By now you have probably heard about the rape on Stanford’s campus that resulted in a very public court case:  a freshman, Brock Turner, was caught by two witnesses raping an unconscious woman. He tried to run. She did not regain consciousness for two more hours. A jury found him guilty of three felonies.

The sentencing was ridiculous: the judge cited Brock’s membership on the Stanford swim team as a special circumstance that warranted a lenient punishment.

In response, the rape victim read a 13-page victim statement in the courtroom and it is an incredible statement. I will not summarize the statement here. Suffice it to say that in the first days after it was published online, each person who read it shared it with 12 more people, one of the most viral things that has been published online. Nothing so dense and difficult has gone viral like her victim statement has.

I say this only to encourage you to read it.

But also, to encourage your children to read it.

Everything about it is difficult. It describes rape. But one of the most difficult parts of rape is that the victim is not sure what counts as rape. And part of the reason for this is we never talk about what really is rape. It’s too terrible to talk about in detail, so we often don’t. But she does.

We won’t stop rape on college campuses, which is rampant, until we start talking, in detail, about what rape really is. And we can’t talk about how to help rape victims until there is an understanding of how weak our laws are. Which her statement makes clear.

I had my thirteen-year-old son read the letter. We talked about what a complicated concept rape can be. And what would have happened if there were no witnesses. Just as I want my son to know about sex and drugs and alcohol, I want him to know about rape. It’s part of raising a good citizen.

My son was interested. To be clear, he was not begging to read 13 pages of anything like this. But he read them willingly when I said he could skip Spanish if he did it.

Then I showed him Brock Turner’s father’s statement to the court, so his son would get a light sentence. My son read it. Then my son read Ali Ozeri’s edited version of the letter. And then my son realized how powerful language can be, how you can use language to hide the truth, and to unveil the truth. Careful writing matters.

When I said goodnight to him, much later, I noticed he was re-reading the edited version. He could not get enough of the commentary. You can tell kids over and over to write carefully constructed, thought-out, clear sentences. But nothing drives that home like seeing the power of writing in a high-profile rape case that, in the end, seems to revolve around the popular response to very persuasive, brilliant writing.

I can’t stop reading everything on the Internet about the Brock Turner, the rapist, and about the victim.

I’m going to be honest with you, okay? I almost have trouble writing Brock Turner, the rapist. Like, I don’t want to be mean to him. Yes. Okay? I feel that way. This is not part of the lesson I gave to my son.

Also, my son will have to be old enough to scrounge around my blog to find out that the night I was raped, I also felt sorry for my rapist. I would tell you it was date rape, but my son showed me, on Urban Dictionary, that we don’t use that term anymore. I get it. I know why. Because the fact that he was my date doesn’t mitigate the rape. Okay. So I felt sorry for him and I didn’t put up a very big fight because I was absolutely shocked by what he expected from me.

I am not as brave as the Brock Turner’s victim. Because all I’m going to tell you is that he said, “Suck it” as he pushed my head down. Many years later, I can still feel his penis in my mouth. I can still remember how my brain struggled to pretend it was not me at all.

Melissa also is obsessed with Brock Turner and his victim. And between the two of us, we have found everything. There is a meme, and an interview with the two guys who interrupted Brock while he was raping and then chased him down. (Please, god, let me raise boys who would do that.)

Melissa found Louisa Curry who says, “I see a pattern emerging from rape culture where women have a past while men have potential. When women are violated we’re asked ‘What did you do to deserve this?’ and often our past is looked at for clues. When men violate women they’re asked ‘What do you have to lose?’ and their future is looked at for clues.”

There are many contributing factors to rape culture. One is that it’s unlikely that women will report rape. A college rapist attacks six women before one reports the crime. Another problem is the lack of justice in our legal system.

We do a good job trying to define rape, in its many versions. In fact, I did not even know I was raped when I was raped. Now, because of education, I know it was rape. Language is important to give power to those who don’t have it. Teaching ourselves to look forward, at our possibilities, rather than backwards is also a way to empower ourselves through language.

It’s hard to find our own power. It’s inspiring to watch someone else do it. We love the victim for finding power and expressing it so eloquently. It’s why each person who read the victim letter forwarded it to twelve people. And it’s why I’m pushing my son and myself and hopefully some of you to see the power of language and use it to be strong and honest.


