Devil’s advocate for “20 minutes of action…”

The internet is awash in rage today, well, it seems to be awash in rage everyday, but the focus of that rage has shifted from Presidential candidates, unisex bathrooms and shitty zoo related parenting to a letter written by the father of convicted Stanford University rapist Brock Turner.

For those not familiar with this story, Brock Turner is the Stanford University swimmer who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman while she was passed out cold.

The attack happened outside a college party, behind a dumpster, and was thankfully interrupted by two Swedish grad students who chased and detained the also drunk Brock Turner before he could make good his escape.

I say thankfully, because the attack was already brutal enough for the victim as it was. Who knows what would have happened had the rapist not been interrupted.

Here’s one of the many articles chronicling the story of what the rapist’s dad wrote to the court. In it is a link to the victim’s statement to the court, which is an amazing piece that should be required reading for every person entering college, man and woman alike.

Most of my readers know that I teach law at the police academy.

I like to have a sex crimes detective come and talk to my recruit classes and they always bring a victim of a sex crime attack to talk to the class with them. The victim’s story is always intense, and the negative aftermath for the victim is still evident, sometimes even decades later. The police recruits can’t help but face the ugly reality of the effects of a rape.

I have said many times that rape is the most disgusting crime to commit against another person, because the degradation goes beyond the physical pain and cuts so deeply into the victim’s spirit and soul that they’re often never the same person again. Even the victim of a homicide has the luxury of never having to relive the attack in their minds again.

I imagine that Brock Turner is an entitled douchebag, and his father is probably a person I would also label a douchebag, but is it necessarily fair to attack him so vehemently for trying to support his son?

What the man said in his letter to the court was completely ridiculous, sure. 20 minutes of action? That’s a disgusting line right there. Action? What does that imply? I’ll let you summon your own unflattering conclusions, but I get the vision of dad slapping his son on the back like he done good.

Still, the letter was meant to sway the court to be lenient on his son, and who among us wouldn’t have written a similar letter to keep our 20 year old lily-white son from going to prison?

“Oh hell no, Don! Not me, or anybody with any decency, that’s who wouldn’t!” I can hear many of you screaming.


Prison is rough, and they’re not sending out the same people they take in. Rarely is the end product better than the original.

That’s your son, and you’d do what you could to protect him, even though your son was, at least for one night, a monster.

It’s not only entitled, wealthy, white folk either.

At any time during most weeks, there are courtrooms all over the country holding sentencing hearings for suspects of all races and income levels, (though if we’re being honest, it’s mostly lower income minorities), for all sorts of heinous crimes. Behind many of these defendants in these various courtrooms are family, sometimes friends, parents and kids and sisters and brothers and others, all there to support their guilty loved ones.

They will speak or write letters on behalf of their beloved defendant, who has assaulted or murdered or yes, even raped another human being, because they are incredulous to the notion that their loved one could do such a thing.

It’s everyone else’s fault, really.

The victim shouldn’t have been where he was or did what she did. It’s the police too. The police are so often to blame for the guilt of their loved ones. Little Johnny shot at a police officer, yes, but they didn’t have to beat him up for it, no matter that he wasn’t going to go to jail nicely. They cling to something, anything really, that mitigates what they would otherwise have to face as truth, that their loved one is a criminal and has nobody to blame but themselves.

I’ve seen it dozens of times and I never know how to feel for the family of the defendant, because I’ve never been there.

I don’t know how I would be expected to feel about having a loved one who’s a convicted rapist, especially my own son.

The sins of the son are almost an indictment of the father, and that failure stings.

Do we wash our hands of them completely? Change the locks on the doors or even better, move while he’s in jail so he can’t find us when he gets out? Do I unfriend him on Facebook?

What’s the etiquette here?

Maybe behind closed doors, Brock Turner’s dad is a good dad. Maybe the guy who presumably put his own plans aside and paid shitloads of money for swim lessons and camps and trips, and who sat through swim meets and encouraged his son to be the best he could be talks to his boy about why he fucked up that night.

