A Steep Price To Pay For Twenty Minutes Of Action

Like many people, I have been paying attention to the brouhaha that has surrounded the case of Stanford University rapist Brock Turner. Convicted three months ago of rape, the swimming star faced the potential of fourteen years of prison, and ended up with a sentence of six months with three years of probation from the judge. Seeking to defend his son, Brock’s father said that the sentence desired by the jury and many critics, myself included, would be a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action, a comment that explains why Brock did not grow up with empathy towards other people and their own situation and that demonstrates the larger difficulties in discourse about the crime of rape. Although I dislike writing about this particular subject very often, it is a subject that for its larger significance and my own perspective finds its way frequently into my writing, so as I have thought about this case and puzzled over what bothered me about the statement the most, I have wished to add my thoughts to the mass of commentary on the case, but I would like to focus my attention on the father’s statement and its implications. This will therefore be a writing of textual criticism that will deconstruct what Mr. Turner meant about twenty minutes of action, and why this comment is so offensive and also so emblematic of conduct in a larger perspective.

In sports and education, many of us are familiar with helicopter parents who hover over their children’s activities, seeking to prevent their darlings from suffering consequences due them. An unfavorable call that is protested leads to a parent and child bonding by blaming the umpire or referee. Negative comments about student performance are viewed as hostility on the part of the teacher rather than opportunities to learn from constructive criticism. Taken in this larger social context, it is clear that Mr. Turner wished to stand up for his son in the face of nearly universal public criticism and hostility, feeling (rightly) that the immense criticism leveled at his son was implicitly criticism of his own parenting. Whether it is fair or not, children grow up with either glory or shame due to the behavior of their parents, and the behavior of children reflects on parents either for their glory or shame, because of the obvious connection that is between them. The same is true, it should be noted, for matters of institutional loyalty, in that just as Brock’s swimming prowess brought glory to Stanford University, so too does his behavior bring shame upon that university. It is perhaps for this light that many universities, institutions, and families have been reluctant to face up to the shameful actions committed by people in privileged places or in authority because to own up fully to such sins is to lose face, and that is intolerable for many of us just as it is in Eastern cultures some of us may be familiar with [1].

Having explored the context of the statement in Brock’s father’s desire for self-defense and personal face-saving, let us note why this particular effort comes off, accurately, as so particularly egregious and offensive. The statement states that years of jail is a steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action, but that only points to time from the point of view of the rapist, and even that is not complete. How long has the rapist had a view of women that they were simply there for his own personal enjoyment, mere receptacles of his passionate ardor, and not people whose thoughts and feelings and dignity were worth respecting? How long has the rapist and his associates engaged in self-congratulatory insults of other people and mistreatment of those whom they have exploited? All of this would extend the length of the offense far past twenty minutes of “action” and would be demonstrative of a far larger and deeper problem on the part not only of Brock Turner himself, but also likely his social circle, including his father, who apparently never taught him how to respect women himself. One wonders what Brock’s mother thinks of all this. Does he have any sisters? Surely he would not want them to be treated thusly.

Seeing that the statement of Brock’s father is woefully inadequate when one looks at the years of grooming and the likely lengthy time that Brock has been living under a defective view of the worth of those around him, let us point out, as much as it pains me to write about it, the point of view of the survivor of Brock’s assault [2]. Brock’s father’s conception of twenty minutes of action, which involved some ghastly deeds done to an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster, does not begin to address the years of repercussions and consequences that are likely to be faced by the young woman herself. As a survivor of brutal child abuse and incest myself, even more than thirty years after the end of any such “action,” I still wake up far too frequently with nightmares, feel panicky when people I view as unfriendly are close to me, flinch and startle when people come up to me from behind, and struggle immensely with matters of trust and intimacy. I do not measure the intensity or the length of time of such suffering by the length of time it took to commit the sin but rather the far longer time the repercussions and consequences of that denial of dignity and that viewing of a being created in the image and likeness of God as a mere object for personal amusement and pleasure will play out in the life of the innocent victim. We hope that such consequences are not felt as long as I have suffered from the aftereffects of PTSD [3] for the young lady involved, but they are likely to be felt for a long time.

The larger question, one Brock’s father, perhaps understandably, is unwilling to face, is what is to be done? How are we, while respecting the dignity of boys and young men, to raise them to respect the dignity of those around them? Our contemporary society exists at a strange crossroads, where we urge children to be treated with great respect, but do not teach those children to respect others. We claim to hate bullying, and yet engage in frequent teasing and ridicule of others who think and believe and behave differently from we ourselves, even among those who claim to be bastions of tolerance. We demand to be treated with dignity but view other people merely as the sources of child support, viewing them as an object like an ATM, or view them merely as a sex object or a sperm donor. This objectification of other people, regardless of how it is done, and the extent to which the implications are viewed, is a rejection of the importance of empathy and a refusal to see other people as beings worthy of our respect and concern. Whether this deed is done by those in power or those who fancy themselves powerless, whether it is done by me nor women, whether it is done by people of any particular political or religious worldview, it is an act of violence, and a contributor to an overall culture that lacks genuine empathy and compassion. Brock’s actions are demonstrative of one of the consequences of this widespread lack of empathy and concern for the well-being or interests or dignity of other people. It is easy to respond to such horrific deeds by denying the dignity of those we view as being like Brock Turner, but that would be a grave mistake and would contribute even more to the corrosive lack of dignity faced in contemporary society. How and when will we raise boys and girls to respect others, to show concern for their feelings and best interests, and to restrain themselves from words and actions that harm others because we wish to preserve their sense of dignity? How and when will we model such restraint and such empathy ourselves? Only then will we be able to fully overcome the problems in the blithe and ignorant worldview of Mr. Turner.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/face-saving-measures/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/somewhere-to-run-somewhere-to-hide/

[2] See, for example:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/06/06/a-steep-price-to-pay-for-20-minutes-of-action-dad-defends-stanford-sex-offender/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/06/04/you-took-away-my-worth-a-rape-victim-delivers-powerful-message-to-a-former-stanford-swimmer/?tid=a_inl

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/book-review-many-faces-of-ptsd/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/book-review-the-evil-hours/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/07/youre-my-kind/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/book-review-haunted-by-combat/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/semper-vigilante/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/04/21/book-review-warrior/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/are-we-not-also-veterans-of-a-great-and-terrible-war/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/book-review-the-compassionate-mind-guide-to-overcoming-anxiety/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/book-review-why-are-you-so-scared/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/the-shadow-of-that-hideous-strength/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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