Are You Surprised?

BrockTurner_mug_shot1If you’ve followed the news over the last few days, you may have read about the verdict handed down to Brock Turner, the Olympic hopeful Stanford University swimmer who was convicted of felony rape. A judge handed down what some have considered a fairly lenient sentence for such an extreme crime. The judge sentenced him to just six months in prison out of the possible fourteen year maximum. According to reports, Turner will also be required to register as a sex offender.

There have been many letters swirling about in this case. There was a letter written and read by the victim to her assailant in court (I am not posting it here due to the explicit nature of its content, but if you’re interested in its content, just Google it). A childhood friend also wrote a letter defending Turner blaming “political correctness” for the verdict in the case (you can read an article about that here).

The two most astounding letters that I’ve found are from Turner himself (read about it here) to the judge and also from his father (read about it here). After reading the letters and the pleas from both this young man and his father, I had to make sure that what I was reading was on a reputable site. Could this really be true? Could it be that someone was really trying to dismiss a sexual assault as an indiscretion due to alcohol? Could it be that a parent was actually pleading for their son to have a more lenient sentence because it was just twenty minutes of indiscretion?

As I first started digging into this case, I felt a queasy feeling in my stomach, the unmistakable feeling of dread welling up within me. In some ways, the case reminded me of a high profile case that had come out of my hometown of Darien, Connecticut when I was in high school (you can read about it here). The case screamed of privilege and entitlement, it screamed of the wrong kind of politics which we have seen far too often within our country.

In light of racial tensions within our country over the last few years, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the verdict might be had the assailant been African American or another minority. I have a hard time believing that the sentence handed down would have been quite as lenient as it was, regardless of the athleticism or talent of the assailant.

My heart breaks for the victim in this case. Based on her letter, she admits her own fault in drinking too much, but does one indiscretion deserve another? Does drinking too much to the point of passing out warrant a sexual assault? If it does, then I am surprised and more frightened than I have ever been for the state of affairs in our country. It seems that it’s hard enough for victims of sexual abuse to come forward in these cases, to have to listen to such preposterous pleas for leniency seems to diminish the severity of the crimes.

Turner never admits that what he did was wrong. He says that he is sorry for what he caused the victim. In fact, if you read his letter, he almost positions himself as the victim. He wishes that he had never taken a drink or spoken to the victim, indicating that he had experienced a fair amount of stress and anxiety since that day. Seriously? You experienced anxiety, Brock? How about your victim?

The description of the assailant by his father in the letter seems to be victimizing him, as if he was the one who had somehow been violated. He wasn’t who he once had been, according to his father, but how about the victim? Was she who she used to be? Could she ever really return to a “normal” life again?

Turner’s inability to come clean on what he did seems to be one of the big reasons why people are so upset. If there was some admission of guilt here, people may have seen him differently, but there is nothing that even hints that remorse for his actions within these letters. The only remorse seems to be that the assailant will no longer have the opportunities that he once had and will no longer be able to pursue his dreams like he once did, all because of his twenty minutes of indiscretion.

As I poured over article after article trying to decipher for myself what I could make of the case, I wish that I could say that I was surprised, but I wasn’t. Were you? Does this kind of behavior surprise anyone considering the other things that we see in our country?

We’ve been witnessing the slow decline of moral principles and when moral behavior is eroded, why should we be surprised? It seems that we’re moving towards an “anything goes” society where even standing up for convictions that buck the norm is termed bigotry, insensitivity, and discrimination. There is an overall lack of ownership of mistakes and indiscretions that we may commit. We have become such a litigious society that no one seems to want to take responsibility for anything.

So, should we be surprised when we see this decline and then we read of stories such as this one? Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? Probably not.

Something’s got to give, but I’m not quite sure what it will be. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t continue to be morally lax while at the same time holding people to high moral standards. Those two ideologies seem diametrically opposed to one another.

Unfortunately, I think these kinds of cases and incidents will become more and more prevalent. I think we will continue to see a casting off of restraint and responsibility until something happens to wake us up. While I know what continues to propel me forward and what possibilities that I see for us to change our trajectory away from where we’re headed, I’m curious what others think. Are you surprised with the emergence of these stories? What hope do you see for us changing our trajectory?

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One thought on “Are You Surprised?

  1. Surprised about Turner and his father? No. There will always be people, regardless of race, who cannot own up to their actions.

    Surprised at his sentence? Yes. NOT surprised that it is lighter than any sentence handed out for a comparable crime committed by an African American. But surprised at the extent of how light it is. I hope the judge reads Turner and his father’s letters and they haunt the judge forever more. The judge had a responsibility to dish out justice, even a biased white version of justice, and failed. The victim has been betrayed, society has been betrayed by this judge.

    (And I write this in all my Vanilla glory.)

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