Maybe he tells him that gentlemen don’t pursue drunk women at  parties for sex. Maybe he’s said, “What the hell were you thinking, Brock? You assaulted a woman who was passed out? Unconscious?! Who fucking does that!? You’re a pathetic human being, and you committed a terrible crime! You’re throwing all that you…. no, we, worked so hard for! You need to come to grips with how much pain you’ve caused her, the victim, as well as to your mom and me! We gave you every opportunity in life that we could afford and you’ve ruined it. You have nobody to blame but yourself! I feel like you’ve ruined this whole family forever!”

Probably not, but maybe.

Either way, what is said between father and son in private may never be our business, but what is said in a letter to a judge trying to keep one’s son from going to prison is exactly what this letter sounded like to me. It was all about “my boy” and how he’ll never be the same boy he’s known for twenty years again.

There’s probably truth in that, and if you think about that in another context, it’s sad.

Even if it’s completely the son’s fault, can we not have even a little bit of empathy for his mom and dad? It’s mostly a rhetorical question, but I say yes.

Sure, the letter is self-serving and extremely tackily written. You bought your son huge ribeye steaks? That’s something that wealthy people say and don’t even realize that they’re being douchey for saying it. Did he say that the consequences of binge drinking are “unfortunate results?”

Ouch, he sure did.

To suggest sexual assault is an unfortunate result of binge drinking is horrendous, and extremely degrading to the victim of not only this crime, but every single sexual assault victim before her.

But, this is the father of the rapist. His son is now a rapist. The boy they used to dress up as a cowboy or Mario for Halloween will now have to register as a sex offender. The consequences of that are far reaching, and probably the main reason they’re appealing this conviction.

My son the sex offender.

He has to come to grips with that, and I imagine that’s not easy, especially in the hoity-toity circle of friends I’m sure these people run with.

I’m not suggesting that we should all call Dan Turner and apologize for calling him out as an asshat, because the chances are good that he really is an asshat.

All I’m suggesting is that we try to understand that, at the end of the day, this man’s son has altered not only the son’s own life and the life of the victim, but that of his whole family’s too. They no doubt planned to travel to watch him compete as a collegiate athlete, and maybe one day they hoped to be in RIO or Tokyo and watch their son compete for the good old, U.S. of A.

Instead, they had to sit in a courtroom and listen to what a fuckup their son had become. It probably cost them a lot of money in the process.

He’s a rapist, not an Olympian or even a collegiate swimmer anymore, and I’m sure that’s a bitter pill for him to swallow.

That he completely disregarded the effect of his words on the victim, or even failed to acknowledge her pain or his own son’s culpability is not shocking, or even mildly startling in this age of instant gratification.

This whole ordeal reminded me of a sexual assault alleged here on a college campus in St. Louis that I don’t believe ever went anywhere. I vaguely recall the dad of this young lady insisting that the police look into this further, and maybe we did, but probably we didn’t because athletes. That the woman in this Stanford case got a conviction speaks volumes to me about what a warrior she must be and my hat is off to her.

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39 Responses to Devil’s advocate for “20 minutes of action…”

  1. Jesus, Don. It’s hard to admit it, especially as a woman with my own story of survival, but as a mother, if I sit down hard and think as though that prick was mine, I know the hard truth is I would likely still try to save my son in the hopes he would be re-shaped into so much better. I mean so, so damned, way much better. No, I don’t know that I would be able to let him attempt to run off scot-free, to deny that woman his every effort for forgiveness. I can’t say that even as the world’s most protective mom. I do know as a parent, I wouldn’t write such an incredibly stupid, self-serving letter, but maybe that is also more likely because my perspective as a woman, as a former victim, I can’t get past the core of the young woman’s anguish and pain. Still, to turn away from my own baby?….

    As usual, you’ve given us a lot more to consider than our initial emotions and understandings allow. A voice of reason in the midst of the unfathomable for most of us. So much to consider overall…

    • I love you for being a survivor. That’s what the women who talk to my class call themselves instead of victims. They are really strong advocates.

      I think we as bloggers are introduced to more of these stories, like yours, and are more sensitive to the reality of the situation. That’s not to say the rest of the world isn’t, but they sort of aren’t as passionate about it for sure. I do believe this family is still in denial a little bit and is trying to blame anybody but their son.

