I have been working with survivors and advocates to end sexual violence for many years. I have led workshops on rape culture for over 10 years, and I've told my audiences that I want to share not only the ways our culture supports and tolerates sexual violence, but also the positive progress I've seen. I've shared improvements made in the laws, the benefits of rape prevention curricula in our schools, and the increase in funds for rape crisis services. But it is so hard to believe that progress is being made to end rape culture when confronted by Brock Turner's case, which unfolded before our nation's eyes this week.
Rape culture is a powerful education machine, we're all learning from it every day. This week we learned that Brock Turner decided to pull the clothes off an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. We learned that Brock Turner raped the woman in the dirt, and that he was discovered by two bystanders. Those two brave people got involved, they stopped the rape, they made sure Brock Turner was arrested. The rape culture also taught us that Brock Turner is a talented swimmer, that his life is full of promise. We learned that he can no longer enjoy his favorite meal, that he is depressed. We learned that his father Dan Turner wrote sentencing judge Aaron Persky, referring to his son's crime as "20 minutes of action" and begging for his son to stay out of prison - asking the judge to collaborate with the diseased narrative he had crafted and not hold his son accountable.
Unlike so many other rape cases with blamed, shamed and stigmatized victims, the woman who survived Brock Turner's violence spoke out to the judge with poise, intelligence, and strength. Her victim impact statement went viral, has been read by millions, and was read aloud on air by CNN's Ashleigh Banfield. The woman spoke clearly about the injuries Brock Turner chose to inflict - to her body, her mind, her heart. We learned that she refused to bend to the rape culture's might, she is choosing to survive and fight. Her strong smart voice was heard.
Judge Aaron Persky was unmoved. He stood in alliance with the rape culture, complicit in enforcing its well understood priorities. Following Brock Turner's convictions for this violent crime, the judge relied heavily on the lessons learned from the rape culture in sentencing Brock Turner to a mere 6 months in county jail, saying, "[A] prison sentence would have a severe impact on [the defendant] ...he will not be a danger to others." Rape culture translation: "I don't want to ruin this young white man's life - his potential is more valuable to me and my community then the victim's wellness and other young women's safety. I have decided that Brock Turner's actions are less costly than the benefits of his freedom."
So what remedies do we have? Can the next group of women Brock Turner rapes hold the judge accountable for being unfit? Can the next group of women Brock Turner rapes sue his parents for failing to raise their son to respect consent? Will CNN agree to have open air time slots for the next group of Brock Turner victims to have their say? What remedies do we have? How will this situation ever change when our culture keeps churning out parents like Brock Turner's?
I went home and shared my despondence with the man in my life, who is so good, decent, loving. He was pained to hear this story, and to see my sadness as I recounted it. He was raised to care about other people, he was raised to understand that violating an unconscious woman is obscene, and wrong. He was parented that way, it wasn't an accident. His parents made the intentional decision to raise a good man.
So through tears I told my 10 year old son about Brock Turner. I told him that Brock Turner decided to rape an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. I told him what Dan Turner said in his letter to Judge Persky, reframing his son's choices and asking the judge to collaborate in those lies. I told my son what the judge did. My son was shocked, he FELT empathy for the young woman, and for me, because I was obviously hurt and angry about this case. I told my son that he will be the courageous bystander who helps people being hurt.
I will continue to parent my son to be a good man. My son will know consent, understand when he sees it, and when he does not. This will not be accidental; it will be an intentional willful outcome. Parents must stop having a conversation inside their own heads that says, "Oh, MY son would never do that." My son will understand his human obligation to see women's needs as equal to his own. I can't solve this terrible tragedy, but I can make sure that my son is part of the solution.
One son at a time, our community must commit to making people like Brock Turner, his father Dan Turner, and Judge Aaron Persky examples of the rape culture's last dying gasp.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.