In January 2015, one of my staff members showed up for work visibly shaken. He was on the Stanford campus on the night of January 17, 2015 and witnessed the aftermath of the assault that has now made national headlines.
Every parent of a high school or college student should read this victim statement with their child and discuss it. It’s long and uncomfortable and powerful. As a society, we’ve spent a lot of time blaming sexual assault victims – alcohol, clothing choice etc. But reading the convicted rapist’s father’s statement where the father uses the highly unfortunate term “20 minutes of action” to describe his son’s decision to assault an unconscious woman makes me recognize we are failing to have the right conversations with our children – especially boys – about responsibility, respect, consent and assault. The father has now said those words were taken out of context, and he meant that his son’s life should not be completely ruined for a twenty minutes of criminal behavior.
There’s a greater conversation around entitlement, consent, and human decency we need to have with all high school and college students around responsibility and behavioral choices. Of course, we need to continue to talk with teenagers and young adults about remaining cautious and making good decisions – having two to three times the legal limit of alcohol is likely never a good idea for anyone. At the same time, it is important to recognize how we tend to blame young women for things that happen to them while drinking, and let young men use drinking as an excuse. Another person’s poor decision-making is never an invitation for anything. If someone is excessively inebriated, human decency is making sure the person gets home safely.
The “bro culture” starts long before college. The only way this culture changes is if parents, students, and bystanders all have some really tough conversations. In a recent study, more than half of athletes say they have engaged in sexual coercion – and likely didn’t realize that their behavior would be classified as assault in a court of law. According to this report, Stanford had a rape every two weeks before Brock Turner was caught. A year ago, I tried to have a conversation with a high school junior boy about his Twitter account – his public postings were often derogatory and demeaning towards women, and filled with “bro” slang. I knew his parents followed his account, and imagine they thought his posts were some form of “boys being boys” – but they weren’t. Just last week, I was working with a teenage boy who will likely play a sport in college. His public FB profile was mostly clean, except for one photo with a girl that was a pre-dance photo. It was an otherwise normal looking photo, except another kid commented “[other classmate] hit it first,” which I obviously assumed referred to the girl. The comment had twenty likes. The posting had been up for over a year and no one had said anything – and other adults even made comments below that one. When I initially suggested the comment might be inappropriate, he laughed it off. We then had a really uncomfortable (for him) conversation, and then he decided on his own to delete it. It starts when people let seemingly small things like that slide by. The little things add up to horrific big things that ruin lives.
In truth, though, this woman’s assault is one of millions that go unreported, and the struggle is real and often silent. I’ve spent the last few years interviewing high school and college students around their campus culture, and I’ve heard so many unreported, undocumented stories that have significantly affected lives – not just of the victims, but of their families, friends, and loved ones. That’s why I struggle with the vilification of Brock Turner, who is now a convicted rapist and will register as a lifetime sex offender. His crimes were horrific and indefensible, but he also did not grow up in a vacuum. New evidence emerges from his phone around messages sent and photos taken suggesting the pristine image of him was a fallacy. Reading his mother’s statement, where she constantly questions “WHY HIM?” means we are not having some serious conversations and realizations with our teens. Her letter does not mention the victim or her son’s crime at any time – only how much their lives have been pained by the conviction. There is a culture that we need to have some painful, realizations about – because though Brock Turner was tried and convicted by a jury, millions of others guilty of sexual assault are not.
It may be uncomfortable to have these conversations around responsibility, respect, and human decency, but I encourage you to have them early and often. At Green Ivy, we’ve always been concerned about the academic, emotional, social, and physical wellness of our students, and I thought this was an opportunity for a greater conversation that was too important to overlook. The health, safety, and welfare of many may depend on it.
My colleague Nina Flores has been writing about campus sexual assault for several years, and makes some great suggestions how to learn more about campus sexual assault prevention and response efforts on campuses you care about — your alma mater, your local campuses, the campuses your kids, friends, or other family attend, the campuses where you teach, etc. — how best to support them, and how else to get involved:
1) Find out if there are open Title IX complaints about campuses you care about. The Huffington Post has a map tracking the status of complaints filed with the Office of Civil Rights (link here:https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer…). Learn about their campus sexual assault prevention and response policies.
2) Find out if there are reports of mishandled sexual assault cases on campuses you care about. A quick online search may reveal that students are sharing their experiences publicly online (often anonymously through survivor story forums) even if they haven’t filed an official Title IX complaint.
3) Find out what student activist groups, student-faculty coalitions, and resources centers exist at campuses you care about. Get in touch and ask them what they need, or how you can support them. Can you offer them an off-campus meeting space? Can you offer your time? Can you conjure up media attention? Can you help them with legal advice? Do they need alumni support?
4) Consider receiving training as a Sexual Assault Advocate through the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).
5) Ask the young folks in your lives to educate you about what they know about sexual assault, consent, reporting, and more.
6) If you can vote, research the judges on your ballot. What do they stand for? What rulings have they passed down?
7) Write OpEds or blogs within your sphere of influence.
10) Share resources with others.