There was a kid on my block that used to really piss us off.
He wasn’t part of our regular group. He was a couple of years younger than the youngest of us (me), presumably enough of an age difference that he just didn’t quite fit. We generally avoided him and his friend, a nasty little kid who lived around the corner. But every once in a while, our paths would cross, we would try to play together…and it would just go all wrong.
How wrong? Well, on one or two occasions, we actually felt the need to tattle.
Again, I have no memory of what he ever actually did that was so wrong, but I do remember this, quite clearly: When we told his mother, she said, and I quote: “Not my Kyle. My Kyle would never do that.“
That pretty much sealed it. We didn’t play with him after that.
I find myself thinking of Kyle’s mother (his father we almost never crossed paths with at all, though I have a vague memory of him looking like some straight-man, secondary character from a 50s/60s comedy show, like The Dick Van Dyke Show or something like that) as Facebook and social media pours hate onto the parents of Brock Turner. In the event you’ve been hiking the Appalachian Trail for the last year or so, Turner was just recently convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault for an attack on a young woman at Stanford University in January, 2015, and though the prosecution rather generously asked for just six years in prison (Turner could have gone for 14), the judge gave him six months in county jail.
The judge was almost certainly influenced by an outpouring of support for Turner, including the letters from Turner’s mother and father, both of which have been made public. Turner’s parents have come under a lot of fire for their letters, but here’s one question for those blindly lashing out: What were they supposed to do?
Turner’s in that hazy age where he’s no longer a child, but not quite an adult. The responsibilities his parents face have shifted (and this is a stage I find myself at with my girls). The job of teaching him right from wrong is mostly over; so, too, is the job of protecting him from the preventable harms in the world (I should note, however, that as parents, we’re always role models for our kids, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop trying to protect my kids; it’s instinctive). Turner’s at the age where he has to start standing on his own feet, where he has to make his own decisions, which should be planted firmly in the foundation that’s been built for him by his parents. Sadly, he made a terrible decision, and so the Turners are forced to play defender.
As defenders, they both wrote letters in support of their son. They should not be vilified for doing this. The content of their letters, however, is another thing. These are the very definition of “tone deaf.” Neither Turner mentions the victim. The letters focus on what happened…to Brock. In the very first paragraph of Mrs. Turner’s letter, she uses what I think is a very telling phrase: “since the verdict”, as in “…since the verdict, he [Brock] has not smiled.” And while Mr. Turner’s letter comes closer to admitting someone else was hurt, he also uses one of the most unfortunate phrases possible when he says the damage to Brock’s life is “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action….” ‘Action,’ of course, is a word that’s been used by guys for years as a euphemism for sex. He then proceeds to pass the buck, blaming alcohol and sexual promiscuity on campuses for his son’s trouble. It’s perilously close to victim-blaming.
I can’t blame the Turners for defending their son. He’s their son; they love him. Despite the verdict of the court, despite the evidence and the testimony, despite the gut-wrenching letter the victim read to Turner in court (and this should be required reading for all, especially boys), there’s almost certainly some part of their brains that can’t believe their son did this. “Not my Brock; my Brock would never do that.“ Unfortunately for all involved, he did.
It should go without saying that I am in no way defending the rapist, Brock Turner, for his actions. He deserves far more jail time than he received, and he has to live with the consequences of the choices he made. Nor am I defending the words used by Mr. and Mrs. Turner on behalf of their son. Be angry at Brock Turner for what he did; be angry at the judge for this tap on the wrist; be angry at the Turners for what they wrote, but don’t be angry at them for writing. I suspect most of us would have done the same.