I try to keep my travel blog free from this kind of stuff, but I cannot stay silent.
Dear Mr. Turner,
We don't know each other. We've never met, and chances are we will never meet. I'm glad for that; I think if we did, I would weep for all of the women and girls that you unwillingly pierced with your words.
I won't sit here and critique your parenting style. I don't know what it's like to be a parent, let alone the parent of a rapist. Genuinely, I am sure that must be immeasurably difficult for you, and I cannot begin to fathom what it feels like to cope with the knowledge that your son sexually victimized an innocent woman.
Your son raped a woman. Whether or not that is due to your parenting decisions or the way he was raised - I do not know. But what I do know is that your son made a decision that night, alcohol aside, rape and victimize a vulnerable woman.
I cannot critique your pain. Of course, your immediate reaction is to protect your son. After all, he is your boy - probably the boy that fills your heart and soul with good memories - of swim meets, fishing trips, of family barbecues and vacations, birthdays, and everything in between. And I cannot critique you for wanting to protect your son. He will always be your "happy go lucky" son first and foremost in your eyes , and his mistakes (or arguably, purposeful actions) follow somewhere after. He is beyond lucky to have you in his corner, someone who will tirelessly defend his actions, however horrific they may be. I can understand you, and while I cannot agree with you, I can understand that you are a father and he is always your son.
But what I can critique are your words - the words you chose, regardless of your intentions, that will forever burn in the minds of thousands of victims of sexual violence.
Have you heard of Sasha Menu Courey? In case you haven't, she was a bright young swimmer, not so different from your son. She attended my alma mater, the University of Missouri, and in 2010, she was raped by a Mizzou football player. And in 2011, she committed suicide.
Sasha did all the right things. After holding in her secret for more than a year, she told a rape crisis counselor at the University, a campus therapist, a campus nurse, two doctors, and an athletic department administrator. Under Title IX, once a university is aware of an alleged sexual assault, it must take immediate action to investigate. The university did nothing.
Sometime in 2011, Sasha went to a local hotel and slashed her wrists. Police were called, and she has been reported to have screamed "the system failed me!" as police pulled the razor blade away out of her hands.
In June, Sasha took 100 Tylenol pills and two days later, died from organ failure. I can't say for certain whether or not the system is what killed Sasha Menu Courey, but I'd like to think that perhaps she'd still be here if university administrators had stepped in sooner.
By telling the judge that your son will fight to combat "sexual promiscuity" and "binge drinking," in order to make a difference, you are severely misguided. Perhaps if Sasha wasn't so "sexually promiscuous" a football player wouldn't have climbed on top of her in bed in the middle of the night and raped her. Right?
But it was only 20 minutes of his life, right? But it cost her hers.
Have you heard of Lizzy Seeberg? Probably not. Lizzy was an intelligent, beautiful, kind, Christian young woman who had just started her first year at St. Mary's College, the all women's college next to Notre Dame. She had everything going for her, the world at her feet. She loved her family, and she loved God. She loved country music and service trips. She was my friend.
Lizzy was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player during one of her first weeks at St. Mary's. I didn't know. On September 10th as I was walking into the University of Missouri football stadium (oh the irony), I received a phone call. Lizzy was gone.
Lizzy did all the right things, just like Sasha and countless others. The day after the assault, Lizzy filed a report to the university. She did everything that was asked of her by law enforcement and other professionals. She was meeting a school therapist. She told her new friends what had happened. She could not have done more.
Lizzy is likely gone because she realized that he was going to get away with it, and she was right. He did. Prince Shembo, Lizzy's attacker, played an entire season of Notre Dame football that year. And guess what? He went on to join the Atlanta Falcons after college. Just until he was arrested for killing his girlfriend's dog, that is.
I don't know you, but I know Lizzy, and I know that "sexual promiscuity" and "binge drinking" did not cause my friend's assault. I was about to type "Lizzy wasn't like that." But what if she was? Does that warrant an unsolicited sexual assault? If your son had committed, say, a robbery, would you recommend that he goes out into the community to educate people about being too rich?
