An Open Letter to the Father of the Stanford Rapist, Brock Turner

Dear Mr. Turner — or, as you signed your statement to Judge Persky, dear Dan,

Your “twenty minutes of action” comment horrified me even more than Judge Persky’s refusal to punish Brock. Rape is not ‘getting some action.’ Rape steals another human being’s bodily autonomy. By this logic, are you saying you would have no qualms about someone dragging Brock’s unconscious body behind a dumpster and inserting whatever they wanted into any of his bodily openings for twenty minutes? Or is “action” only palatable when it’s a male-on-female crime?

Are you also recommending that we start punishing crimes solely by the time they took to commit, ignoring the nature of the crime committed and the damage caused? That’s absurd, too. A person who rapes for ten hours is a rapist. A person who rapes for ten seconds is also a rapist. Time is irrelevant to the label. The survivor of Brock’s rape will have to live with this trauma for the rest of her life.

As the survivor states,

“[Brock] is a lifetime sex registrant. That doesn’t expire. Just like what he did to me doesn’t expire, doesn’t just go away after a set number of years. It stays with me, it’s part of my identity, it has forever changed the way I carry myself, the way I live the rest of my life… [Brock’s] damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. [Brock] took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice…”

How can you be so oblivious to the magnitude of harm Brock caused?

I understand that you’re defending your son, but really; are you both in that much denial that you can attribute your son raping someone entirely to binge drinking and feel at peace each night?

I’m glad people are so angry with Brock, with you, and with Judge Persky, and I’m surprised and impressed with just how much fury the public has unleashed as a result of Brock’s rape.

As a woman, it is both discouraging and deeply saddening just how often our voices are diminished in the media and in news stories of violence against us.

It is therefore reassuring to be reminded that many people still prioritize women’s wellbeing — at least until we hear of tragedies like the judge’s sentencing, which remind us that some of the male figureheads of the penal system still don’t care. I wonder if Judge Persky has ever sexually abused women, or if he simply lacks the capacity to care for any female person over the reputation of a white, entitled, athletic, young man.

I’m sure you have — or at least your daughter has — heard about how approximately one in four women will fall victim to sexual violence during her college years. In my social circle, at least three in four of us women have been sexually threatened by men during college, from threatening conversation or gestures, to unwanted sexual physical contact, to battery and rape.

A select few examples:

  • There was the time when a friend’s consciously drunk body was found beneath a man who promised her, amidst her drunken pleas to not have sex, as he continued to provide her with copious amounts of alcohol, that “nothing [was] going to happen,” and that they were “only” going to kiss. When a bystander noticed this man crouching over a bush in a dark area outside, the man was already unzipping his pants. When the bystander confronted the man and interrupted his attempted rape, he responded, “Do you even know who I am?!” This was at a college party, where the would-be-rapist was at least a few years past graduation. My friend never reported the crime.
  • There was the time a friend woke up to her boyfriend beginning to rape her. When I confronted him later, he was oblivious to why inserting any part of himself into his sleeping girlfriend was wrong. He had no idea that the rape would even hurt her. My friend never reported the crime.
  • There was the time a male student forced his hand underneath my friend’s dress and molested her at a party, early in her freshman year. She refused to wear dresses to college parties ever again. My friend never reported the crime.
  • There was the time that an Eastern Mennonite University basketball player raped my roommate’s friend. She went home with him with the intention of having consensual intercourse, but he, instead, forced his penis into her mouth and held her face in place so that she could not escape his grip. After the attack, she had semen lodged in her nasal cavity for three days. How does a person get semen lodged so far within their face? Answer: he choked her with it when he ejaculated. My roommate’s friend never reported the crime.

…and those examples are just the tip of the scary, creepy, iceberg of entitlement (and highlight a fundamental ignorance of the female sexual response).

Have you ever felt like you were prey, Dan? That’s a feeling that most women my age know far too well.

I, too, was occasionally sexually harassed in college, though always by strangers, and (thankfully) the unwanted physical contact was limited. The following is an example of one of my street harassment experiences:

One evening, a car full of young men followed me to my dormitory building.

They offered me a ride to wherever I needed to go. I politely declined, hoping they would pay minimal attention to the fact that they and I were now both aware that I was walking alone down a secluded sidewalk, just shy of the middle of campus.

Then, one of them added, “…because I just like watching your ASS move!”

I panicked. He had publicly identified me as a sexual target, and I had no idea what he or his friends intended to do next. Gang rape felt like the strongest potential threat. Groups of entitled men are capable of many violent acts that most of them would never commit alone. 

