This wise young man believes that the convicted rapist he calls “the face of sexual assault in the United States of America” has given us a gift.
The story of Brock Turner’s conviction and subsequent sentencing vent viral. So did the pathetic letter from his father pleading for sympathy for his son because he was paying a high price for “20 minutes of action.” The letter written by the rapist’s mother received a little less attention, but if you’ve been online, whether you were following the case or not, you probably saw references to it even if you haven’t read it. And Vice President Joe Biden’s letter to the victim went viral as well.
Now there is another letter that deserves to go viral. Not because it makes it clear what kind of person Brock Turner is, but because it offers a hopeful perspective on the fall-out from the year long journey the rapist and his victim have been on.
AJ Burt, another swimmer who has said in news stories that he competed against Brock in High School, wrote an open letter on Facebook that has begun to garner some much deserved attention. AJ had reason to know the rapist’s character as he was bullied by him at swim meets. But in spite of Brock’s calling him a fag AJ stayed Facebook friends with him. Although Brock’s account has been deactivated, AJ is hoping that he has the opportunity to read this letter. Whether or not he does, and we have seen no reason to think that it will make any difference to Brock, the rest of us can read it, and share it, and make sure that AJ’s hope for the good that could come out of this case is not in vain.
This letter was really written for all of us. Because AJ begins by saying that he is addressing it to Brock and to “all of the people who may still be struggling for language at the moment.” I know that includes me, and I’m guessing it includes you too.
He goes on to say that the swimming community stands with the victim and is saddened by the negative attention that this case has brought to the sport. He notes that no one, not even the rapist’s father, believes that he is innocent regardless of the “dainty, slap-on-the-wrist of a sentence” that was handed down.
When he begins to talk about Brock’s swimming record and the affluent privilege you might expect what you have heard and read in so many other stories—how this case would have gone differently for the rapist if he had been a person of color, or his parents less wealthy, or his school less prestigious, or his abilities less note-worthy. But that isn’t where this wise young man is taking the conversation.
What AJ wants the rapist, his victim, and all of us to know is that it is because of the inarguable verdict, because of the “dainty, slap-on-the-wrist of a sentence,” because of the glorification of a white, male athlete at a prestigious school, the media coverage has been far more comprehensive than it otherwise has been. And because of that, AJ says to Brock, “you have actualized conversation about sexual assault because you had a future.”
In that conversation AJ believes this rapist and his victim have given a voice to others who have been sexually assaulted and abused. “You and your victim have personified rape so that people know this is real shit that we cannot let flutter away like whispers in the night any longer.”
If this case, and people like AJ who can see the gift that we have been offered to share our voices—not only those who have been the victim of this crime but those who would see this crime recognized and treated as the crime it is—will keep the conversation going, will break through their fears and programming to be honest about what it means when one person robs another of their right to give or deny consent, then it is just possible that there will be far fewer stories for victims to tell.
More on this conversation at The Good Men Project
Photo: Getty Images