaching men that they deserve to take what they want from women sexually -- something that requires seeing women as less than full humans with independent needs, desire and rights -- starts much, much earlier. 

Sexual assault is not "promiscuity." It is sexual assault.

Yes, this is apparently something people are still confused about, including Dan Turner. "Brock...is totally committed to educating other college students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity," he wrote.

To be "promiscuous" -- a term that somehow seems to mostly get thrown around when speaking about the sexual choices women make -- requires active participation by those involved in said "promiscuity." Victims of sexual assault have not consented. The problem here is not that young people are having lots of casual sex. The problem is that we live in a world where some young men feel entitled to access to young women's bodies. 

As Turner's victim said in her statement: "Where does promiscuity even come into play? I don’t see headlines that read, Brock Turner, Guilty of drinking too much and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that. Campus Sexual Assault. There’s your first PowerPoint slide."

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