I attempted to deflect his attention by smiling and briefly laughing because I knew I couldn’t outrun the group or their car. You’re trained as a cis-female person to do whatever it takes to not upset strange men in public because you have no way of knowing which ones will initiate violence if you reject their sexual advances.

Meanwhile, I clutched my room key between the fingers of my right hand and tried to imagine how much damage I would be able to do with this key to any of their eyes if they lunged at me. For how much time would I have to stall them before I could safety make it inside my dorm building’s automatic, slowly-opening door, without them barging through that same door after me? How loudly would I have to scream to get an out-of-sight bystander to intervene, and how quickly they would have to arrive on the scene to successfully halt the attack if the men attempted to drag me inside of their car?

Fortunately, the entire transaction took place about twenty feet from my dorm building, and I was able to scurry inside to safety before any of the men exited their car. They drove off, laughing in the aftermath of this experience they had shared with one another.

My experience was alarming and confusing. I feared whatever the men had wanted from me, but I was glad to be safe. My body was still shaking nervously when I entered my bedroom, and my heart still races thinking back to that night and feeling vulnerable to the intentions of those men. I doubt they understand the trauma that street harassment can inflict upon the people receiving their unwanted attention.

The next morning, I told a friend’s boyfriend about the encounter. He laughed.

That’s just one example of the kind of sexual threats that college women are expected to tolerate — and this was far “better” than many examples because none of the men approached me.

It’s terrifying to feel like you’re being hunted. It’s even more terrifying to not know the hunter’s limits.

Most of the women in my life have experienced multiple instances of having felt sexually threatened as a result of a man’s behavior. However, regardless of the nature of the threats and whether or not they knew the identities of their attackers, the women all shared a similar reaction.

They convinced themselves that they did something to give these men “the wrong idea,” and that the sexual harassment, assault, and/or battery was simply a misunderstanding, or an innocent gesture taken too far. They each didn’t want to be “that oversensitive bitch” who made a big deal out of the man’s honest mistake. A few even wanted their attackers to like them after-the-fact.

That’s when I realized a pattern. These are not accidents. The men recognized that they were behaving inappropriately but did it anyway because they felt like it, and I suspect that they knew they would get away with it, too.

Women are taught to rationalize any incident such that we absorb responsibility for whatever goes wrong, even when we are the victims.

Far too often, we fail to report assailants to the police, out of fear that we won’t be believed, or that we’re somehow mistaken and will get our innocent attackers in trouble, or because filing a police report means admitting to ourselves that the attack actually happened.

There’s also a fear that we will be labelled as “crazy,” “overemotional,” “exaggerative,” or just plain “difficult,” and subsequently will be discredited from ever making future social, political, and criminal judgment calls. After all, we’ve been taught our whole lives that women can’t be trusted. Our society paints women as liars.

Meanwhile, our society is also terrified of men but idolizes them, such that we expect and condone male violence and shame men who do not exhibit aggression. The fact that we are somehow surprised — and have a hard time believing — when a man behaves violently towards a woman baffles me, given our cultural behavior script.

Women have been asking men to stop raping for far too long. We need more men to step in and police each other more loudly, to interrupt the entitled masculinity performance where (some) men use women’s bodies as tools to amuse each other and gratify themselves.

I’m glad to see men participating in the backlash of Brock’s rape, from the two graduate students who restrained him until police arrived, to the two fathers whose letters I discuss below. Men publicly speaking out against the crimes of other men against women is somewhat novel to our society.

I must guiltily admit that I read the men’s reactions — Brock’s, yours, and the two other fathers’ — before I read the survivor’s. To her, I am deeply sorry for disrespecting your voice.

That’s internalized sexism, for you. I suspect that I saved hers for last not only because I knew it was going to be the longest of the five and the most emotionally upsetting for me, but also because hers is a story we have heard far too many times, ad nauseam. A man wants sex, he rapes a woman, he claims either he didn’t do it or that she liked it, he gets away with it, and then he rapes again. Reading the survivor’s account further drives home what a terrible, real, and person crime rape is, and I don’t think I will ever be able to accept how frequently some people in our society commit it against other people.

The Survivor’s Statement

Found here:

Have you read what the woman Brock raped has to say?