      Honestly, I wonder what the outcome would have been in another part of the country under different circumstances. I assume that Palo Alto is a progressive region with an educated jury pool. I can’t recall what he ended up being convicted of, but they seemed like awfully specific victim type crimes, one being where the victim has to be intoxicated and the other unconscious. I’m not sure that Missouri has those same crimes and wonder if a sodomy charge would have flown here under similar conditions.

      Prison should be reserved for the worst of the worst, for people we’ve basically given up on. Is this kid that kind of person? I don’t know. I would hope he has learned his lesson, but his inability to apologize properly makes me wonder if that’s true.

      • Thanks, Don. I spoke strictly from the perspective of a parent, which I believe was the gist of your post, but there are so many layers to this story that make me absolutely incensed, which you’ve already pointed to: the inequities of privilege and a society that needs to turn it’s perspective of women on it’s head, especially the view that women of any culture are merely ‘action’ figures. I also share your doubts about this family’s ability to see beyond immediate self -serving bias.

  2. barbtaub says:

    I think that what people are objecting to is not a father’s understandable plea for leniency, or references to his son’s family, achievements, etc. It is the fact that neither he nor his son–who had just been CONVICTED of rape–expressed remorse for the crime, recognition of the devastating effects on the victim, or acknowledgement that they regretted any aspect other than him being caught and facing punishment. Not able to choke down those giant steaks does NOT constitute remorse.

    As you point out, there were multiple victims that day. But there was still only one criminal. And a loving father trying to keep his son out of prison could still have expressed remorse for the rape and the assault, as well as regret for their impact on the victim even while pleading for leniency.

    The depressing part is that the father’s clueless plea (even though it turns my stomach to read it) apparently successfully achieved a dramatically light sentence. The victim’s devastating statement seems to have been ignored.

    • Ah, but he wasn’t convicted of rape, Barb. He was convicted of crimes that require the victim to be intoxicated/unconscious, which are very specific. I’m not even sure that those charges exist where I live, so it’s interesting. He should have been charged with sodomy, and maybe he was but the charge was dropped? If this had happened under other circumstances, maybe back where he lives even, it’s very likely that he’d have never been convicted of anything. It was fortunate that those witnesses showed up, or he may have gotten away with who knows what that night. It’s a tough situation for everyone, nobody more so than the victim. If nothing else, there’s dialogue here, and that’s good. There’s a real problem on college campuses and it seems like everybody just shrugs it off as boys being boys. Fuck that noise. I don’t want my daughter victimized when she gets into college, and I don’t want my sons doing anything even close to this to any other human being and ruining their own lives. I like to think I’m raising them better than that, but this guy probably thought the same thing too. Think about the whole situation with the Louisville Cardinals basketball program and the escorts who would “service” basketball recruits. That’s freakin’ sick! Were I a parent of a recruit, I’d be appalled, but instead, that’s just where we are with exceptional young male athletes. They have carte blanche and nobody ever puts them in their place until it’s too late.

      • barbtaub says:

        Semantics Don. He was convicted of assaulting an unconscious woman. One who somehow ended up with her clothes removed, her underwear disappeared, her vagina showing trauma and containing dirt and leaves. And neither he nor his father show any remorse for how those “crimes while intoxicated” occurred. I get that his father is upset and even that he wants to request leniency. I even get that he may have been following instructions from an attorney planning some kind of appeal and thus doesn’t want them to admit anything.

        But I DO NOT get that after his son was convicted of a disgusting crime (and quite probably committed an even worse one), there isn’t even a hint of compassion, remorse, i

      • I agree. I think maybe it’ll come later, when junior is in jail and they can no longer deny what is happening. Or, maybe they are terrible human beings and it’ll never happen. I see that a lot too. *coughs OJ. Hope you’re well.

      • barbtaub says:

        (Sorry sent too soon)

        …there isn’t even a hint of compassion, remorse, or concern for the real victim.

  3. Paul says:

    Excellent expose Don. I am so pleased that you are teaching and are introducing students to real life victims of rape. This piece is very thorough and I appreciate what you have done here.

