Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Brock Turner should have written this letter

Now that Brock Turner has become the despised symbol for campus sexual assault in America, the narrative has sprung up that he got a very light sentence because of his status as a privileged white male athlete.

That's true, but another powerful dynamic was at work in the courtroom--Turner's obvious softness.

Prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci was so worried about the jury sympathizing with the former Stanford student she felt it necessary to say as she began closing arguments, "There's an elephant in the room. It's hard to look at Brock Turner and not feel badly for him. Brock Turner may not look like a typical rapist, but he is the quintessential face of campus sexual assault."

The trial itself only attracted a few journalists from local media (I attended some of it and wrote a blog post, but unfortunately missed the sentencing due to my son's graduation). Yet since the sentencing, Turner has become nationally infamous, even more than the ex-Vanderbilt football players who gang-raped an unconscious woman

That's because Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky imposed only a six-month jail sentence along with three years probation.

                                      Brock Turner's mugshot. Even here, he looks soft.  

He'll likely serve only three months at Elmwood jail in Milpitas, with the standard 50 percent off for good behavior. Jail authorities have him in protective custody in a single cell. Given the obvious danger from much tougher fellow inmates, they could have faced another huge lawsuit if they put him in general population.

If Turner had wanted to avoid prison without relying on an overly sympathetic judge, he should have pleaded guilty, as the victim said she had expected, in her eloquent statement.

With two witnesses who didn't know either party testifying they had seen him humping a half-naked unconscious woman, it was obvious before and during the trial he was going to be convicted. Maybe his father and his lawyer were giving him bad advice, or maybe he just couldn't admit to his tearful mother he was, in fact, guilty.

Instead, he offered a weak defense about how the victim offered consent at every stage, recapitulated in his statement to the judge before sentencing.

Oh, come on. Besides the improbable whisper in her ear, his testimony was not believable because he failed to mention getting consent or her reactions when he was interviewed by police the morning after his arrest, after he'd had a few hours to sober up. Instead, he "remembered" it when testifying more than a year later.

Since the trial, the main narrative has been Turner was spared prison because he was a white, privileged Stanford athlete. That certainly didn't hurt, but as Stanford football fans know, it didn't save Eric Abrams, at the time the school's all-time leading scorer. And remember Ma'lik Richmond, the black teenager in the Steubenville rape case, was rightly punished less severely than Trent Mays, his white co-rapist and the bigger football star. (The pair committed the same act as Turner, except in Ohio it's called rape and in California that term is reserved for penile penetration. Thus, Turner avoids being legally branded a rapist because he wasn't in his home state.)

Another factor is that the judge is an ex-Stanford athlete who looks like an older version of Turner. Under the Donald Trump theory of judicial prejudice by ethnic association, should this have been enough for the prosecution to have him disqualified?

Still, I think the main reason the probation report and later the judge went easy on Turner has been largely unremarked upon. He came off as weak, a baby-faced 20-year-old who couldn't grow a beard, a person who would be preyed upon in state prison by much tougher inmates disposed to attack sex offenders.

His father was generally at his side outside the courtroom, often with his hand on the shoulder of Brock's omnipresent navy blazer. A woman friend from church in his hometown who testified as a character witness on his behalf embraced him and rubbed his shoulders in the hallway, both of them near tears. His entourage treated him as though he was facing cancer surgery and needed to be bucked up.

He wasn't some cocky football player, like Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey in the Vanderbilt case, who felt entitled to anything he wanted. In my opinion, it was just the opposite. He was a weak character led by peer pressure.

Turner wrote a BS statement to the court blaming a campus culture of alcohol and promiscuity, and saying he ran away not because the two hero Swedish students riding their bicycles stopped to yell at him but simply because he thought he was going to throw up. (At exactly that moment--what a coincidence!).

           Lake Lagunita's Scary Path, where the bicyclists were riding when they saw Turner. 

Based on both his statements and evidence presented at the trial, here's what he could have written to the court if he had been honest with everyone, including himself.

On January 17, 2015, I attended a party at Kappa Alpha house. I was really drunk. I had seven Rolling Rock beers and two swigs of Fireball. I was looking for an opportunity to hook up because that's what I've seen my friends on the swim team do at parties, and they encouraged me to do it too. Only they aren't as socially awkward as I am.

On the dance floor, I found this woman who was a graduate of another college and we started talking. I should have known she was drunk because she wasn't speaking too coherently, as that recording of her phone message for her boyfriend shows, but I didn't really think about that. I asked her if she wanted to go to my dorm room and she said Yes. I led her and somehow we ended up falling down on an incline near these trees behind a Dumpster. She didn't get up right away and I knew she probably couldn't walk as far as my dorm. I saw my chance and started kissing her and she seemed OK with it so then I took off her underwear and she didn't say No.

By then I knew she was drunk, because what sober woman wants to have sex with a college freshman she doesn't know while lying in public in the dirt and pine needles? I fingered her for awhile.  I didn't know I was getting dirt inside her. Then I got on top of her and started thrusting at her with my pants still on. I was trying to decide whether I could get away with taking my pants off in a public place when these two bicyclists came along and started yelling at me. I looked at her and realized she was unconscious and thought "Oh shit, Brock, you really f-- up now." I started running, but they chased me down and held me down till the cops arrived. 

After that, I made a statement to police, but it wasn't very good so I reimagined it for my testimony a year later so it would seem like she was very responsive and was giving me consent, and had an orgasm. 

I've had a lot of time to think about this. I admit I was acting like an animal. There's a lot of peer pressure for guys to get drunk and laid in college, especially for a guy like me who isn't socially adept and has a hard time meeting women. But I knew right from wrong, or else I wouldn't have run, so that's no excuse. 

To the victim, I apologize for all the pain I caused you. I read your victim impact statement and it was incredibly moving. I'm so sorry you're having problems getting your life back together. I'm a Christian and I've been praying you can have still have a great life. 

My life is basically wrecked with all the national publicity, the lifetime sex offender registration, the end of my swimming career and the fact no medical school will accept me. I apologize to my mother and hope you can stop crying eventually. It's not your fault. 

Your honor, please give me the lightest sentence you think is appropriate. The sooner I'm released the sooner I can go back to Ohio and live with my parents. My friends and family are in Dayton so they can help make sure I continue my college education, complete my sex offender management program and try to find a decent job in an industry that will hire convicted felons. 

I'll never drink again and I'll never sexually assault anybody. In fact, I'll tell any prospective sex partners about what happened and get their written consent before we have sex, because I need to be extra careful. 

To the victim, I promise not to set foot in Northern California after my sentence is over unless the probation officer orders me to, so you won't have to worry about seeing me again. Thank you. 

In his actual statement, Turner wrote: "I would make it my life's mission to show everyone that I can contribute and be a positive influence on society from these events that have transpired. I want no one, male or female, to have to experience the destructive consequences of making decisions while under the influence of alcohol... I want to let young people know, as I did not, that things can go from fun to ruined in just one evening."

He could start by facing up to the truth.

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