The survivor’s statement is every bit as powerful as I had hoped it would be. She recounts with painstaking detail her physically and emotionally agonizing experience at the hospital as medical professionals recorded the injuries she sustained, inspecting, photographing, prodding, and swabbing every crevice and abrasion Brock caused on her body. Then, she delves into the breadth of obstacles she’s faced since her release from the hospital, before and after the trial, and the ludicrous injustices of the entire experience.

Brock admitted to wanting to be sexually intimate that evening and was clearly determined to find sex, even if doing so meant stealing it from an unconscious person. As the survivor states, “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else.”

I do not understand how Judge Persky can claim that Brock does not pose a threat of danger to other women. Rapists are especially dangerous because most of them are repeat-offenders. They continue to rape because they know they can get away with raping. Had Brock successfully fled the scene, I have no reason to believe that he would not have continued to rape people throughout his college years and beyond.

Who knows; maybe he will continue to rape, anyway. After all, Judge Persky awarded him merely a six month jail sentence on three felony counts, despite Brock’s ignorance his rape in the first place. Meanwhile, men of color, poor men, and especially poor men of color are regularly imprisoned with far longer sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Can you still not smell the prejudice?

A Fellow Father’s Letter to You

Found here:

I appreciate how Kyle Suhan describes his wife’s automatic “fight or flight” response to sexual stimulation, due to someone raping her earlier in her life. As Mr. Suhan states, the rape trained his wife’s brain “to associate sex with danger,” and once the body learns a threat-induced behavior response, it automatically responds defensively and harshly to similar stimuli.

I also appreciate the emphasis Mr. Suhan made in encouraging all men, not just you, “to raise better boys,” rather than urging women to somehow avoid becoming victims. “Sex is always intentional, and [my children] are going to understand that even consensual sex needs to be cared for with the utmost delicacy.”

He continues,

“Twenty five percent of women suffer sexual abuse. TWENTY FIVE PERCENT! That means 25 percent of parents are not upholding their social responsibility to raise men who value human life more than their sexual gratification. No wonder women are scared of men; 1 in 4 of them will be or already has been assaulted by one.”

He’s right about that. I suspect that the actual percentage is different, as most survivors of sexual assault and/or battery do not report the crimes, and most abusers go on to repeat their crimes to other victims, but I appreciate his point. Your son is now on a list of those recognized abusers.

As a cis-woman, I was taught by our culture that men can be dangerous, and that other women and I should be careful around them because some men either cannot or will not control their impulses.

Ever wonder why women give fake phone numbers to men who accost them in bars or other public settings? We have no way of knowing which men will become violent if we decline their advances, especially in settings where men are consuming alcohol. Accordingly, we are taught to passively escape the situation (or any socially uncomfortable setting with men), and the easiest way of doing that is by letting these men think that they received what they wanted. I’m sorry that, for the women who use this deceitful tactic or similar strategies, some guys’ feelings are hurt, but I am even more sorry that women are socialized to feel safer being avoidant rather than politely rejecting romantic and sexual advances when we are not interested.

Women shouldn’t have to be trained about how to avoid angering men who we think want sex from us. If we knew that we could safely decline men’s advances with zero repercussions, we could feel safer giving honest feedback. Men would then be able to modify how they present themselves and how they ask for sexual attention from us, so as to not inadvertently threaten us. It would also become a lot more obvious to bystanders in social settings which men exhibit rape-prone behaviors and should be closely monitored.

A Second Father’s Letter to You

Found here:

As John Pavlovitz states,

“Brock is not the victim here. His victim is the victim. She is the wounded one. He is the damager… If his life has been ‘deeply altered’ it is because he has horribly altered another human being; because he made a reprehensible choice to take advantage of someone for his own pleasure… This is why so many men believe that they can do whatever they please to a woman’s body without accountability… We don’t get kudos for only raping one person in our lifetime… [W]e don’t get a do-over when we do unspeakable things, because people need to be protected with knowledge of others in their midst who have failed so egregiously at respecting another person’s basic dignity… It feels like you want more sympathy and goodwill toward your son than you want for the survivor of his crime.”

Women say these things all the time, but when upper- and middle-class white men speak up, people actually listen. Men listen.

Mr. Pavlovitz stated in a follow-up post about his letter to you going viral,

“In a matter of minutes my phone began ringing incessantly with invitations from CNN, Dr. Drew, Greta Van Susteran, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, the local news, and a dozen other print, TV, and web outlets around the world. 24 hours and 2 million viewers after publishing the piece and I was fully viral.”

He then cautioned that if the news outlets who contacted him didn’t catch him within 24 hours, the news story would be old and no one would care.

