By this time, there’s not much to add to the outrage, the disgust and crushing loss of self and body rising from the sexual assault sentencing of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner.
A pair of letters read in court at Turner’s sentencing — one pathetic, the other searing, both indelible — have been shared so much as very public testimony of a victim’s private hell that it’s probably impossible to find many outside the loop of at least a few brutal passages from either one.
That’s the state of recoiling today, at this very moment, from a case of campus sexual assault.
And that’s the state of a viral news feed, bringing something 2,260 miles away into our own red-bricked, campus backyard.
But how about two months from now, when a new crop of Purdue University freshmen descend on West Lafayette? It’s fair to say that some — even if it’s, let’s say, a handful — will come with similar expectations Dan Turner, Brock Turner’s father, said his son had when he arrived in Palo Alto, California.
How did Dan Turner put it in the letter he read in court to Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky, hoping to lighten his son’s punishment?
“In hindsight, it’s clear that Brock was desperately trying to fit in at Stanford and fell into the culture of alcohol consumption and partying. This culture was modeled by many of the upperclassmen on the swim team and played a role in the events of Jan. 17 and 18, 2015.”
Here’s a case for taking no chances.
At some point during Boiler Gold Rush, Purdue’s mass indoctrination of dorm life and school fight songs for the incoming class, read those letters, raw and in full.
Make it clear what sexual assault is.
Make it clear what sexual assault means.
Read the words out loud.
So everyone hears them and everyone understands what campus life isn’t supposed to be.
So everyone understands, on the brink of those four, glorious college years, that this is not just some viral moment. It’s a lifetime to endure.
Don’t read it for some sense of judicial acumen or righteousness for giving a well-connected 20-year-old just a six-month stint in the county jail after being convicted of three counts of sexual assault against an unconscious woman on the ground behind a dumpster in January 2015. Don’t read it to simply condemn a judge who decided that, by being drunk and free of significant legal problems in the past, the student had “less moral culpability.”
Read it, instead, to hear how repulsive it is when a pleading father tells a judge that the six-year prison term prosecutors requested “is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.”
Then, read straight from the 23-year-old victim’s letter, thick and explicit with descriptions of how “20 minutes of action” play out for her. Read her words about how she met Turner at a party, how her body was found splayed and naked, the aftermath of the rape kit at the hospital, the pine needles ground into her hair, the denial she lived with, the unavoidable explanation to family, the eventual media coverage “that according to him, I liked it.”
Surely, you’ve read — what she told to Turner’s face in the courtroom on sentencing day. If not, a few choice excerpts …
About finally getting a shower at the hospital the next morning: “I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”
About alcohol as an excuse: “Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. … Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately and run away.”
About her own fatalistic conclusion: “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone (to the party), then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized it would have happened, just to somebody else. You were about to enter four years of access to drunk girls and parties, and if this is the foot you started off on, then it is right you did not continue.”
About leniency: “The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly. We should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error.”
About the very words in her 15-page recitation: “Why am I still explaining this?”
The letters in the Stanford case should be a requisite course in university orientation. Purdue, included.
Somewhere between “Hail Purdue” and “Boiler Up” read those letters out loud to the next freshman class. Let the words from a Palo Alto courtroom be exactly as uncomfortable as they really are. Explain what’s real right up front: No sexual assault. No exceptions. No excuses. Not on this campus. Not anywhere.
There are consequences of 20 minutes of action. Even if a judge doesn’t get it.
Dave Bangert is a writer for the (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.