Last week, a California judge sentenced a Stanford University student-athlete — Brock Turner, 20, from Oakwood — to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster after a campus party. Almost immediately — fueled by social media, intense news coverage, the victim’s eloquent, painful statement and Turner’s father’s defense of his son — the story became symbolic of all the ways our society regards and often mishandles sexual assault cases. Are sentences fair? Are victims treated properly? Are they taken seriously, or are they re-victimized by the system? What factors contribute to the crimes? What are the responsibilities of bystanders? What can be done? What can be learned from all this? Today we offer some commentary and reaction from around the nation, and views from local readers. Your thoughts are welcome: email email@example.com. — Ron Rollins
The victim’s statement changed the discussion
From Slate: “The case, which resulted in a six-month jail sentence and probation for Turner, has touched off furor among those who say the punishment is too light, and sparked vigorous debate about the intersection of sexual assault, privilege, and justice. This is an astounding moment, in part because it’s so rare for sexual violence, despite its ubiquity, to garner this kind of attention. ‘It’s incredible,’ said Michele Dauber, a Stanford Law School professor who has pressed for the recall of the judge who sentenced Turner. ‘Why did that happen? First of all, it’s the tremendous power and clarity of thought that is reflected in the survivor’s statement. She is helping people to understand this experience in a visceral and clear way. And she’s brushing away all the really toxic politics around campus assault that have built up. People have said, “How can we really believe these women? It’s his word against hers.” This men’s rights movement has emerged. And there’s been a lot of rage happening out there. Then, whoosh, (this statement) really reframed it.”
A teachable moment for parents
From The Associated Press: “Gena O’Brien was catching up on headlines this week when she stumbled across a young woman’s account of her life since she was sexually assaulted at Stanford University — a statement to the former student-athlete who molested her behind a dumpster 16 months ago. O’Brien has two sons, ages 10 and 14. The older boy is a competitive swimmer, like 20-year-old Brock Turner was at Stanford before his arrest. In the raw words of an assault survivor, O’Brien recognized a teachable moment. She read portions of the woman’s statement out loud to her ninth-grader while he was getting ready for school and made him promise to read all 12 pages when he was done studying for finals.”
The father of boys will read them the victim’s letter
From the Chicago Tribune: “I’m a father of boys. As such, I’m saving a letter written by the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner at Stanford University. I’ll read it to my sons when their mother and I feel each is old enough. The letter is gut-wrenching and graphic, and it explains in stark terms all that was taken from that young woman as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster on the Stanford campus in 2015. I’ll explain to my sons what happened, how a California jury found 20-year-old Turner guilty of three counts of sexual assault. How he wound up getting only six months in county jail and probation despite facing a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.”
Turner blamed “party culture” for assault
From ABC: “Brock Turner … blamed the ‘party culture’ of ‘college life’ for his actions. … Turner acknowledged that he is the ‘sole proprietor of what happened that night’ in January 2015 but maintained his version of the events, saying the unidentified victim willingly interacted with him outside a fraternity house. He even said the woman appeared to be enjoying herself. ‘At no time did it ever occur to me or did it ever seem that (she) was too drunk to know what we were doing. I would not have done anything against anyone’s will,’ he said in the statement. ‘I swear I never would have done any of this if (she) wasn’t willing.’”
Women read victim’s statement
From the New York Daily News: “After launching a #20MinutesOfAdvocacy Twitter campaign, a parade of (New York) women took turns reading the victim’s emotional impact statement during a program at Gracie Mansion. One by one, the women — including ‘Sex and the City’ actress Cynthia Nixon and Mayor de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray — read portions of the 12-page statement in a video that was posted on the mayor’s Facebook page.”
A pastor’s response to Turner’s father
From CNN: “As the six-month jail sentence handed down in the Stanford rape case continues to draw national outrage, on Wednesday a pastor and parent joined Ashley Banfield for a live discussion that has further publicized the story. … John Pavlovitz, a North Carolina pastor, was moved to pen his own sentiments as part of an open letter on his blog. … ‘I understand you trying to humanize your son in your letter talking to the judge about his favorite snacks and swim practice,’ wrote Pavlovitz. … ‘There is no scenario where your son should be the sympathetic figure here. He is the assailant. I can’t imagine how gut-wrenching that reality, but it is true.’”
What local people are saying …
From Kathryn G. Havemann: Brock Turner lost his swimming scholarship and likely his position as a Stanford student when he took his first (of the seven he admitted to) drink on Jan. 17. Every college athlete signs a code of conduct that he/she will not use alcohol or drugs as a member of an athletic team sponsored by the college. Anyone at that party could have reported him to the coach and his illustrious swimming career would have been over — regardless of the other heinous actions he chose to take as a result of his inebriation. He shamed his school, his parents, the Oakwood community, and himself with that first drink.
