I read a post today entitled “What To Say When You Find Out Your Kid’s A Rapist” written by Alyssa Royse. The post is in reaction to a letter written by Dan Turner, the father of Brock Turner, the ex-Stanford swimmer who was given a paltry six-month sentence in a county jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in 2015.
Dan Turner wrote this:
What a stupid letter. To be fair, if you didn’t already the know the context, it’s going OK as a statement of fact till about half way through, and the ending (as also noted by Royse) is an interesting one.
The fact it completely fails to acknowledge the real victim on that night in 2015 is unforgivable at best and… In fact, I’m probably going to struggle with adjectives here so let’s group everything. The fact it completely fails to acknowledge the real victim on that night in 2015 and the fact he doesn’t see
rape sexual assault as a “violent” crime (or one that needs to be violent) for which 6 months jail is too much is unforgiveable at best and disgusting, disgraceful… I feel I need more words that better reflect my strength of feeling.
However, I thought the letter and Royse’s response raised a point.
Perhaps it is that Royse knows a greater context to the letter than I, but Royse’s article is built around an assumption that Dan Turner feels absolutely no remorse or accountability for his son’s actions simply because the letter does not state it. (Indeed, Royse even says at one stage that all responsibility for the
rape sexual assault needs to fall with Dan Turner’s son while suggesting early in the proposed letter that this should have been the wake-up call to his own limitations.)
Would this have been a reasonable addition to the letter? Of course it would, although I actually feel that no letter would have been better. Without a letter, Royse could only have based her accusation that Dan Turner is a bad father purely on the actions of his son, rather than himself. Or, the article wouldn’t have been written at all, like one hasn’t been written about Brock’s mother raising a rapist.
It’s that apportioning of blame that I find strange when I think of it like this. Maybe it’s hard for me to think of as I like to consider myself a decent human being who would not rape or sexually assault another human being. I’m also so nervous around the opposite sex that, especially as a teetotal, I sometimes worry about whether giving a woman I’ve just met a hug is too much! But if I was Brock Turner, I wouldn’t be blaming my parents.
My parents, to my knowledge, have never addressed the issue of rape or sexual assault with me, in the same way that they never had to tell me that murder is wrong or that torture is wrong or psychological abuse is wrong and however many other forms of physical abuse are all wrong. My parents taught me the difference between right and wrong from a young age, as did the rest of my family, my school and my friends. Society filled in the gaps of what you could do and what you couldn’t.
My understanding of Rape Culture is that is the part of society that says that rape is OK because, for some reason, the cause of rape is not rapists. However, as the outcry against both the Turner men (and rapists in general) proves in this post, in Royse’s and many other places all over the internet, there must also be part of society that promotes an Anti-Rape Culture where rapists are held accountable for their actions and its effects on any number of people but especially the direct victim (whether induced by alcohol or otherwise in this particular case) because they are a rapist. I don’t believe that it’s correct, or even the case, that either culture blames the rapist’s parents.
I didn’t need my parents to point me in the direction of that anti-rape culture. I would like to think, perhaps naively, that not much has changed since I was a far-from-elite sportsman attending university in the UK 14 years ago and what an apparently elite sportsman attending university in the US in 2015 experiences in the difference in right and wrong and the acceptability of certain criminal acts. Maybe this is where my argument falls over – maybe things have changed that much.
But I knew. I knew because the culture I was surrounded by told me that it was not OK. I knew because the level of intelligence that got me in to university meant that I could question points of view to establish whether I agreed or otherwise with perceived wisdom and that that level of intelligence gave me the ability to have informed opinions about whether what I was doing was reasonable, let alone acceptable and within the Laws of the Land.
I don’t think my parents were bad parents for not bringing up a rapist because they never confronted the issues expressly with me. If they had have sat me down and said “Michael, listen, you know what rape is, don’t you? You know it’s bad, don’t you? You know not to treat women as objects, don’t you?”, my answers would have been a condescending positive confirmation and a slight retort that I was disappointed that they would think so little of me to have to ask.
If I had then gone out and committed this most of heinous of acts, would my parents have been bad parents for not being more vociferous in their laying down of the law? If I was Brock Turner, this supposed educated individual, I would not defend myself on the basis that my parents never told me it was wrong to do what I did.
We make an assumption on the basis of this letter that Dan Turner did not try to turn his son away from Rape Culture. Do we know, from this letter, that Dan Turner did not have that conversation with Brock? I also can’t find part of the letter where he promotes rape or other abuse of women or people. That point seems to live or fall on Dan Turner’s use of the word “action”. It’s possibly too fair to assume that Turner Snr’s use of the word “action” is an error where he actually meant “activity” rather than a colloquialism for the sexual activity that actually happened, but there’s an assumption there nonetheless.
I see a man who knows no better himself. The fact he makes reference to a lack of violence shows this very clearly , but this is very different from condoning an activity. If the father does not know something (even its existence), how can he teach it to his son? Who is responsible for the father’s learning? If we expect the father to just learn and just know that rape is evil, why should we place any responsibility for his son’s actions on him when his son is equally able to learn of his own accord? Have they ignored society, rather than just their parents? To what should we apportion their ignorance if we, indeed, want to say that education (either in parenting or crime) was the missing factor? Perhaps is could even be nature over nurture…
I also see a man devastated by what has happened to his son and venturing an opinion on sentencing based on that. I see a letter that is emotional, it’s desperate, it’s confused and it shouldn’t have been written, but that’s easy for us on the outside of this family unit to say. Personally, I’m not sure that any of that is enough to accuse Dan Turner of being a bad parent and, surely, if we want to remove the idea of a rape culture then we need to not absolve the perpetrator of any amount of blame whatsoever?
When I dance alone, and the sun’s beating down,
Blame it on me
When I lose control and the veil’s overused,
Blame it on me
When I dance alone, I know I’ll go
Blame it on me ooh
When I’ll lose control, I know I’ll go
Blame it on me ooh
Blame It On Me by George Ezra
EDIT 11/06/2016: The Independent have reported that, in a strictly legal sense, Brock Turner is not a rapist. He was not convicted of rape because the law on rape in California (like in England and Wales) is “phallo-centric” i.e. to be convicted of rape he had to penetrate the victim with his penis and, apparently, he didn’t. Brock Turner’s crimes “only” make him a sex offender who could have received a maximum sentence of 14 years if he didn’t miss rib-eye so much.
That means I’ve gone back through the post and changed wording accordingly. However, I feel that all the points about Rape Culture still stand.