“20 Minutes of Action”

The Things We Tell Our Boys

CBS 5, San Francisco

By now, most people have either heard of or read the full letter from the Stanford rape victim, the young woman who attended a party with her younger sister and was violently dragged behind a dumpster, stripped naked and raped while unconscious.

The rapist, Brock Turner, was a freshman at Stanford at the time and a member of the swim team. (Is this relevant? It’s not, except that it was a deciding factor in Turner’s sentence, according to the judge. More on this later.) He was convicted in March of raping a young woman at a frat party in January of 2015. Turner faced up to 14 years in jail; the prosecution team asked for 6. The judge, citing the “severe impact” the multi-year sentence would have on Turner, reduced the sentence to 6 months, with a 3-year probation.

The pivotal media moment came, however, when the statement from Turner’s father to the court at sentencing was release. His father wrote of the impact the “events of January 17th and 18th” and the subsequent trial and conviction have had on his son. In words that have now become social media famous, he laments:

“His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve,” he said. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

Let’s visit this statement in two parts.

  1. He refers to his son’s crime — the sexual assault of an unconscious woman — as “events” that occurred.
  2. He references the actual physical assault — THE RAPE — as “20 minutes of action.”

Mr. Turner, who presumably sat through the trial, and the now-viral victim impact statement (an absolute, stomach turning must-read) along with the subsequent unanimous jury conviction of his son, demonstrates in a few quick paragraphs, what is the very foundation of rape culture in America.

The rape of an unconscious woman, behind a dumpster, isn’t sexual assault, it’s not even sex, it’s action. The result of poor judgement, sure, but a hot piece of action nonetheless that his poor, sweet son will now suffer from for the rest of his adult life.

The rape of an unconscious woman, behind a dumpster, isn’t sexual assault, it’s an event. An event that transformed the life of an All American swimmer, the bright smiling face of a golden boy who once enjoyed steak, now destroyed.

The rape of an unconscious woman, behind a dumpster, isn’t sexual assault, but the unfortunate consequence of too much drinking, and something that forced your son to be labeled as a sex offender.

Everything in Mr. Turner’s statement treats the actions of his son as though they happened TO him, not by him. As though both he and the victim were raped, behind a dumpster, while unconscious that night. As though his suffering should somehow be pitied alongside hers, because this was just a terrible thing for which only alcohol and perhaps poor judgement can be blamed, nothing more.

The things we tell our boys — our sons and brothers and nephews and friends — that they are not wholly responsible for their actions, that the consequences of those actions are negated if you somehow lived in an honorable life before these actions — they matter. This statement is not just a letter pleading for mercy from a father for his son, it is what this parent, and many parents around the country believe and subconsciously or otherwise tell their sons every day. It is OK. You are forgiven. Your suffering matters just as much.

Mr. Turner, your son is being forced to register as a sex offender because HE IS A SEX OFFENDER. End of story. His life is being negatively impacted because he committed a heinous and violent crime.

Brock Turner is a rapist. Not an All-American swimmer, not a golden boy, not a future doctor. In this context, in this trial and every second that existed after that night in January, he is and always will be a rapist. Because he raped someone. Passive tense is not appropriate in this case or any case like it. Nothing was done to him. He is the doer.

Let’s make sure we tell our sons, our brothers, our nephews, and our friends — there is no excuse, there is no passive voice, there is no space for your suffering when you take away someone’s dignity and violate someone’s body. These things are not yours for the taking.

And if you take them anyway, there will be no pity. You are not forgiven.

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