I was sickened when I read the entire letter from Brock Turner’s rape victim to her attacker. I am also a father, and if my children were still teenagers at home, I would make certain sure we read and discussed this brave young woman’s words together.
If I were a pastor or youth worker, I would want the adults and teens in my church to read and talk about her gut-wrenching statement. We in the church need to listen to these words about the real consequences of violence and consider the attitudes we may hold even if we’re not aware of them.
And if the letter seems too graphic, then we should at least watch the video of CNN newswoman Ashleigh Banfield, who read an abbreviated version of the letter, omitting some of the passages that could not be spoken on TV.
We should read this letter in church because we make sacred vows at baptism and dedication services. We promise to help children and fellow adults live compassionately, mercifully, and justly. It is our holy obligation.
We should read and discuss it because this event is not just about what one young person did to another young person at a Stanford University fraternity party. Perpetrators, from junior high students to senior adults, commit sexual violence every day. If we assume this doesn’t affect people in the church, we are woefully mistaken.
This letter reflects the suffering felt by rape victims of both genders everywhere. How can we minister to them if we aren’t willing to listen?
The woman wrote, “I have become a little barnacle always needing to be at someone’s side, to have my boyfriend standing next to me, sleeping beside me, protecting me. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.”
But we should not just read her letter. We also should read those written by the 39 people who argued that Turner didn’t do anything wrong, that he wasn’t really at fault for any number of reasons, arguing that the woman was drunk or that alcohol clouded Turner’s faculties.
It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.
Turner’s father wrote an open letter that defended his son, saying, “His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” If that weren’t enough, the father went on to say that Turner “has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th, 2015.”
Turner’s friend Leslie Rasmussen wrote, “Brock is not a monster. He is the furthest thing from anything like that, and I have known him much longer than the people involved in this case,” she wrote. “I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten plus 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.”
Rasmussen has since said she regrets her words. She posted on Facebook, “I had no right to make any assumptions about the situation. Most importantly, I did not acknowledge strongly enough the severity of Brock’s crime and the suffering and pain that his victim endured, and for that lack of acknowledgement, I am deeply sorry.”
She added, “I fully understand the outrage over Brock’s sentencing and my statement. I can only say that I am committed to learning from this mistake. I am 20 years old, and it has never been more clear to me that I still have much to learn.”
This is a moment in our culture where we all must learn, regardless of our age, to question assumptions we may not even be aware that we hold.
Some questions to consider:
– Are we more likely to feel empathy and mercy toward a young man with a “promising future” than for someone whose future doesn’t seem so promising?
– Am I willing to challenge individual and societal attitudes that legitimize degrading behavior of all kinds, and what are those attitudes? Am I willing to do this even when friends and family hold those opinions?
– When have I made excuses to justify my own behavior?
– Do I believe the woman bears some responsibility for what happened because she was drunk?
– What would “transformative justice” look like in this case?
For additional reading, check out this article on the Vox website that identifies “5 bad assumptions about rape” that are destroyed by the victim’s letter.