Last week, Brock Turner received a paltry six-month sentence for raping an incapacitated woman.
The 20-year-old, who was a Stanford student at the time of the assault, was caught "aggressively thrusting his hips into" the 23-year-old victim as she lay unconscious. He was found guilty back in March of the intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an unconscious person, and penetration of an intoxicated person.
As light as his sentence was, the fact that Turner was even convicted is noteworthy, considering how rarely that happens.
Everything else—from the early characterizations of Turner as a baby-faced, promising athlete, to the very long time it took for the press to receive his mug shot, to his father's (and his friends') thoughtless letters of support—has been an example of how rape culture proliferates in our courts and in our culture.
Most heartbreaking was the powerful statement given by Turner's victim to her rapist. She spoke of the damage done to her by Turner's assault, as well as the damage done to her by his lack of remorse. "Unfortunately," she said, "after reading the defendant's report, I am severely disappointed and feel that he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct."
Turner made a statement of his own to the court. The Guardian obtained parts of that statement on Tuesday, and it is as infuriating as you'd expect.
As the victim pointed out, Turner's letter to the judge reads more like a screed against alcohol than an apology for rape. On several occasions, Turner implies that his actions were inevitable — that his assault on the victim was a direct and necessary result of his intoxication. Some examples, from his statement:
- "At this point in my life, I never want to have a drop of alcohol again. I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed."
- "I want to show that people’s lives can be destroyed by drinking and making poor decisions while doing so."
- "My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back."
- "I want no one, male or female, to have to experience the destructive consequences of making decisions while under the influence of alcohol."
At points, he shifts the blame from alcohol to parties and peer pressure:
- "I know I can show people who were like me the dangers of assuming what college life can be like without thinking about the consequences one would potentially have to make if one were to make the same decisions that I made."
- "I want to demolish the assumption that drinking and partying are what make up a college lifestyle I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone."
- "I want to be a voice of reason in a time where people’s attitudes and preconceived notions about partying and drinking have already been established."
- "I want to let young people now, as I did not, that things can go from fun to ruined in just one night."
- "I’ve been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school."
The victim spoke eloquently on the absurdity of these points. "Campus drinking culture. That’s what we’re speaking out against?" she said, adding, "You think that’s what I’ve spent the past year fighting for? Not awareness about campus sexual assault, or rape, or learning to recognize consent. Campus drinking culture. Down with Jack Daniels. Down with Skyy Vodka. If you want talk to people about drinking go to an AA meeting. You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less."
Turner's letter also displays a deep disregard for the type of crime he has committed. He argues that he's never before had a run-in with police—as if rape is on par with, say, shoplifting, and the victim's pain is incidental. "Before this happened," he writes, "I never had any trouble with law enforcement and I plan on maintaining that."
Also notable is Turner's use of the passive voice. Even when taking responsibility for the rape, Turner makes it sound like something that happened to him, rather than something he did. "I am the sole proprietor of what happened on the night that these people’s lives were changed forever," he writes. A proper version of that sentence might read, "I am the sole proprietor of what happened on that night, and I changed the victim and her family's lives forever."
Turner also writes, "It debilitates me to think that my actions have caused her emotional and physical stress that is completely unwarranted and unfair," as if his actions were a separate, uncontrollable entity outside of his body.
More than anything, Turner's apology is devoid of any recognition of his incredibly privileged position. "I’ve lost my ability to obtain a Stanford degree," he writes, as if an elite college degree is a right. "I've lost employment opportunity," he adds, as if jobs are a given. "I've lost my reputation, and most of all, my life."
Turner has been treated kindly by a judge who saw, many say wrongly, potential for good in a young rapist. His friends are standing by him, as are his parents. He's gotten a second chance, when so many Americans aren't even given a first. He may have lost his reputation, for now. But he most certainly has not lost his life.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.