Language is a very funny thing. When we speak or write down our thoughts we generally have a purpose and a specific meaning in mind. Once our words move beyond our control, too far from us to explain them, they may take on a life of their own that we never intended. Just recently I wrote what was supposed to be a very complimentary essay but because of the focus that I chose and the ideas that I left out, my attempt at honoring someone became instead a means of slighting a person whom I hold in great esteem. It took some effort for me to unravel the gooey mess that I had inadvertently created. Thus it is and always will be whenever we attempt to convey ideas and thus is the reason that I will most likely anger some people with today’s blog.
The court of public opinion is awash with horror over the sentencing of Brock Turner for three felony convictions of sexual assault. Not only are people aghast that his punishment appears to be too lenient but they are even critical of comments that his father made in a letter to the judge pleading for a measure of sympathy for Brock. None of this might be such big news were it not for a touching and powerful letter from the victim of Brock’s assault that has captivated those who have taken the time to read it. She is a gifted writer who has managed with great clarity to convey the horror of living through such an attack and its life changing aftermath. Her eloquence brings her heartbreak to life, making her terror all the more real. Only a soul without a shred of sensitivity might read her account without experiencing a strong and sympathetic reaction.
I have been greatly saddened since hearing about this case and realizing that it is but one of thousands that occur on a regular basis. Long ago when I was about the same age as the victim in this instance, I lived in an apartment project that had a wonderful community spirit. Many of us gathered outside in the evenings to share stories of our days and to relax just a bit while we watched our children play. One of the women that I met in this way was returning from the laundry room one afternoon when she was followed by a stranger that she did not notice. Before she realized what was happening he was inside her home putting a knife to her throat. He threatened to kill her and her baby if she made even a sound. Then he violently raped her. She was never the same. The incident broke her once lively spirit. She couldn’t even stand to live in the rooms that reminded her of the attack so she went to her mother’s home while her husband prepared to move the family away permanently. The incident both frightened and saddened those who had known her and to make matters worse her attacker was never found.
I will never in any way condone what Brock Turner did on that January night in the aftermath of a fraternity party. There are no valid excuses. He may not have ever done anything similar in all of his days on earth but it only took that one time for him to forever ruin the life of the woman of whom he took advantage. He certainly trashed his own future as well which is what happens when one forgets to abide by the laws of common decency. He may be wishing everyday that he might go back in time and not do this despicable act or get drunk or even go to the frat party but what is done is done and he will pay the price of his actions forevermore. He will ever again be in contention for a spot on an Olympic swimming team. He will be lucky to get any kind of decent job given his record of three felony convictions. Everywhere that he attempts to go he will have to register as a sex offender. He is and will probably always be a pariah in our society because of his unthinking and offensive actions. He has not only harmed a woman who can’t quite move beyond what he did to her, but he has also dishonored his family and all of the people who once believed in him. He will have to live with his crime for the rest of his days and that is as it should be.
I have not been able to erase Brock Turner’s victim from my mind since I first read the vivid account of her continuing ordeal. I feel a level of sympathy for his parents as well for Brock has irreparably harmed them. Raising children is the most difficult and frightening job that there is. All of us who have attempted this know of the worries, sleepless nights and mistakes that we make. We hope and pray that we have said all that we need to say and that our children will truly understand the lessons we have taught them. When we first allow them freedom and independence we try to quell our fears but in truth we are always nervous because we understand that the who they will eventually become are not just a products of our making, but also of the many people who influence them along the way. The truth is that there comes a time when we as parents exert less and less control over them. We have to watch them from afar. Only when time and their actions demonstrate that they are indeed the good and honest citizens that we taught them to be do we begin to relax.
Brock Turner’s father wrote a letter to the judge asking for mercy for his son just as most of us might have done for one of our children. His persuasive ability and way with words is the polar opposite of the victim who so captivated our hearts with her inspiring essay. His remarks are so tone deaf and poorly expressed that it might have been better had he not written anything at all. That being said, defending our kids even when they have disappointed us beyond measure is what we parents do. I cannot fault him for his efforts. He loves his son and I suspect that the negative interpretations that people have placed on his thoughts are not what he meant at all. Now he is being castigated and blamed for his son’s actions as though he is somehow responsible. Without knowing anything about this man or what his household is like, the public has jumped to negative conclusions that may or may not have merit. We have convicted Brock’s father without a trial or evidence. Our judgement of him is based on hearsay and a badly crafted note and it is morally wrong to convict him without proof that his negligence or influence somehow created a criminal.
We might be better served if instead of gossiping on the Facebook wall and Twitter universe we were to talk with our children both male and female. Each of them has certain behavioral responsibilities and we must be certain that they learn how to keep their baser human instincts in check. The temptations that they will encounter are many and part of our job is to train them to recognize dangerous situations and to know what to do when we are no longer around to monitor them. It is incumbent on all parents to talk frequently and openly with their kids. Our young need to be taught how to respect themselves and in turn provide that same reverence to everyone with whom they interact. We can’t drum human decency into their minds often enough and it is never too early to start such conversations and to demonstrate what we mean by our own examples. We need to be what we want them to be.
One of my grandsons who was only in elementary school complained about a student who was discussing sexual ideas in a very crass and demeaning way at lunch each day. The teachers and counselors made little effort to stop the offending commentaries and instead implied that my grandson just needed to lighten up a bit. As long as our society encourages a “boys will be boys attitude” there will continue to be cases of abuse like Brock Turner’s. As a society have to consider the impact of our tendencies to avoid talking with our children about the uglier aspects of human behavior. Instead of wagging our self righteous fingers at Brock Turner’s father we need to be certain that we are doing all that we can to educate our kids and help them to understand the importance of honoring every human life in every circumstance.
A terrible tragedy has ruined the lives of many, many people. The victim will never again have the sense of trust that she once possessed. Her family and friends will feel her pain and worry about her forevermore. Brock’s parents will be wracked with guilt, shame and humiliation. Brock Turner will pay the price of his actions and it will be heavy whether he spends time in jail or has to find a place for himself in a world where many view him as a monster. Nobody wins and all because he did not stop himself from performing grotesque actions on a woman that he did not know. Let his story be a tale of warning for all of us and let it remind us of our own responsibilities.