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Brock Turner, And What We Talk About When We Talk To Our Kids About Rape

A six-month jail term for a former Stanford University student convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman is being decried as a slap on the wrist. In this photo, a student walks on Stanford's campus on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
A six-month jail term for a former Stanford University student convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman is being decried as a slap on the wrist. In this photo, a student walks on Stanford's campus on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

My daughter’s eighth grade health class is devoted to sex education this term. Last week, I asked her if she had ever heard the word “consent” in her class.

She had not, but thought they “were going to talk about it tomorrow.” Very near the end of the term.

I’m a 40-year-old man. Beyond a “no-means-no” admonition from my mother in my teens (in the middle of a culture where people frequently quipped “no means no unless it means yes”), I was never given a lesson on consent. Not in sex ed classes in middle or high school. Not in college. Not at home.

Nor were any of my male friends.

Women, however, were a different story. They were removed from class if their shorts or skirts were more than a finger’s length above the knee. They were told not to drink. They were told not to walk alone at night. They were told not to dress “like they were asking for it.”

Like so many other men. In being convicted of sexual assault, [Turner] and his father are somehow convinced that he is the victim.

They were told to change their behavior to avoid being raped. We were never told to change ours to avoid raping.

Last week, a former elite athlete at an elite college was sentenced on his convictions of three felony sexual assault counts in California. If you’ve read the victim’s statement, and I would very much encourage you to do so, you know just how egregious this crime was. The victim, a recent college graduate, who was too drunk to stand up, was attacked behind a dumpster. During the attack, two passers-by saw what was happening, chased and caught the attacker, and then called for help.

Brock Turner, the man who was caught perpetrating the assault, claimed that his victim “liked” the assault. He claimed he was drunk and that both parties made bad decisions because of the alcohol. He claimed that his recent volunteer work with high school children speaking on the evils of drinking could perhaps, in some way, atone for their mistakes.

That’s right — Turner, even after being thrice convicted (of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object), seemed to believe that alcohol was the culprit.

As the victim said to Turner in court, “You said, ‘I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong.’ Again, you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me.”

This is the culture of entitlement in which we live — women who cannot consent are presumed to default to “yes,” by far, far too many men who were never taught differently. Given that at least 20 percent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime in America, this is something which desperately needs to be taught.

And clearly, Turner was never taught this. His father, in writing a character letter for his son, stated to the court, “His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life. The fact that he now has to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life forever alters where he can live, visit, work and how he will be able to interact with people and organizations. What I know as his father is that incarceration is not the appropriate punishment for Brock. He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015” (emphasis mine). On the night he committed rape.

Turner learned this at home. Like so many other men. In being convicted of sexual assault, he and his father are somehow convinced that he is the victim.

And then the judge, also a former elite athlete at the same elite school Turner attended sentenced him to six months in county jail and probation.

For a crime with a minimum sentence of one year in prison. In trying to justify his shamefully weak sentence, the elected judge cited the convict’s loss of a scholarship and intoxication on the night of the rape as mitigating factors, and stated “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.”

We need to teach our daughters and our sons that consent is sacrosanct. That there are consequences to violating it.

Unless he gets drunk, but apparently that can mitigate rape.

And so, we learn from the justice system, and this is why so many sexual assaults go unreported to the police.

That night, I continued my conversation with my daughter about consent. I told her that she is the only person who can give permission to anyone to touch her in any way. I told her that she can revoke that consent at any time. I told her it doesn’t matter what state she’s in, nobody has a right to her which she does not agree. And then I taught her how to fight back against anyone who tried to violate that consent.

We need to teach our daughters and our sons that consent is sacrosanct. That there are consequences to violating it. And that our daughters are powerful enough to immediately enforce those consequences.

Perhaps if we tell our sons to change their behavior instead of our daughters, we'd have fewer rapists. Perhaps we'd have fewer Brock Turners.

And, most importantly, we'd have fewer victims.

Related:

Ben Jackson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Ben Jackson is a writer.

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