The XX Factor

Brock Turner’s Father Sums Up Rape Culture in One Brief Statement

Brock Turner in an undated Facebook photo.


In the few days since ex–Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was given a six-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, much of the internet’s chatter has converged on a heart-wrenching, beautifully argued, deeply felt statement the woman read to him in court. It’s a devastating account of the survivor’s revictimization during her trial, a powerful indictment of the lighter sentences imposed on white, wealthy sex criminals, and a haunting depiction of how rape culture exerts its influence on college campuses and in courts of law. The victim provided her statement to BuzzFeed News; the page been viewed more than 4 million times since Friday afternoon.

Now, the internet has an opposing letter to read: a defense of Turner reportedly written by his father, Dan. Posted early Sunday morning by Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor and sociologist who led the school’s revision of its sexual assault policies in recent years, the letter appears to have been written prior to Brock’s sentencing to advocate for probation only, in lieu of any jail time.

The sentence Brock got—six months in county jail and three years of probation—was extraordinarily light; he could have served up to 14 years in state prison. The judge opted for just a few months in jail (the Santa Clara County district attorney predicts he’ll only serve three of the six) because, the judge argued, a prison sentence would “have a severe impact on [Turner].” Turner will also have to register as a sex offender.

That generous decision is an echo of Dan Turner’s letter, which essentially argues that Brock has already suffered enough for his crimes. This piece is a near-perfect complement to the victim’s gripping 7,200-word essay—Dan Turner defends his son with nearly every thin excuse his son’s victim demolishes in her letter; he elevates all the rape-apologist, victim-diminishing tropes she exposes as misogynist garbage.

Dan’s letter begins by describing how his son’s life has been thrown off track by his sexual assault, but never assigns responsibility to Brock, who repeatedly defended himself by saying that the victim enjoyed the assault and even had an orgasm. It’s not “Brock’s sexual assault” or “Brock’s actions” that occurred in January 2015, according to Dan; it’s “the events.” He spends five full sentences discussing Brock’s loss of appetite, as if that’s plenty punishment for his deeds. Perhaps he was trying to avoid the tone-deaf protests put forth by so many other Brock defenders, including the probation officer who helped determine his sentence, who’ve argued that the loss of his swimming scholarship is a major retribution that should figure into his sentence. In her essay, the survivor of Brock’s assault eloquently explains why that’s another symptom of a justice system sick with racial and socioeconomic inequity:

The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard earned swimming scholarship. How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be?

Later in his letter, Dan Turner writes that jail time is “not the appropriate punishment” for Brock because “he has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015.” That is patently untrue. A jury convicted Brock of three violent offenses: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person; sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object; and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. Brock’s victim made a persuasive argument for why Brock’s lack of criminal history is no reason to let him off with a slap on the wrist:

As a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.

Dan also furthers the tired, insulting, victim-blaming narrative that holds drunk women responsible for their own sexual assaults when he discusses Brock’s possible future as an anti-drinking activist. “By 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 writes. The unfortunate results of binge drinking are manifold, but they do not include sexual assault. Brock’s victim writes:

Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. … Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away.

Starting an anti-drinking foundation and becoming an anti-drinking activist is something celebrities do to manage their reputations after they incur a DUI; no sane person would expect Brock to devote the rest of his life to fighting teen alcoholism, much less be any good at it. But his father claims that a sole sentence of probation would allow Brock to “give back to society in a net positive way.” Net positive: as in, when the sum of negative consequences of Brock’s sexual assault are combined with the sum of whatever positive influence he could affect with his anti-drinking lectures, the positives outweigh the negatives. Dan Turner is saying that the harm Brock caused by sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and antagonizing her for a year on trial is so minimal, he could more than make up for it by lecturing students about keggers.

But the worst parts of Dan’s letter are his grave mischaracterizations of rape as sex. “[Brock’s] 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,” Dan writes, as if Brock should get special credit for not raping anyone during the first 19 years of his life. Committing sexual assault is not getting “action,” and 20 minutes may have been short for Brock, but it is not a short time for a victim enduring a sexual assault. Brock’s assault was not over when 20 minutes were up—his victim will forever contend with its persistent, damaging consequences. She will pay for his actions for the rest of her life.

Dan, like Brock and his lawyer, deny the very existence of sexual assault by equating it with the kind of casual sex other college students enjoy: “Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.” Alcohol did not sexually assault Brock’s victim, and hook-up culture did not threaten her dignity and self-worth. Anonymous, drunken sex did not land Brock in jail. In her letter, Brock’s victim explains the willful ignorance someone must employ in order to conflate sexual assault with casual sex. “It is deeply offensive that [Brock] would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of ‘promiscuity.’ By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity; rape is the absence of consent,” she writes. “It perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.”