Sympathy for Brock Turner

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.

17 thoughts on “Sympathy for Brock Turner

    • If Dan Taylor used the word “action” to mean sexual relief, that is abominable. And his crime took more than twenty minutes: there is the preparation as well as the act itself. Dan is so overwhelmed by his son’s suffering that he ignores the crime- the suggestion that Brock might talk to students about drinking culture would only work if Brock was not really culpable for the rape. Yes. Revolting.

      But revulsion at the crime, and the refusal to take responsibility, should not blind us to Brock’s real suffering before he committed it. It is not an excuse; his suffering is not comparable to his victim’s; but it is real.

      Added: bullied, hurting, confused men lash out, and their victims are women. “Sexual promiscuity” is not the problem; the lack of concern about consent, here, is the problem; but we need to challenge the whole system.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Clare, I cannot feel sympathy for Brock or his father, try as I might. And I tried. At no point in this sordid spectacle of the trial and its aftershocks they have acknowledged the humanity of the victim, her suffering, and Brock’s responsibility for it. Not once. And this is all she asked for.

    Their disavowal of responsibility, and their attempts to shift blame on some impersonal forces of “drinking and promiscuity” only add insult to injury.

    I am a mother of two grown sons who have had their share of problems and so I can understand a lot. But whatever trouble they may encounter or get themselves into, casual dehumanization of others, women in this case, is not one of them. That takes a special kind of entitlement.

    I appreciate your perspective, though, and I am with you on the need to address the toxic influences of our culture that normalizes such attitudes and behaviors.

    Liked by 1 person

      • “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

        Judith Lewis Herman in “Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror”


        • It seems there was an attempt to speak no evil of Brock Turner. Generally, mug shots of those accused of rape are released to the press in California: his was not, until after his conviction. And how do you read the Washington Post headline, All-American swimmer found guilty of sexually assaulting unconscious woman on Stanford campus? I am far enough Left to read that as dripping with irony. “He may not look like a rapist” said a DDA. But he does look like a rapist: that is what many murderers and rapists look like. Murderers and rapists are previously respectable people like us, not some untouchable Other.

          However it seems his white shirt and tie really did affect people. “This was not a clear-cut case, and I hope the jury got it right,” commented one man on a local TV station’s coverage of the verdict. “Of course Turner made some terrible mistakes, but I will always wonder if consent happened or not.

          “I also worry the ‘face of campus sexual assault’ was being prosecuted rather than the actual defendant,” he added. “The prosecutor was playing to the demands of Stanford female activists.” There is a man, agreeing that Brock Turner is the victim. It is so vile.

          I am reading the article as I write this. The line But on Jan. 17, 2015, midway through his freshman year and first swim season at Stanford, Turner’s life and career were upended during a night of drinking shocks me. I plead English ignorance. I could not believe that people would see the swimmer, the athlete, and feel sympathy.

          Added: And- this is definitely NOT him as victim, but he may have imbibed the idea that as a Stanford athlete, girls should be easy for people like him; and be surprised and angry when he finds otherwise. Young men should be told forcefully that however great the “culture of drinking and promiscuity” may be, that is not true.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. That stupid excuse about “culture of drinking and promiscuity” is really a way to obscure the culture of rape with its “boys will be boys” toxic masculinity and its sexual, but not only, entitlement.

            A woman commenting on that story yesterday said this:

            “(…) has anyone noticed that alcohol makes men LESS responsible for
            rape, yet drunk women become somehow MORE responsible for being raped?”

            Yes, it is different in America: it is worse. I think it is hard for non-Americans to understand it sometimes. I know I wouldn’t if I didn’t have direct experience of living here, that’s how different it is, certainly from Europe.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Leslie Rasmussen, friend, to Judge Perssky: I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists. It is because these universities market themselves as the biggest party schools in the country. They encourage drinking. I think it is disgusting and I am so sick of hearing that these young men are monsters when really, you are throwing barely 20-somethings into these camp-like university environments, supporting partying, and then your mind is blown when things get out of hand

    Rasmussen is blaming her directly for this. It is not hard. When someone is unconscious, you stop. Partying means having consent. His sense of entitlement made him not care about her consent. People do not do this because they are drunk.

    Turner: I never want to experience being in a position where [alcohol] will have a negative impact on my life or someone else’s ever again.

    I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted]. “I take him at his word that subjectively that’s his version of his events,” Persky said. “I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him.” But he has to be made to see the wrongfulness of his actions.


