Let me begin with the unusual statement that I have a lot of compassion in my heart for people who have been accused of doing the wrong thing.
Because it has happened to people I know–both friends and family.
Some of them did indeed do the wrong thing. Some of them didn’t.
I won’t detail this out here, but I’ve had been involved in a number of different situations in which people I love have been caught in the justice system for something they’ve done or something they’ve been accused of doing.
So trust me when I say that I am capable of practicing compassion for the accused and the offender.
But I have not been able to access my compassion in this case.
Because he clearly raped her.
And he has not said that he is sorry for raping her.
For the last five years, stories of campus sexual assaults and the egregious cover-ups by university officials has been a hot topic, especially when they involve college athletes. Each time another university is put in the spotlight (see Baylor University for the most recent example), I have renewed hope that we are moving a little closer to finally taking violence against women seriously.
And then Brock Turner’s sentencing hearing happened.
The facts of this case are deplorable.
- The victim was unconscious.
- Turner took her behind a dumpster and raped her with foreign objects, his hands, and debris.
- Two Stanford graduate students caught him in the act, pursued him when he ran away, and held him down until the police arrived.
- The victim was covered in physical evidence of the attack.
- The physical evidence was carefully catalogued and photographed.
- He was there. He was caught. The crime he committed was called rape.
And then add these additional facts that trouble me.
- Turner was sentenced to 6 months in jail (not prison–a world of difference), but can be released in 3 months.
- The judge’s rationale for the short sentence was that he didn’t want to “severely harm” Turner.
- Turner’s own letter to the judge expresses his remorse over getting drunk. Not over raping an unconscious woman.
- Turner is from my hometown, Dayton, Ohio.
But I think I understand why he has not expressed remorse for raping.
His own father cannot see his son’s actions as violent or deserving of serious punishment. Turner’s father wrote this letter, in which he says that
These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways.
(The verdicts? Not the rape? Not the year-long trial?)
He then states that his son…
…has never been violent to anyone, including his action on the night of January 17th 2015.
(Raping a woman isn’t violent? Interesting…)
And that spending time behind bars…
…is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.
(Hmm… But during that 20 minutes, he raped someone. You can also commit a lot of other heinous crimes in under 20 minutes.)
If his father is articulating these thoughts on paper, it’s probably a safe assumption that these words open a window into this family’s discourse surrounding Brock’s crime. If his own family won’t call his actions “criminal,” then it makes sense that Brock won’t call his actions criminal.
If everyone around you creates a reality in which your main error was drinking too much, then you begin to believe, Yeah, that’s where I went wrong. I drank too much. I mean, a lot of people drink too much, so what’s the big deal? Anyone else could have been caught in the same situation as me if they drank too much.
And that’s how the rationalizations happen.
As infuriating as the father’s comments are, I understand that they are coming from a parent who is struggling to find a way to love his son and admit that his son has committed a terrible crime.
Everything in our society trains us to hate people who commit crimes. It’s seemingly incompatible with our ability to love. So I understand that it’s a kind of family preservation to downplay the severity of their son’s crimes in order to preserve their love for him.
In his landmark book Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon writes about exceptional relationships between parents and children, including parents of children who commit crimes. He says,
Families of criminals often struggle both to admit that their child has done something destructive, and to continue to love him anyway. Some give up love; some blind themselves to the bad behavior.
The ideal of doing neither of those things borrows from the idea of loving the sinner while hating the sin, but sinners and sins cannot so easily be separated; if human beings love sinners, we love them with their sin.
People who see and acknowledge the darkness in those they love, but whose love is only strengthened by that knowledge, achieve their truest love that is eagle-eyed even when the views are bleak (p. 587).
It must be difficult to come to terms with the fact that your child has done something as despicable as this. But it is possible. Sue Klebold (the mother of Columbine shooter, Dylan Klebold) was able to comes to terms with the fact that her son did a despicable thing–and she still loved him. She even wrote an amazing book about it.
As painful as it will be, that is what Brock’s parents must do in order to help Brock at this point. In order to move toward healing, everyone needs to call Brock’s actions what they really are: Rape.
They will need to find a mental space in which it’s possible that these two facts exist at the same time: their son has committed a terrible crime and they still love him.
Many voices on social media have raised the question, How would this judge/these parents like it if this happened to their own daughter?
That question should be our moral compass on this issue. This woman’s life was forever altered by Brock Turner. She says,
My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self deprecating, tired, irritable, empty.
And in regard to Brock’s continued insistence that his main error was getting drunk, she says,
If you are hoping that one of my organs will implode from anger and I will die, I’m almost there. You are very close.
This woman needs closure. She needs to hear an abject, wholehearted apology. She needs to hear Brock call his own actions by their rightful name: rape. She requires this for (at least a chance of) restoring her wholeness of mind.
When my daughter was about two years old, another boy in her daycare class started to hit the other kids in his class. When my husband brought her to school one day, she saw him and didn’t want to go inside. What did my husband do?
- He asked her what was wrong.
He didn’t ignore her.
- He listened and found out that she was scared of the little boy because he hit her.
He didn’t tell her she was exaggerating.
- He told the teacher what was going on.
He made a report.
- The teacher called the little boy over and asked him if he had hit my daughter.
The teacher didn’t dismiss it with the old “Boys will be boys” excuse.
- The child lowered his head and said, “Yes.”
The boy admitted his guilt and was humbled by his mistake.
- Then the teacher told him to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
My daughter’s face lit up. And they went on playing.
It’s a simplistic analogy, but it does say a lot about human interaction and emotion. My daughter needed to be made whole…
…and that was only going to happen if this other boy acknowledged that he had hurt her.
I want to believe that good can still come out of this story. I want to believe that in the coming years, we’ll have more and more public discourse about the effects of a hyper-masculine culture and the objectification of women. I think we can overcome the assumption that drunk women are responsible for their own rapes.
In the meantime, let’s acknowledge the courage and strength of the women like this victim, who chose to end her statement with these words:
I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you.
I am with you, too.