An Open Letter: Rape Culture and the Stanford Case

*Trigger warning: this post contains graphic descriptions related to sexual assault. Please do not read if you feel you will be traumatized from reading it.*

Dear Brock Turner’s Father (And America By Extension),

I am not the first person to publicly write to you to address your son’s crimes. In fact, this letter comes to you after about six or so open letters have been written to you. One contributor even went so far as to write a letter to the victim in reaction to the letters written by yourself and Brock’s mother. Like these other contributors and the rest of America in general, I am trying to make sense of your son’s actions and what defending him says about how we deal with rape in this country. I address you instead of your son because your son’s victim has already done so. It was her right to address him personally, and I won’t take that away from her.

I wanted to write you a letter not to tell you how disgusted I am, although I definitely am. I wanted to speak to you directly about why what your son did is wrong. I am reaching out to you for educational purposes, because I feel that’s one thing that has been left unaddressed. In reality, I have no real reason to contribute to this country-wide attempt to make you understand the ramifications of your son’s actions. I am not a father. I do not know your family personally. To be brutally honest, I doubt you would listen to me because I am a female-identified individual. Regardless of where this stands, you need to know the difference between sex and rape, because I don’t think you quite understand.

Your son committed rape. Again, your son raped another person. As we know, rape is a crime. Therefore, your son committed a crime. The important part of this is that your son has been convicted of his crimes, but so many cases like this one are either settled out of court or remain unsettled entirely. Regardless if they remain unsettled or not, the victim is usually the one left to deal with the aftermath, whether that comes in the form of support or blame and invalidation. However, your son has been found guilty by a jury of his peers. By committing the crime he did, your son just joined a club with a million and some members, and your son has a special distinction among so many members because he was actually convicted of these crimes. So many of these club members remain uncaught and unpunished for their crimes, or worse excused by the jury and justice system. Your son’s recent membership to a club of so many only speaks to the larger issue at hand: your son, like these millions of others, is a product of rape culture.

I know that, as a parent, you want to believe the best about your son. You want to do the right thing for your son, but I also fear for your son in ways I didn’t expect. Mainly, how did your son come to believe his actions are acceptable? How could a convicted rapist believe alcohol was the problem, and not the assault committed towards another human being? How little do both you and your son think of women if you consider this a misguided “20 minutes of action” rather than a crime? These questions lead me to believe you do not know the difference between rape and sex. Sex is intimate acts between two or more individuals who give their affirmative consent to participate in these sexual acts in any way. However, rape is when an individual or group of people use sexual acts to commit violence against another person or people who do not want it. Meaning, they did not give their consent. Are you noticing a theme? Consent is mandatory in order to have sex. When consent is absent, then it is not sex. It is sexual assault and/or rape. Biological response and blood-alcohol limits really have nothing to do with determining the integrity of the victim’s claim. It is the unequivocal presence of an affirmative yes that is the difference. Your son did not have consent. Do you understand the difference? Your son did not have consent to do what he did, so he committed rape.

I don’t want to call you a “bad” father by any means, but this is the only glimpse I have of your fathering expertise. I do not know the amount of sporting events you’ve attended to support your son (as everyone knows, he was a star athlete). I do not know the values you’ve worked tirelessly to instill in your son. I do know, however, that the beliefs of the parents become the children’s beliefs to some degree. I do know that initial scenes of perpetuating rape culture start with family dynamics at home. Somehow, somewhere, your son learned that digitally raping a woman is acceptable behavior. Your son learned that consent is solely his decision. Your son learned that a woman’s orgasm determines that she consented despite the absence of saying “yes, I consent.” Your son learned that women’s bodies are open to his use and the public use to all. Your son claims drinking is the problem, but he apparently did not learn that drinking does not change the fundamental aspects of a person’s values. It obviously lowers inhibitions, but it does not completely eradicate socialized expectations and core values. In sum, your son’s actions towards the victim indicate he already had a low opinion of women before taking that first drink the night of his crimes.

I read your letter. I know the great concern you have for your son, but excusing his actions and apologizing for him when he has not learned why he was in court in the first place will not make your son a better person. It will only excuse his actions to a detrimental level. I am not writing this to you to judge your parenting, because I have no children myself. I feel it would be unfair to judge parents when I do not know how hard it is to be a parent. However, I wanted to write to you because this case is a publicized example of the continuous perpetuation of rape culture which promotes toxic masculinity, all terms which may have already been explained to you but are easy enough to Google. What this means, though, is that your son learned his actions are acceptable because the normalization of sexual violence. In defending your son, you have used your position as father to perpetuate rape culture. You have used your position as father to excuse the true ramifications of your son’s actions. In defending your son as a father, you ignore the victim’s experience. If you will not listen to the victim, then consider the fear and anger the victim’s father feels. To be clear, this is not about her father. However, it seems I have to simplify this lesson into a “father to father” thing to make you understand. You seem to take this role seriously, so consider it for a moment. If you feel so much hurt over your son’s experience, try imagining how the victim’s father feels.

I do not know the values of your household nor your personal values, but based on your letter, I can tell that women’s safety and self-ownership of their bodies are not values prioritized in your household. As a child of a father who did prioritize these things and many other important values regarding women’s rights, I can tell you that both you and your son are missing out on something very special. My father treats my mother, my sister, and myself with respect as people. He does not create a special category for us because we are women; he treats us all with the respect we deserve as people. This type of fatherhood is essential in erasing toxic masculinity from society, but society seems to miss this connection. As a result, individuals miss this connection as well and unknowingly contribute to the whole of rape culture. As a result, we get your son, just one guy of many, many people who perpetuate rape culture.

I hope this helped you understand a bit better why your son’s actions were wrong. If not, then please do some self reflection and google some of the terms provided to you. I’m asking you to do this because I don’t want to read any more articles directed specifically at you or about your son’s case. I don’t want to learn about another rape case left unsolved or excused by the justice system, leaving the victim traumatized and re-traumatized. I don’t want to read another letter from another parent of a rapist defending their child because the victim was “promiscuous.” I don’t want to read another comment about how the victim should be blamed for their assault because of superficial things like clothes or “that look,” all of which is bullshit interpretation. I don’t want to scroll down to the comments of such an article and find the comments sections divided on the issue, as if consent is debatable. This letter should be the last letter you receive to make you get the point: rape and sex are not the same thing.

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