    Great to see you writing again about the important,of hard,issues.

  4. sweetsound says:

    I assume you’re joking about this. Either way, what I want to know is where was the judge’s head in all of this? The justice system has failed in this case.

  5. hmunro says:

    Thank you for helping me try to put myself just a tiny bit in Dan Turner’s shoes as he stepped up to defend his son. I hadn’t really considered how devastated *he* must have been to see all his dreams for Brock shattered. But after considering your post I keep coming back to the fact that Dan Turner showed little regard for the YOUNG WOMAN’S shattered future, or remorse for what his son did — except for how it affected his son (“poor Brock seems depressed and has lost interest in eating steaks”).

    Trying to save your son from prison may be understandable, but it’s not right. What’s right is raising your son to respect women as human beings, and to conduct himself in a way that doesn’t harm or denigrate others. It’s also about teaching your kids that there are consequences when we break the law — for all of us — and especially when our deliberate actions hurt others.

    Near the end of your post you write, “That [Dan Turner] completely disregarded the effect of his words on the victim, or even failed to acknowledge her pain or his own son’s culpability is not shocking, or even mildly startling in this age of instant gratification.” Maybe you’re not shocked, Don, but I’m *horrified.* And I find it difficult to extend empathy to someone who himself has shown so little. I do hope you’ll reconsider your stance.

  6. I was just thinking about you yesterday and wondering if there was ever going to be another post from you … how about that. And, thank you for this which asks me to look at things from another perspective, another angle. It’s hard, sometimes, to understand the toll crime takes on the family of the criminal.

    Making one feel uncomfortable with one’s perceptions is the sign of a good post. Thank you for that.

    I think the bottom line is that in cases of rape society believes that the victim could have prevented the crime — by drinking less or wearing more or whatever — and so bears some of the guilt. And, that pisses me off.

    But, you’re right, I can’t judge a father for supporting his son. Leastways, I think you’re right. But, in another sign of a good post, I’ll still be stewing this over in my head for awhile.

    • I was also thinking about you! For real, because I work at Busch Stadium now and I knew you’d appreciate that. The whole victim shaming thing is the main crux of sexual assault issues, I think. Why would a woman put herself through the whole ordeal again, assuming the justice system even got the issue that far? It’s tough. They’re tough crimes to investigate too, especially when the suspect and the victim are acquainted or in this case, where both parties can’t really be trusted to recollect what actually happened beyond a sexual assault happened.

  7. Ellen Frisch says:

    Being a parent of a wild child (children) I acknowledge your point. However, I think I would have drawn the line at something like this. And the lack of remorse frightens me. Is this the result of money and privilege? Had I been the judge this would have incensed me. But it didn’t and the end result has been shocking. If nothing else wakes this nation up this should. As citizens it is our right and privilege to end this kind of judicial idiocy.

    • The system certainly isn’t fair, and that’s an altogether different issue. If the suspect was the Hispanic son of one of the university custodians, you can bet that the mug shot would have been out there right away and the suspect wouldn’t see the light of day for at least three years. At least.

  8. It seems to me Dan Turner has done what so many other parents in this country seem to have an issue with these days, and that’s failing to make their children be responsible for themselves and their actions. I’m not leaving myself out of this, as I have most likely done the same thing for my son, but never to this degree.

    I understand what you’re trying to say, but like others said, to totally disregard what this woman will carry because of the actions of your son is reprehensible.

    On top of that, the judge has basically spit in this woman’s face for her bravery by only giving a rapist a 6 month sentence! It’s no wonder women and girls don’t come forward when they’re sexually assaulted! Who wants to be dragged over the coals when your attacker gets a slap on the fucking wrist?

    • I still think the whole family is in denial, right or wrong. I think there’s a sequence of phases that a family and even a defendant goes through, like a grieving family. At some point they’ll get to acceptance, hopefully, because until then they’ll never empathize with the victim. I’m certainly not supporting this family’s position. I guess I’m more or less trying to put myself in their shoes and figure out what I’d really do. As the parent of both boys and a girl, I worry for them for different reasons.

