By now, you know the terrible story of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner and the woman known as Emily Doe, the college graduate whom Turner raped behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. Turner was found guilty of three felonies, but got a reduced sentence because the judge feared the “severe impact” of a long prison sentence upon him (and here we pause to note the blood-boiling irony that, in the age of mass incarceration, THIS is the rare time that the system decides to acknowledge the destructive nature of human imprisonment).
That was already a high-profile case, but then Buzzfeed posted a statement that Doe had read aloud in court, a letter that was originally published by Palo Alto Online and has now been read by millions of people (including CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield on live television), and a letter which Buzzfeed—in their eternal quest for social lift—probably plans on turning into a musical at some point.
One of the reasons Doe wrote that letter was as a counterpoint to Turner’s own statement to the court. Well, the Guardian published a large chunk of that statement, and, as with Doe’s letter, it’s worth reading in full. You can probably learn a lot more from Turner’s statement than he did, frankly. You can see why Doe reacted so viscerally to it: because it’s a masterpiece of self-pity, and lays most of the blame for the assault at the feet of demon alcohol. Here are the relevant parts:
At this point in my life, I never want to have a drop of alcohol again. I never want to attend a social gathering that involves alcohol or any situation where people make decisions based on the substances they have consumed. I never want to experience being in a position where it will have a negative impact on my life or someone else’s ever again.
As with Ethan Couch, Turner is trying to transfer responsibility for the crime from himself to an outside factor. Call it boozefluenza. There are a few obvious reasons to make this kind of dodge…
- People will actually buy it.
- No one REALLY wants to believe they are capable of something as awful as rape, and so blaming it on booze is a convenient and natural form of denial.
- It’s an easy way to paint yourself as the victim instead of the person you victimized.
But we’re not finished yet. After trotting out the boozefluenza excuse, Turner latches onto another mope point:
I’ve lost two jobs solely based on the reporting of my case. I wish I never was good at swimming or had the opportunity to attend Stanford, so maybe the newspapers wouldn’t want to write stories about me.
“GAHHHHHH! CURSE THIS LITHE TORSO, AND THESE FAST-KICKING LEGS, AND MY DOLPHIN-LIKE SKILLS IN THE POOL! CURSE IT ALL! I wish I’d never been so athletic and handsome!”
But let’s go back to alcohol part, because the Turner statement really drives home what kind of dangers await you as a talented, drunk person (emphasis down below is mine):
One needs to recognize the influence that peer pressure and the attitude of having to fit in can have on someone. One decision has the potential to change your entire life. I know I can impact and change people’s attitudes towards the culture surrounded by binge drinking and sexual promiscuity that protrudes through what people think is at the core of being a college student. I want to demolish the assumption that drinking and partying are what make up a college lifestyle. I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted]. My poor decision making and excessive drinking hurt someone that night and I wish I could just take it all back.
Okay, so now we’ve added poor decision-making, peer pressure and campus promiscuity to the list of things that conspired to assault Emily Doe. Again, you can see how Turner’s statement continually grasps at factors OTHER than Brock Turner to blame for the attack. Presumably, adults like Turner’s lawyers and parents vetted this statement carefully and agreed with it, and it was effective enough to get his sentence reduced (and reduced again to three months, as it turns out).
People will buy this story with seemingly nice young boys (and even not nice ones) again and again. It’s an easy way to humanize the rapist, so that he doesn’t seem capable of raping anyone, or certainly not intentionally raping them. (Keep in mind that Turner fled the scene of the crime on foot after two passing cyclists witnessed the attack and stopped it.) You obfuscate, and you turn a single act of violence into the inevitable result of some greater, flawed cultural problem. “It wasn’t me. It was COLLEGE. The two of us are just pawns in this crazy game!”
All of that hedging cumulates in this final portion:
I’ve been shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school. I’ve lost my chance to swim in the Olympics. I’ve lost my ability to obtain a Stanford degree. I’ve lost employment opportunity, my reputation and most of all, my life. These things force me to never want to put myself in a position where I have to sacrifice everything. I want no one, male or female, to have to experience the destructive consequences of making decisions while under the influence of alcohol.
At this point in the statement, the victim doesn’t even exist. You are only supposed to pay attention to this poor, wayward soul before you now. Think of all he’s lost. Think of the damage done to HIM. I’m sure that Turner is in horrific mental shape at the present moment. But you can see that the goal here is for the court to pay more attention to the ruined life of the perpetrator than to the ruined life of the victim. That’s standard operating procedure in rape defense. “Why, look at that fine young man! Are we really going to ruin his whole LIFE over this?!”
Not only is it a successful way of framing the case, but it insidiously hints that, since the rape victim’s life is already ruined, the only way to prevent more damage is to spare the rapist. It gives all the focus and promise to the attacker’s future, and HIS suffering. He monopolizes the aftermath.
Worst of all, it serves as a public notice that if you rape someone, you’ll probably be able to get your life back together again (the victim, not so much). There’s still hope for you, so long as some mean judge doesn’t come down hard on you. And the more affluence you have to lose, the more sympathy you feel you deserve. Instead of actually saying sorry (“I can never forgive myself” is about as close as this gets to a formal apology), Turner returns over and over to rattling off a list of things he stands to lose…carefully reminding everyone of the impact a harsh sentence will have on him, willfully ignoring the impact his crime itself has had.
THAT does a whole lot more to keep the cycle of violence going than some dipshit swimmer going up to some new teammates and being like, “Bros, don’t drink too much.” There’s grief in this statement from Turner, but there’s a great deal of cynicism here as well…a canny way of exalting himself above his crime in order to lessen it. And so long as that cynical method of denying and excusing rape works, like it did here, people will keep using it.