An Open Letter to Dan Turner, Father of #BrockTurner.
I’m writing this letter because your son’s victim’s words have provided me with a voice I’ve been incapable of finding for twenty years. And she’s said plenty through her courageous, eloquent speech to your son. She shouldn’t also have to defend herself against your perspective, as well.
So allow me.
My qualifications for this response are simple: With a few altered details, her story is my story.
Change the year to 1996.
Change my own age to match the attacker’s of 18.
Change a dumpster in Palo Alto to a dorm room in Columbia, Missouri.
Change the “two Swedes” to a guy coming down the hall who heard me fighting back and walked in on my attack shouting, “What the FUCK are you doing?”
Change the fact that instead of running, my attacker jumped up and said to the guy that walked in, “She’s all yours, man,” while stealing my keys (presumably to assault me again?) and calmly walking out.
Finally, change the fact that Brock’s victim didn’t have a choice but to say something since she ended up in the hospital, to the fact I stayed quiet and didn’t tell a soul for months.
I stayed quiet, I think, mainly out of shock. I was attacked Labor Day weekend of my freshman year and was already overwhelmed by all the newness around me — new school, new people, new state, new everything. I had come to Mizzou from Texas and only knew one girl at the university before I arrived. Who was I going to tell?
I was also from a religious family, and I was a virgin. I had always promised myself I would try to wait until marriage or at least not have sex until I was 100% okay with any of the potential consequences.
And now I had been penetrated for the first time by force.
So I was also quiet because I was ashamed. I felt guilty for drinking underage, even though I had still been conscious. I felt like my body had been ruined. I felt like I had been broken into a million pieces and couldn’t imagine how I would ever be put back together.
And it was 1996. Rape and sexual assault were barely part of the lexicon. I had no idea that’s what it was even called.
And in the years since, I’ve remained quiet about this — the worst night of my life. Only a handful of family and friends know what happened, mainly because I don’t want my attacker to take any more from me than he already has, even if that’s a few minutes of my time explaining what he did. Despite years of therapy, I very rarely mention it because this subject makes people uncomfortable. I also hate the look of pity that flashes in someone’s eyes when they find out. Most people consider me an extremely tough, highly-capable person.
And I am.
But I was also the victim of a violent rape.
I absolutely loathe that word, “victim”. It is a reminder of all that was robbed from me that night. And even if that word isn’t used, once people know my secret, they forever know I was once a “victim”, and their perceptions of me change.
How could they not?
But with this letter, everyone will know that I was once a Victim. And I am finally at a point that I don’t even care, because I can no longer take reading the sheer ignorance that happens around this subject.
What pushed me out of hiding with your letter, Mr. Turner, is your role and response as a parent in this situation.
These are not the types of events any child ever plans on having to discuss with their parents. I certainly hadn’t planned on discussing this with anyone, much less my parents, until my hand was forced.
The first time I told someone about my rape was when I learned a friend of mine was set up with my attacker. I quietly pulled her aside, told her what happened to me, and she cancelled the date.
Several months later, my attacker met another girl at a party. The next morning, the only thing she remembered about that night was that he had walked her home. She came to the next morning naked and covered in bruises. She told her friends what happened, and they warned other friends. Those warnings eventually reached the friend I’d first told, and she asked if the MU Police Department could reach out to me about my own attack as this girl was pressing charges.
My mother was in town the weekend I was summoned to the police station to give an account of that awful night. We went to the police headquarters and I sat with an officer for two hours. It was there I learned that what had happened was called “rape”. It was the officer that told me that being drunk did not mean it was okay for someone to assault me.
But my mother felt otherwise. Like you and your son, she considered this, as you put it, the “unfortunate result” of a binge drinking culture. After we left the police station she screamed at me for two straight hours. She yelled at me for drinking, yelled at me for putting myself in that position to begin with, yelled at me for having to spend part of Pi Phi Mom’s Weekend at a police station. And for years afterwards, she would only ever refer to my rape as “The Incident” with complete disgust and disdain.
If you know anything about rape, and it doesn’t appear that you do, the absolute last thing you should ever do is blame the victim. After some time, my mother finally educated herself on sexual assault and continues to apologize for her response as she also works to better understand it. And I have forgiven her, though we are still working through the impact of her words to this day.
Because there was a lot of damage done during those years. The fire that had been my own shame and guilt had already been enhanced by knowing another girl had been attacked. I felt that had I gone to the police initially, that wouldn’t have happened. But having my own mother express such extreme amounts of shame only poured gasoline on a now roaring fire, and I spent years quietly suffocating from the fumes.
And this — this is why your letter has put me over the edge. Because I know how critical a parent’s response to events like these are. I get that he is your son, and it is awful to watch a child’s life perpetually altered because of something you can’t, as a parent, control.
But here is the difference. You couldn’t control your son’s behavior, but he could. He could and he didn’t. He held all the power in that situation, and his victim had none.
Brock is now twenty years old. He was born the year I was raped. And I can promise you there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about that night, or adjusted my actions because of it. And my rape was less than 20 minutes. It was maybe five or ten. But its impact has affected every day of the twenty years I’ve lived since. So please make sure you read this carefully:
THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES TO COMMIT A SERIOUS CRIME DOESN’T MAKE ONE BIT OF DIFFERENCE AS TO THE IMPACT.
I can’t imagine how hard it is to know your son committed a violent crime. It’s probably as tough for you to swallow as it was for my mother to make sense of my rape. But your son committed a crime, which was confirmed by a jury of his peers. He is a criminal who did a violent thing that will impact this young woman in ways she will never fully know for years to come. She was shattered that night. I, too, was shattered the night of my rape. My family has been shattered in the years since. And victims of sexual assault everywhere have been further shattered by the ignorance of your son, his lawyer, the judge, and now, your words.
Brock needs to understand accountability, but when his own father feels he has been treated unfairly, how is he expected to get that message?
I want to address a few other specifics of your note:
· Just because the label I now carry is “Rape Victim” and not “Sex Offender” doesn’t make it any less damaging.
· One of those labels was earned — the other was not.
· Since my rape, I have also not been the same happy go lucky person with an easy going personality and welcoming smile I was before that night.
· While my every waking minute is no longer consumed with worry, anxiety, fear and depression, I battle each of those things on a regular basis.
· My voice has been so weak for twenty years, this is the first most of my close family and friends will learn of my attack.
· My own life has not been the one I dreamed about, as my rape has greatly affected my relationships and ability to trust.
· My rape has forever altered where I live (safety concerns), where I visit (only places with low amounts of violence), work (companies that have good insurance for therapy), and how I interact with people and organizations.
And that is a MASSIVE price to pay for less than twenty minutes in which — unlike Brock — I had no control over what happened.
My rapist was never arrested. He was never sentenced. He benefitted from the fact the other girl had no memory of events and that I never pressed charges.
But he should be labeled a sex offender. And he should have gone to prison for many years.
And if Brock or my rapist weren’t white, privileged collegiate athletes from “good families”, there’s no question they’d both be experiencing punishments very different than some pesky discussions with cops and lawyers, or a handful of months in prison with a sex offender label.
So, understand your role in this. Understand what you are legitimizing. Understand your son did something heinous, and just because he doesn’t look like what you imagine a criminal to look like, doesn’t mean he’s not a criminal. And know how damaging your words are to his victim and every other victim of rape and sexual assault that had the misfortune of reading your letter.
On behalf of all of us — including your son who is also not benefiting from your ignorance—please get educated on this matter. And in the meantime, keep all comments to yourself.
*Photo credit, Michele Dauber on Twitter.