Many of my friends, and millions more of my non-friends are "sexually promiscuous" and engage in the occasional "binge drinking" but have never raped anyone. Rape isn't an "unfortunate result" of binge drinking. Burnt cookies aren't a result of long showers, and car accidents aren't a result of bad grades. Rape is an unfortunate result of rapists, like your son, raping someone.
Lizzy, Sasha, and countless others have been affected because of the narrative that you have reinforced: the idea that their assailants, rapists, perpetrators will walk away with a measly 6 month sentence, and they will be left feeling shattered and alone. Lizzy and Sasha did all the right things, but women and girls who have seen your words may be thinking "why bother? He is just going to get away with it anyway." You telling the world that rape is an "unfortunate result" of anything other than a rapist is showing women, girls, and even men (yes, men can be survivors of rape too) that their story is null and void, so long as alcohol is involved. As someone who has spoken to many survivors and who has lost her friend to a system that preaches that alcohol is the root of all problems, athletes have the only lives worth living, and that sexual promiscuity leads to rape, I will say how dare you.
Your son may not be able to enjoy steak and pretzels again, but neither will Lizzy or Sasha, but the difference is that they didn't ask for it. As much as it may pain you to see your son hurting, he made the decision to rape, and he must suffer the consequences, steak and all. Unfortunately for him, in this country, once you turn 18, 20 minutes of 20 years of life is enough to assure that he never eats his favorite pretzels or chips again. But fortunately for him, he has been given another chance in just six months.
My friend will never have another chance. Neither will Sasha Menu Courey, and many, many others. While I will not criticize your parenting style, I will say wake up. The world and the system cannot continue to revolve around people like your son: people who don't "look" like rapists, who are talented athletes, smart academics, and strong leaders.
You are lucky today, because you got off easy. I hope that Brock is the last man to get away with rape. I hope that tomorrow there will be no more Brock Turners or Prince Shembos. Not the Brock Turner that you know, the kind, strong, leader and athlete, but the Brock Turner who made a decision to violate a young woman who was not conscious to decide whether or not she wanted to be touched. The Brock Turners who are let off the hook because they are good people besides the fact that they may or may not have raped someone but it was only 20 minutes of his life so shouldn't it be fine? The Brock Turners who have taken the life of my friend in exchange for brief sexual gratification, power, the thrill of a struggle, whatever it may be.
I hope that the Brock Turners of the world remain the Brock Turners that you know them to be.
Perhaps you've made a difference because now mothers around the world are sitting down with their children and telling them that the world is big and people are good, and they deserve to be respected and loved, and that they cannot touch anyone without permission first, and no one can touch them without permission first, and not to let anyone defer them from speaking out about what they know is just and right.
Or perhaps we've learned nothing, and you're just a moment of viral internet hatred, in which the world will just continue spinning around and rapists will continue to serve six month sentences and women and men will remain terrified to speak out because of words like "binge drinking," "sexual promiscuity," and "alcohol consumption."
I certainly hope it's the former, so no one will ever have to lose the Lizzy in their life again.
I understand that you and your family are in pain. I cannot imagine if something like that happened in my family, how it would rock us off our axis. I understand that you are coming from a place of hurt, confusion, miseducation and of seeing your son through rose colored glasses.
We are all human. We are all in this together. Please understand the consequences of your words, just as your son must understand the consequences of his actions. If we want to stop rape, we must stop rapists. We must stop a system that allows people to rape and get away with it. By handing down 6 month sentences, or no sentences at all, the system shouts "YOU CAN RAPE AND IT WILL BE OKAY." The impact your son has made may have "only" been twenty minutes, but the impact that your statement has made will last in the hearts and minds of thousands forever.
Let us seek to understand, quest to learn more, and look forward toward a better future for survivors.