Brock Turner’s crime was the result of Brock Turner. And our “boys will be boys” culture.
By now you’re probably familiar with the terrifying account of 23-year-old “Emily Doe,” who was sexually assaulted while unconscious behind a fraternity house on the Stanford University campus. Last week, Brock Allen Turner, a former Stanford swimmer, was sentenced to six months in prison. In court, the victim read a powerful statement that is being shared the world over. The district attorney called it “the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy that I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor.”
I recommend reading the entire letter, but one section especially stood out to me. Turner had told the judge he wanted to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.” In her letter, Emily Doe addresses Turner directly: “You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less.”
The point cannot be emphasized enough — but it shouldn’t be assault survivors’ responsibility to make the case. That should be on men. Boys should be taught this seemingly obvious but infinitely important point as early in life as possible.
Far too often, that’s not the case. You can see that in comments Brock Turner made at trial, and in a statement his father, Dan Turner, wrote to the judge. (Dan Turner referred to the assault as “20 minutes of action.”)
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Their words are inexcusable, shameful, ridiculous — yet they perfectly expose some men’s indifference, if not full dismissal, toward victims of sexual assault.
The father’s defense of his son reminds me of the “boys will be boys” logic. The saying, too often repeated, suggests that when males do something stupid or cruel or violent, that’s just what boys do. As if boys are naturally scumbags with no self-control, as if boys have no power over any violent or sexual acts, as if boys shouldn’t be held accountable because it’s their nature. Especially if you throw some alcohol into the mix, “boys will be boys” can be used to excuse just about anything, regardless of how heinous.
Our “boys will be boys” attitude helps perpetuate rape culture. Our “boys will be boys” attitude allows a father like Dan Turner to sanitize his son’s crime, which he referred to simply as “the events of Jan. 17th and 18th,” as if sexually assaulting an unconscious woman was a random occurrence rather than a despicable, deliberate act.
Our “boys will be boys” attitude normalizes and excuses intolerable violence against women.
Brock Turner’s crime was not the result of “binge drinking and its unfortunate results,” as the father wrote in his letter. Brock Turner’s crime was the result of Brock Turner. Brock Turner’s crime was not “20 minutes of action.” Brock Turner’s crime was “assault with the intent to commit rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated, unconscious person.”
Rape culture needs to be addressed — and men have a responsibility to do so. All of us must stop tolerating “boys being boys.” Men must stop rape.