      • I have a hard time believing you would deny your child’s culpability, whether you chose to continue to be supportive of them or not, but maybe I’m wrong and just making assumptions with you being an officer of the law. I know how I felt when my child was molested, and I wanted to cut that motherfucker’s balls off and shove them down his throat and watch him bleed to death, so forgive me if I have no sympathy for those who prey on the weak.

  9. Kate Hall says:

    Great post, Don. Making me think again, as usual. Now go write something funny, dammit.

  10. Holly says:

    I told my son last night that if this were to happen, not to expect me to defend him or try to argue unless I truly believed he was innocent vs. “made a mistake”. I know it is easy for me to say now, not having to deal with that, but we have seen first hand what happens when family members aren’t sent to jail for their crimes and are still dealing with the impact today. I guess I can’t blame a parent for wanting to believe or hoping though. Thank you for this perspective.

    • That you talked with your son about this at all tells me that you’re winning at parenting. Most parents avoid these sorts of ugly scenarios, when they’re really great teaching opportunities, especially for soon to be collegiates. Thank you.

      • Holly says:

        I work at a college so anything that happens here I bring home to him. April had the big push on the Active Consent campaign, so this was just another way to (unfortunately) tie it all together. And thank you too 🙂

  11. Ned's Blog says:

    Well said, Don. It’s never a bad idea to look at both sides of the coin, no matter how tarnished one side might be. I understand what you’re saying about a father’s (parent’s) need to protect their child, even at the sake of denial. But as Fat Bottom Girl struck on, I think that’s part of our problem right now: a like of accountability for our actions. I can’t fault Dan Turner for wanting to protect his son, but at the same time it’s that disregard for holding our sons and daughters — and even ourselves — accountable that has created the sense of entitlement that our society has adopted. Give me what I want and deserve, and give it to I me now even. Even if it’s another person’s body. Ultimately, the person who was supposed to be unbiased and objective was the judge. In my mind, he was the biggest failure in then end. There’s no question that Brock Turner committed the act. There are witnesses, evidence and testimony. Had he been older or a minority, he would likely be serving 15 to 30 years. In my kind, that sentence by the judge was almost like raping that poor girl twice.

  12. I’m sure that I would do the same – send a judge a letter attempting help keep my son out of jail – if for no other reason than to put him in a facility where he could receive major psychological counseling. I guess my beef with the dad’s letter is the carelessness of his words, the utter ridiculousness of them and the fact that he never once referred to the girl whose life was altered forever. Trust me, I have two boys, and I have thought long and hard over this. What if my son had done this? What would I do? I would truly, truly hope that I would not discuss how he can’t eat steak anymore.
    On a side note, kudos to you for addressing this side of the issue. It’s not easy to be a devil’s advocate on the internet! I think your piece is important. Judging others seems to be out of control lately and I truly believe it’s important to really look at all sides.

  13. I find it fascinating that the judge commented: “Prison would have a “severe impact on him”, the judge said.” What sort of impact did the judge think the assault had on the victim? Did Turner go easy on her? She has a potential life sentence.

  14. joey says:

    I do feel badly for his parents, because for all we know, for all the total toolness his dad seems to bring up, it’s very likely they didn’t raise their son to be a rapist. Maybe they didn’t talk about respecting women enough. Maybe they didn’t tell him how important other humans are. But they surely didn’t want him to be a rapist.
    And you’re right. She must be a real warrior woman, because justice, even this meager punishment, is hard to get.

  15. I don’t disagree with you at all my friend. It’d be interesting to see him give an interview to explain his feelings on all of this, so we can judge for ourselves. A letter to the court like this is meant to be very one sided, and could have been much worse, honestly. I think bloggers and people who follow blogs are a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to the average person’s grip on how these things affect a victim and how wrong this whole assault was. There are those out there who will defend this kid to the end, just as there are a large number of people who don’t want to hear anything negative said about Bill Cosby, no matter how much evidence you show them. I’ve seen so many violent offenders’ family members stick with their loved ones until the bitter end, always denying that they did anything wrong, and I find it fascinating, honestly. When is it okay to let go of a loved one and say, “you’re too fucked up for me?” This kid didn’t get the punishment he deserved for sure, and if I were a person doing more than 6 months in prison for possessing weed or some other bullshit, I’d be livid about this.

