I have almost no sympathy for Brock Turner, a rapist and former student at Stanford. His victim’s letter to the court is beautiful and enraging, for its courage, clear-sightedness, and the account of how damaged she has been by his crime. Let us work against rape culture. His father’s letter has garnered widespread derision and anger, for its reference to “twenty minutes of action”. But reading the whole letter, I had a different impression, at just one moment:
He was struggling to fit in socially… Brock was nearly distraught knowing that he had to return early from Christmas break for swimming training camp. We even questioned whether it was the right move to send him back to Stanford for the winter quarter. In hindsight, it’s clear that Brock was desperately trying to fit in at Stanford and fell into the culture of alcohol consumption and partying.
Brock Turner committed rape because he wanted to fit in.
Can you believe that? Well…
He is a mid-west boy, extremely bright to get into Stanford, but his family barely able to afford it, even with a 60% swimming scholarship. He has no experience like this: not of the parties or the other students, not of being average rather than exceptional, or a thousand miles from home. His father is angry, with “alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity”. No, rape is not sexual promiscuity; but Brock was shamed because he was not having sex as much as he thought other undergraduates were.
The relatively low status male- highly intelligent, athletic, and hard-working, but with much less money and social confidence than those surrounding him- commits a terrible act of violence on an unconscious woman. He has to have sex, with anyone, under any circumstances, because of the pressure of those male peers, so he rapes an unconscious woman.
Rape culture is men feeling entitled to women’s bodies, and rape culture is shaming. Brock Turner is the boy his father knew, who could behave as sweetly as his father saw, and at the same time he is the violent man who committed a violent assault, who treated a woman as less than a person, who tore off her underwear and left dirt and abrasions in her vagina, because he thought that act would let him look his peers in the eye, and because his milieu was one that glorified violence. He was broken, chewed up and spat out by a system which continues to break men like him, and where higher-status men use and abuse women without any consequence, for them.
When I read that letter more sympathetically, I see that Dan Turner is not blaming the victim, but the culture of Stanford which made a weak boy commit a vile act: because the men who shamed Brock Turner really can do anything they like.
Added: after further thought and reading, No. No sympathy. That someone so gifted might be made to feel inadequate is shocking; but his failure to take responsibility is repellant. He did feel entitled. Probably he still does. Commission of an offence while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an aggravating factor in England and Wales. Somehow, he and his supporters have to be made to realise the seriousness of his crime.