Most kids, even my own, do stupid things when they’re young. No parent and no child is perfect. We accept that but responsible adults also expect, and teach their children from the time they can understand as toddlers, that there are consequences to every action and those consequences must be acknowledged in order for any learning to occur. For the local judge and Oakwood High School counselor to state that Brock Turner doesn’t deserve to pay the price for his felonies, no matter how wonderful a person he is when sober or was as an Oakwood student, makes me seriously wonder about the moral integrity of the men and women we elect and hire to teach our children to be good citizens of the world.
I am gravely sorry that Brock Turner committed these felonies but when his meager six months in county jail (probably spent picking up trash along the highways) and his even more meager three months of probation, he still has the opportunity, should he chose the righteous path, to redeem his admittedly less glorious life that he was privileged to have. He will never be as violated as he left his victim.
From Gloria Skurski: For my part, I believe the letter of the father gives us insight into what is otherwise unthinkable and shows us that attitudes begin at home. No wonder the son had no sense of shame or remorse; no wonder he would not admit to guilt when his own father excuses and defends him, relieving him of any responsibility. The unvarnished arrogance of the letter is chilling; the father is clearly more concerned about his son’s lack of appetite than he is about the young woman that his son raped. I have to ask — what kind of parenting is this? Where is the idea of simple right and wrong? Where is the idea of kindness, of having respect and empathy for another human being? Where is the idea of taking responsibility for one’s action? These are the things that we’re supposed to be teaching our children.
From Laurie Murphy: I know it’s a parent’s job to provide unconditional love and support of your child, but you also need to instill values and morals that allow your child to accept responsibility for their actions and the effect those actions have on others; you can still love and support your child but also encourage them to be accountable for their behavior in order to learn from their actions. In this criminal’s case, instead of owning and acknowledging his acts, excuses and victim blaming seem to be the path they chose to deal with their son’s assault of an unconscious girl.
I just don’t understand how any parent can write a letter that excuses and denies any wrongdoing from their child who was tried and found to be guilty of sexual assault. Hate the act your child was convicted of but don’t deny or pretend that it didn’t happen. Acknowledging the crime doesn’t mean you don’t love and support your child.
I would hope that the Turners and their supporters would see that what he did was wrong and it damaged a young person’s life. If Brock Turner is the wonderful person and upstanding citizen his supporters say he is, I would hope that he would truly examine his actions on that fateful day and realize that he and he alone is responsible for what he did.
My fear is that the continued denial and victim blaming will cause Brock Turner to have a distorted view of his actions and that he will go along in life feeling that he was the biggest victim in this crime.
I don’t wish this situation upon anyone else, but I hope that if I were in this situation, I would’ve focused more on the victim and what my child can do to take responsibility for the act and not on my child’s loss of taste for steaks and pretzels.
From Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias H. Heck, Jr. and Sandra Hunt, director of the Victim/Witness Division: There has recently been a lot of local and national attention, both by the public and the media, concerning sexual assaults on college campuses, due to a recent case in California involving a student from Oakwood. We, like many of our colleagues throughout the country, believe that the disappointing and inappropriate sentence in that case will have a chilling effect on victims coming forward to report sexual violence.
Working with victims of violent crimes over the years has given us the opportunity to see firsthand the devastating impact of sexual assault. Of the many different types of crime categories, sexual assault/violence is still a topic that most are uncomfortable discussing. Early on, we learned that the physical wounds of sexual violence heal quickly but the emotional scars can last a lifetime.
National statistics on campus sexual assaults show that college women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as robbed. Sadly, sexual violence on campuses is pervasive in our nation. Among undergraduate students, over 23 percent of females and 5 percent of males experience sexual violence.
If sexual violence is so prevalent, then why do we not hear about more cases being reported? Some studies report that as much as 85 percent of on campus sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement. Many of the unreported cases are because the victim is afraid of reprisal. Often, victims are fearful, ashamed and some think they will not be believed. Over the past decade, we have seen an increase in the number of victims disclosing sexual assaults that occurred at our local colleges. However, many of the victims find the process of dealing with law enforcement, campus judiciary hearings and possible criminal justice system involvement to be overwhelming.
We need to educate students on the laws and the meaning of consent. While excessive alcohol consumption may be common among college students, it does not give consent for sexual violence. Perpetrators often target victims who are drugged, drunk, passed out, or otherwise incapacitated; a victim is selected who is vulnerable and accessible. Persons who are drunk or incapacitated are incapable of giving consent.
The Victim/Witness Division of the prosecutor’s office provides a 24-hour crisis hotline (937-225-5623) and 24-hour response to all sexual assault victims who report to hospital emergency departments. Trained advocates provide crisis intervention, information regarding sexual assault exams, and possible police investigation. Our services are free of charge and are available to all victims regardless of their involvement with the criminal justice system. Our goal is to provide a supportive, victim-centered approach to anyone who has experienced sexual violence. We stand committed to lessen the trauma the victim has suffered and hold the perpetrator responsible.
It is time for our nation and our community to learn how to support victims rather than condemn them to a life of silence. If someone tells you he/she has experienced sexual violence, believe him or her. Instead of asking, “How much did you drink? Why did you go to that party? What were you wearing?” Try saying instead, “I am sorry that this happened to you. What can I do to help?”