  16. I think any parent would want to help their kid, even when that kid has done something awful so I appreciate that perspective. I do think the dad’s a douchebag though. I mean for all the things to say about his son’s “bright future” using the words “20 minutes of action” is just disgusting. Action??? I also don’t feel like the rapist himself seemed remorseful enough. Did you read the victim’s statement? Wow. Love you.

  17. Samara says:

    This is a conundrum. Because as heinous as Brock Turner is, and as despicable as the remarks his father made are, yes- I would probably beg for leniency for my son in the same situation.

    People are reacting to the language of his letter, this “20 minutes of action” thing isn’t doing him any favors.

    • The more I see and read, the more I believe that the dad is a fuckwad. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s writing a letter with the specific purpose of putting his son in the best light possible, but still, the total absence of remorse or acknowledgment that the young lady is the only victim here is becoming more and more unpalatable to me.

  18. Cookie says:

    Yikes. This was a ballsy post to write, and I applaud you for doing it.
    We all agree that the crime was heinous and the kid is a fucking asshole, but he is still someone’s child.
    Like I said in my own post regarding the punishment handed out, i am certain that Brock’s mother is deeply ashamed of what her son has done, and blaming herself, trying to figure out how she didn’t teach him better. What mother want s to know that their son violated another human being?
    It is very easy for me to call him a piece of shit. (He is).
    But I am ALSO sure that his mother will love him despite that.
    As for his dad, his words were disgusting and empty of empathy for the victim in this case. His words tell me that he clearly didn’t teach his son any better, because he thought his attitude was just fine.
    Ultimately, the question remains whether or not this kid is redeemable. Is he? I hope so, and I also hope that is eases the pain he has caused the victim and her family, and the pain he has caused his own family. But 6 months in jail is hardly gonna enlighten him to the severity of his crime against this woman.
    Just no.

  19. Amber Perea says:

    I wrote a post about how this should wake us the fuck up to not talking to our sons about rape. But I don’t have any followers so that was easy. This took guts with your audience. Nice large balls, bro.

  20. Maggie O'C says:

    You know the abiding adoration I have of you as a writer, parent, cop, teacher, and funny guy but I can’t travel this road with you. There are some that might label me one of the “hoity toity” of society and what this man wrote is a egregiously offensive no matter what your socio-economic group. As so many have noted, he showed no humanity, no compassion for this poor woman at all. I guess it doesn’t matter because he got what he wanted but I would think there would have been a more effective and gracious way to plead for leniency for his son.

    I will bet my bottom dollar (whatever that means) that this kid has been pampered for perhaps his whole life. He has not suffered consequences and his parents have not insisted that he be a whole and humble young man, respectful and self-aware. My brother was a big party frat boy in college and somehow was able to never rape anyone and if he had, he probably wouldn’t have made it to court because my dad would have taken him down personally.

    If you are a parent who has done your best to raise a solid, moral son or daughter; perhaps you still write a letter trying to help them but you sure as hell don’t write this disgraceful letter. Brock Turner is valuable because he is a studly swimmer (although he’ll just have to hope people believe that as he won’t be competing anywhere) and his parents seem willing to forget everything else because of his studly swimmerness.

    xo mags

  21. Paul says:

    As an aside Don, I just did a guest post over at Cordelia’s Mom’s. I would be honored if you had the time to drop by. Thank you.

  22. Elyse says:

    We all do what we can for our kids, you’re absolutely right. Even when they are assholes, there is a public front and a private reckoning. But I think after this incident, parents will think a little bit more about what they say about their darlings. At least I hope so.

  23. julie says:

    holy…….wow Don. I just spent much more time reading than I had intended to right now, and now have a kinda sick feeling. The unimaginable things that humans do. I have 2 children, both adults. I will always stand behind them, and do all that I can to protect and support them.

    I enjoy your blog Don, I really, really do. This one was…..sickening.

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