  3. While I have much more sympathy for her than him, I somehow do feel a bit of sympathy for him. Not sure exactly why, but feelings are funny things. Is it possible to do very bad things without being inherently monstrous? I think the answer is yes. I’m of the opinion there’s far too much speculation on what goes on in other people’s minds. Could Brock Turner be the monstrous, misogynist spoiled white male privileged macho jerk everyone assumes? Yes. But from what I’ve seen, it’s not clear he is in fact all of these things. I would say reality is usually far more complex than people assume.

    “His sense of entitlement made him not care about her consent.”

    Hard to say. It may be as simple as him having a blurry sense of how rape does in fact encompass things like putting your finger into someone who has passed out. Some people have real blind spots, and adding alcohol or drugs to the mix (there’s now evidence he may have been using some pretty serious ones) could conceivably push a poorly formed sense of what rape is over the edge, and now in this temporary state of altered judgement he says to himself “how can my putting my finger in her when she can’t even feel it be the equivalent of rape?” This is of course, also complete speculation. But that’s the point here. The anger at him is not just at his specific actions, but also he’s become the symbol of the ultimate sports macho callous jerk we all (I hope) despise. But maybe, just maybe, it’s not all that simple.

    ” People do not do this because they are drunk.” True, but it’s quite clear that many people do things while they’re drunk they would never dream of doing while sober. Here again I see oversimplification. It’s not a case of only two extremes: either he did it or the alcohol did it.

    Just my thoughts


    • Welcome, Chris. Thank you for commenting.

      Consent is not well understood, and that man quoted in the Washington Post said possibly “consent happened”. Even if it did, consent should be continuing throughout an act. And would she have lain down willingly in the dirt behind that dumpster, to get that dirt in her hair, and inside her? You may have seen this before. I got it from Ruth:

      If he does not know what consent is, he should. At his age, he should learn about sex in a relationship. Society should be clear about the nature of consent. If one starts the cup but does not want to finish, the other cannot make her drain it to the dregs.

      How can it be rape? Well, it isn’t, the rape charge was dropped. Rape is penetration with a penis, penetration with anything else is sexual assault.

      My initial sympathy was because of the insane pressure he had been under. It was not enough to swim well and get good grades, he needed to be a Jock as well. His mugshots, especially the first one, do not give me that impression. In the paper suit, he looks an innocent child, to me. I withdraw it on the basis of the conduct at the trial. Alcohol reduces inhibitions. One does things when drunk one would never do sober. But Scots and English law both consider being drunk when committing a crime an aggravation.


      • Thank you for your reply. I’m going through a similar process as you. After my post last night, I saw new unpublished
        trial documents: drug user, lies about using drugs, cell phone comments, speculation that he now may have taken sent pics of victims breast to his friends, testimony from another woman who felt he was uncomfortably aggressive. All this is also changing my “intuitive fee” for this fellow. I’m still not ready to declare him irredeemable inherent monster. But those character letters from friends seem to have missed something they couldn’t see: a very insecure, immature person with some real aberrant thinking. My sympathy level dropped several notches in the last 12 hours. It’s clear to me he can’t face what he did, and his story is clearly riddled with lies. He said he wants to appeal. But I’m wondering on what basis. Was there any misconduct during the trial?

        I did enjoy the youtube video on consent. I’m mixed about this topic. I would of course support people being extra vigilant that their partners are really consenting. But I also feel there’s ample evidence that at least some women do give total consent, then when they feel bad about the experience later, or come to feel their partner had been acting very selfishly, they will then reinterpret what happened, and redefine the event as rape. And while I agree that a woman remaining silent or expressing hesitation doesn’t prove consent, it doesn’t prove sexual assault either. So while I generally support the effort to educate people on consent, the burden of proof should still be on the accuser to prove what happened. When there’s a grey area, it means only that there’s no proof either way, nbit that sexual assault actually happened. That’s my only worry.


        • If a woman consented at the time and regretted later, that would never come to trial. Of course the burden should be on the prosecutor; but these are crimes without witnesses. To have two rescuers giving evidence, yet still a not guilty plea, shows how hard a rape conviction is. The complainant simply being unconscious drunk when penetrated without the other evidence would never have resulted in conviction.

          I wonder if many men in the Stanford student body, if honest, would be thinking “that’s not much more than I do”- not behind a dumpster, perhaps, but in a dorm room. Sex should be with a partner, not a victim. Actual convictions are of men who have beyond reasonable doubt clearly stepped way over the line.


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