In other words, there would be other, more interesting rapes to report, and this one would rapidly vanish from laypeople’s interests.

To me, that’s reminiscent of news stories about mass shootings. At first, there’s mass hysteria, followed by mass mourning, and then we rapidly move our attention elsewhere without addressing why the assailant — almost always a man — chose to do a horrible thing. We rationalize these “senseless” occurrences as inevitable, like the weather, and pretend disgruntled men won’t keep doing them.

I don’t understand why we treat male-against-female sexual assault and battery the same way. We act as though men pursuing their own sexual and emotional gratification at the expense of others is both animalistic and inevitable, then we expect women to know how to avoid men’s unavoidable threats. Why do we assume that men have these uncontrollable desires that women do not, the same way that we assume that intoxicated men are going to misbehave and cannot be held accountable for their actions, yet intoxicated women can?

Brock’s Statement

Found here:

Have you noticed that rape is rarely ever called rape on television? Throughout the news coverage of your son’s criminal sentencing, I only heard Brock’s crime referred to as “sexual assault,” and even more insultingly, “an alleged sexual assault,” as though there was a chance that Brock could have been innocent, despite being caught red-handed. It’s such a horror that we can’t bear to call it what it is, yet when committed by an entitled, caucasian, star athlete, we dilute his punishment, lest we risk harming him while upholding a mockery of justice for the woman he attacked.

Brock’s disgustingly trite final remark, “things can go from fun to ruined in just one evening,” is particularly puzzling to me. Fun for who? At what point did he stop having fun — when he was caught red-handed trying to flee his rape?

Your son was touching women without their permission all night long. He had clearly decided what his intentions were before arriving to that party, with zero regard for anyone he harmed — which he and his legal counsel demonstrated ruthlessly throughout this case, and which you continue to publicly condone.

The survivor highlights in her letter that Brock continues to take no responsibility for the rape. Throughout his letter to Judge Persky, he uses passive phrases like “started to happen” and “has happened,” both of which deliberately exclude his sentences’ true subject: himself, the rapist who (1) raped a fellow human being, and (2) refuses to acknowledge that he has done anything wrong.

As my favorite sociologist, Dr. Michael Kimmel, has emphatically lectured, passive voice (which is routinely utilized in the news and media) avoids acknowledging the wrongdoer. Instead of saying, “He raped her,” they say, “She was raped.” By leaving out the responsible party from the sentence and only focusing on the survivor and this terrible thing that happened, rather than this terrible thing that the rapist made happen, the rapist is gifted with anonymity, free and clear to continue preying upon future victims.

As I write this letter, I keep catching myself compulsively writing “his victim,” rather than “the victim” (or as I changed my label to, “the survivor”). Perhaps that, too, is evident of internalized sexism for me to automatically presume male ownership? It’s also sickeningly ironic, considering that Brock still won’t take accountability for raping, only for drinking.

When Brock states that his life was “shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior” and “preconceived notions about partying and drinking,” I’m curious what those preconceived notions entailed. Did they include his idea that it was fair game to penetrate women who were too drunk to say no because he assumed he could get away with it?

The fact that he had to be “forced” to “never want to put [him]self in a position where [he has] to sacrifice everything” by not raping someone is also horrifying. As the survivor argued,

[W]e should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.” (Emphasis added)

Why are we, as a society, having to teach your son to not rape?

The survivor further clarified that Brock was not being singled out as an athlete, nor as a naive freshman who drank too much and misbehaved, amidst a crowd of fellow drunken partygoers. She stated,

“… you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me… Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong. Why am I still explaining this… [A]lcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked… We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away.”

She then challenges what self-growth, if any, Brock has attempted in the year that has expired since he raped her. I question that, too.

If he genuinely wanted to prove that he has made efforts to become a “positive influence on society,” where is that proof? I would think that you, his greatest fan, would be advertising it by now if it existed.

He was old enough to choose to rape someone then, and he is old enough to choose to seek mental health counseling and publicly advocate against rape culture now. Let’s see some genuine remorse, this time.

I hope that the survivor sues Brock civilly, as my father put it, “to, at the very least, take him away from his money for a little while.” Our society needs reassurance, just as easily as Brock and you need to learn, that he is not too entitled, elitist, and white to fail.

Please choose to set an example of how to behave as a responsible, humanly decent adult, both for your son and for all the other young ears out there listening.

Sincerely not yours (or your son’s),



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