Rape culture is Brock Turner’s father describing sexual assault as ‘20 minutes of action’

Brock Turner
Brock Turner

In January 2015, Brock Turner, a swimmer at Stanford University was seen sexually assaulting a woman who was lying on the ground, unconscious. He tried to run away after being seen by two witnesses, but they tackled him and held him down until the police came.

On Thursday, the 20-year-old, who was facing up to 14 years in state prison, was sentenced to six months in jail, which includes a three-year probationary period, and registry as a sex offender for life.

In a statement to the court before the sentencing, Brock’s father, Dan Turner, said his son’s life had been “deeply altered forever” and that the sentence was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”

Excerpt from statement from Brock Turner's father, Dan Turner.
Excerpt from statement from Brock Turner’s father, Dan Turner.

In fact, the 23-year-old victim did not initially want her attacker to go to jail and assumed Brock would “formally apologize” and that the two would move on. Instead, the young man hired a lawyer, who went to work trying to discredit the victim, forcing her to spend a year recounting traumatic details and responding to irrelevant questions and accusations in court.

In a powerful letter, published by Buzzfeed, that the victim read in court at the sentencing, she describes the severe impact of the assault, explaining that she went to a frat party and woke up “in a gurney in a hallway,” with “dried blood and bandages on the backs of [her] hands and elbow.”

“A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing. The thin piece of fabric, the only thing between my vagina and anything else, was missing and everything inside me was silenced. I still don’t have words for that feeling. In order to keep breathing, I thought maybe the policemen used scissors to cut them off for evidence.”

After an extensive and intrusive rape kit examination, the victim was permitted to shower. She writes:

“I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

She knew she had been sexually assaulted, but nothing more. It was only after coming across a news report while at work, that the victim learned the details of the attack:

“One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me.”

Inexplicably, the article detailing a woman’s rape concluded by listing the perpetrator’s swimming times.

That night, she told her parents she’d been sexually assaulted but warned them not to look at the news because it was “upsetting.” She said:

“Just know that I’m okay. I’m right here, and I’m okay. But halfway through telling them, my mom had to hold me because I could no longer stand up.”

Brock met the victim at the frat party and took her behind a dumpster, where he assaulted her. She notes that he preyed on her specifically, as she was alone and vulnerable, too drunk to defend herself. She writes, “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone [to the frat party] then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else.”

Rather than taking time to heal, the victim says she was “revictimized,” over and over again, forced to remember everything she could about the night, “in excruciating detail.” After being made to respond to Brock’s lawyer’s aggressive questioning, “designed to steer me off course, to contradict myself… phrased in ways to manipulate my answers,” she learned her attacker had invented a new story, claiming she’d “said yes to everything,” despite the fact that she couldn’t even form a sentence.

Brock stated, “At no time did I see that she was not responding. If at any time I thought she was not responding, I would have stopped immediately.” The victim notes that one of the men who caught and tackled Brock “was crying so hard he couldn’t speak because of what he’d seen” during the police interview.

“Here’s the thing. If your plan was to stop only when I became unresponsive, then you still do not understand. You didn’t even stop when I was unconscious anyway! Someone else stopped you. Two guys on bikes noticed I wasn’t moving in the dark and had to tackle you. How did you not notice while on top of me?”

Despite all this, despite the fact that this woman was found with abrasions all over her body — dirt, pine needles, and lacerations inside her vagina — Brock claimed she had enjoyed it, that she had orgasmed, even. He then tried to paint himself as the true victim, having been attacked by the “evil Swedes” who called the police.

“I don’t sleep when I think about the way it could have gone if the two guys had never come,” the victim writes.

In March, Brock was convicted by twelve jurors, who found him guilty of three felony counts beyond reasonable doubt. The victim described in detail the “irreversible damage” done to her and her family during the trial. And still the response from this entitled, dishonest, selfish, violent young man’s father is, essentially, “what about my poor son who loved steak and pretzels?”

“A steep price to pay??” For “20 minutes of action?” If, at the bare minimum, as a father, you can’t understand why calling sexual assault “action,” is part of the problem — part of what leads men like your son to assault unconscious women — then certainly the punishment is not “steep” at all. It is all too easy to imagine what your son has learned about “sex” and how one goes about “getting it,” based on this response.

Men destroy women’s lives, as individuals and collectively, every time they perpetrate these kinds of attacks. And then they try to protect one another: “He was a good guy,” “He deserves compassion.” But at what point does compassion extend towards women who live in fear and trauma due to men like Brock who are, truly, everywhere? Who are everywhere because they are raised by and surrounded by men who consider sexual assault to constitute “20 minutes of action?” This is literally what rape culture is: the idea that sex is something for men, that men get from women, at any cost. Rape is sex, under patriarchy. And men’s desire is always excusable, always acceptable, always a bigger priority than women’s safety, well-being, and dignity.

“While you worry about your shattered reputation,” the victim writes, “I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see.” She explains that she cannot sleep without a light on, that she is so afraid of the recurring nightmares that she would wait till morning to sleep. She can no longer go out alone and is perpetually afraid.

The victim had told the probation officer she didn’t “want Brock to rot away in prison” and that what she “truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand, and admit to his wrongdoing.” But after reading the defendant’s report, it became clear that Brock did not “exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct.” Despite his conviction, “all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol,” blaming “promiscuity” and “campus drinking” instead. She writes:

“Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of ‘promiscuity.’ By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction…

… The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we 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…

… He 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 is only expected to spend three months of a six-month sentence in county jail. The Guardian reports that “the judge, Aaron Persky, said positive character references and lack of a criminal record had persuaded him to be more lenient.” He was concerned prison would have a “severe impact on [Brock].”

*Update/June 7, 2016: Dan Turner has told The Huffington Post in a statement that he feels his words have been “misinterpreted,” and that he was “not referring to sexual activity by the word ‘action.’”

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.