Father of three, Michael Sutherland, pens a letter to Brock Turner’s father.
June 8, 2016
Dear Mr. Turner:
By this time the world is aware of your note in defense of your son, Brock, who raped an unconscious woman on campus at Stanford over a year ago. I will not address your son’s crime, or the levity of the judge’s sentence. I am writing in reply to your note, which I confess was difficult to read.
A bit of introduction of myself, to establish my perspective. I am a 45-year-old father of three—two daughters and a son—and am myself the younger brother of two older sisters. I grew up in a stable home with two very Republican parents—back when that term implied personal accountability—and I went to Dartmouth College. While at college I saw and acted out more than my share of alcohol-fueled libido. And while I at times behaved disgracefully, I never once committed rape or violent assault. There are a few reasons for this, but one certainly was my mother telling me more than once, “I teach your sisters to be careful and avoid dangerous situations. But you, as a boy, might one day be with a girl who’s lost control of herself. In that case, she’ll be depending on you for her safety.” A lesson I never forgot.
So to your letter. I’m ignoring your pointless lament about your son’s lost lifestyle. Actions have consequences. Two things, however, did stand out to me: first, your description of the rape with the now-infamous term “20 minutes of action.” “Action” is a particularly disgusting euphemism, drawing as it does on such traditions as the sailing ship-era term “clearing for action” meaning preparing for battle. The correct term for your son’s act is “assault”, “sexual assault”or “rape”. Anything less is deliberate avoidance. (As an aside it is a flat lie to characterize his rape as “not violent”. He penetrated a woman without her consent. That is violence.) This leads to the second thing: you did not mention the victim. Not once. Do you have any idea how continually and brutally rape accusers are degraded, harassed and dismissed? A quick review of high-profile rape cases over the past decade-plus will acquaint you: Kobe Bryant, Steubenville, Ohio, Baylor University. Is there any way to dismiss a person more contemptuously or completely than how you did, by simply not mentioning her? Have you not tried for even a few seconds to consider the impact of your son’s crime on her, and her life? Considered the effect on her appetite and welcoming smile?
If you continue to refuse to understand, you deserve a lifetime of shame for writing that note. You deserve to be ostracized at work, to be given the cold shoulder by family, and to be sworn off by longtime friends as inhumane.
How could you change this? What could you do to start earning back the trust of people who should no longer trust you?
Educate yourself. Become aware of the consequences of rape—not for the rapist, but for the one who was raped. Try to understand the life-changing trauma—which does not heal like a cut or a broken bone—from so horrible an assault. Such a change doesn’t come easily for someone at least in middle age, and probably older. Empathy, particularly if you’ve never tried to develop it, grows slowly. But it does grow.
When I was in college, there was an acting troupe of women on campus called the “Untamed Shrews.” They gave what they called roadshows all over the state, which could take various forms but were frequently a series of monologues or dialogues, a series of vignettes 5-10 minutes long. As a freshman, barely two weeks on campus, I was brought, somewhat unwillingly, along with my dormitory floor to one of these roadshows. Among other monologues was on by a strikingly beautiful blonde woman, who described spending a language study semester in France with a native family, and being raped on a date by a member of the French national ski team. She described the anger, the shame, the frowning disapproval of the family who assumed she was to blame as a slut, and the breezy incomprehension of the skier that he’d done anything wrong. She described being no longer able to function socially or as a student, and how the assault ruined her semester, her year, and more.
After she finished, I remember thinking, “That’s a sad story.” As the next monologue was going on, I glanced off to the side of the stage and saw that same woman huddled with two others, sobbing uncontrollably. That’s when I realized: “That wasn’t a story. That was her life. It happened. And she’s still living it now.” Perhaps my having two older sisters, and a mother (my father was shier to talk about sex) who made a point of emphasizing that women are inherently vulnerable, made me especially sensitive to testimony like that. I can say it’s the one monologue I remember from the evening, largely because of the effect I saw in the speaker.
I have little doubt there are groups like that in the state where you live. It shouldn’t take terribly long to find one. Better yet, a rape recovery group. I think they might be receptive to having the parent of a rapist attend a few meetings to educate himself. I have no doubt at all that many of the women (and perhaps some men!) would want you to hear their stories. I have far greater doubts about your worth as a man and your courage to go.
How to gain some of the humanity you’ve shown yourself so lacking in?
Attend some women’s advocacy/recovery groups, like I’ve mentioned. Perhaps read some books. Far better yet–start talking about this with women you know. You’ll be surprised to find how many of them have lived through something similar. It was only after we were engaged that my wife described how she was raped by a former boyfriend. If the prospect is scary to you, good. You will be truly educating yourself. You’ll have a greater and more immediate understanding of the people all around you.
Why so weakly toss the burden on your son to be an activist? Why not, after learning about the experiences of women with respect to rape and sexual assault, become an advocate among parents on the issue, about how to avoid the obvious mistakes you made in raising a rapist? And do not deceive yourself: that is what you have done.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/File
This post was originally published on DailyKos