Have you ever read something and been disturbed by the truth of what you’d just read? You get that sick feeling in your stomach when you comprehend the ugliness of another person’s beliefs. I had that experience as I read about the case of Stanford University student Brock Turner, convicted of raping an unconscious woman in 2015, and his father's statement about his son’s actions — specifically, the father’s depiction of rape as “20 minutes of action.”
This can’t be what he believes! He must be lost in fear and is hoping to defend his son. He is not a “media person”; he just chose the wrong words but meant something else.
Your mind wants to find some saving grace to ease the discomfort of an awful truth, the truth that some people really do think this way.
It baffles me that people get rape/sexual assault confused with sex. Sex requires willingness from both parties — we call that “consent.” When consent is not given or it can’t be given, it is rape or sexual assault. It is not and never will be a few minutes of bad choices. It is a crime, a horrible crime that steals and wounds and creates pain for entire families.
In this instance, an intoxicated young woman was taken away from the people who could have helped her, and she was raped behind a Dumpster. Twenty minutes of action or 20 minutes of torture? What if this same father had to receive a phone call saying that his son had awakened on a gurney in the hospital? That his son was “in physical pain” and had been notified that he had been violated. Would this same father feel that his son was just a participant in “20 minutes of action”? No, he would be in pain. He would be horrified to see his child deal with the physical and psychological pain of rape. The physical often heals quickly but the psychological wounds can take years of work for the survivor.
Why does it take horror for us to start a conversation, to talk about the truth? The truth is, men are causing this pain. More than 98 percent of the perpetrators of sexual assault are male. The majority are over 30 years of age and six in 10 rapists are caucasian. So, as a man who qualifies in all of those categories, I ask why aren’t we doing more to change this. Why aren’t we holding each other accountable?
This young man received a sentence of six months. That is appalling.
We must talk with our sons about consent. We need to explain to them that they cannot stand by if they see a friend taking advantage of an inebriated person. We need to quit believing that boys will be boys. Most importantly, we have to stop blaming the person who is harmed. Victim blaming is wrong thinking and it must stop.
How many of you who have followed this case in the news have thought, “Why was she drinking so much?” Or, “Why did she go outside with him?” Or we don’t know what really happened. How someone acted, did not act, dressed, or drank is not an invitation for rape. The only thing that causes rape is rapists. End of story. Alcohol is often cited as the excuse for the behavior. Can we agree once and for all that alcohol does not make anyone rape anyone else? A choice is made and an action is taken.
If you are thinking this is an unusual event, consider that last month the Alliance staff and volunteers went to San Joaquin Community Hospital for 19 sexual assault victims here in Bakersfield. The oldest was 56 years of age and the youngest was 3 years old.
Last month was not unusual. It happens month after month. It happens in every county of California. It happens all over our country.
If you haven’t read the letter from the victim in this case, please take the time to do so. Hear the voice of someone that has been harmed and the work that is necessary for them to begin to heal. If you have kids in high school or college, read the letter with them.
It won’t be easy but understanding consent is critical. This conversation is overdue.
Louis Gill has worked with families in crisis for the past 17 years. He is the CEO of both the Alliance Against Family Violence & Sexual Assault and The Bakersfield Homeless Center.