48 replies
  1. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Love this post Penelope, that your son is reading the statements and that we need language to define the terms before we can take action. I’m sorry about what happened to you.

  2. me
    me says:

    Once again, both parties are drunk. I agree with you that this was rape and it shouldn’t have happened. And if they had both been sober, it wouldn’t have.

    • Lauren
      Lauren says:

      I feel sorry for the victim but calling her a survivor is more of the absurd war on language. Her life was not in danger. Some rape victims do escape that threat. Clearly his intoxication didn’t affect him. He knew what he was doing. It’s clearly bull she consented. Even if she did she entirely passed out! I believe everything she wrote except her glossing over why people go to these things. It’s to drink and meet members of opposite sex if not to hook up. No this isn’t blaming victim. But you have to be able to say to women don’t get drunk without a sober friend nearby at these things same as you say lock your door if you live in the Bronx. Robberies in my building were regular and I couldn’t believe how many times people left their doors unlocked leaving not much work for the bad guys.

      • Peyton
        Peyton says:

        Her life was not in danger? The rape ruined everything about the life she had prior to the rape. She could have committed suicide afterward. It’s a testament to her strength that she didn’t.

        The only reason you “have to” be able to say to women never to drink without a sober chaperone is because too many men haven’t learned how not to rape. Instead of infantilizing women by telling them always to bring a guardian, perhaps we should start by teaching men not to rape.

        She specifically said she went to the party because it was the only chance she would get to spend time with her sister. Most women do not go to fraternity parties to hook up; the vast majority really do just want to socialize, maybe dance with a guy, enjoy themselves, then go home to their own bed.

        But maybe your goals at fraternity parties were different from mine. Not that there’s a damn thing wrong with that.

  3. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I read the entire thing last night and it is just so, so sad.
    The thing about rapists (and Brock is mentioned as using this type of language himself) is that they are narcissistic. The majority of rapists have raped more than once.

    I read Missoula by Jon Krakauer last year and it was fascinating.
    It is an important book describing college campus rape (and reporting about a few actual cases in depth) that I’m planning on going through the entire book with my kids when they’re early teens. It’s unreal how many guys get off any type of sentencing (other than getting kicked out of their college…boohoo) even when a rape kit was administered by the hospital within 24 hours and bruises, bleeding, etc. is everywhere and able to be used as evidence. So many of these guys are yes, athletes, who are glorified for so long they think they can get away with anything because they play sports. And the judges actually DO get the less harsher sentencing because they’re athletes! It’s unbelievable. How these lawyers can sleep at night is beyond me.

  4. MBL
    MBL says:

    Biden penned a powerful open letter to the woman (I don’t know what to call her–I don’t like Victim or Survivor)

    A major theme in the comments is how the buzzfeed author is perpetuating the “champion swimmer” moniker. You didn’t so thanks for that. Personally, I don’t understand how “champion athlete” can work in someone’s favor. Shouldn’t it be that they were more likely to have an unfair advantage–physical strength, status, protection. But apparently, Brock’s father’s appeal worked wonders.

    I can’t believe he is likely to be out in time for Labor Day festivities. One can only hope that his appetite will have perked up enough for him to enjoy a ribeye and some chips.

  5. Caitlin Timothy
    Caitlin Timothy says:

    Thanks for consolidating the links- I hadn’t seen the interview with the guys who caught/chased him down.

    Did you see that his sentenced was shortened to 3 months?!?

  6. Sarah Cords
    Sarah Cords says:

    There are so many disturbing aspects of this entire story. But athletes getting a pass on violence is at least one part of this that really bothers me. And it has been going on for so long. An important book to read on this is:
    Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity, by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry.
    It’s about the University of Washington football team and how judges in that area fell all over themselves to excuse the athletes from many violent crimes, including rape. I haven’t looked at college (or high school, honestly) athletics the same since I read it.

  7. christy
    christy says:

    Penelope, once again you manage to show us (as opposed to tell us) how to parent well in the current (insane) age. This is a tough story. But you are using it to do what you can to help your son become a decent, honest man. Thank you.

  8. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    There is NOT a rape epidemic on college campuses. A non college student is much more likely up be assaulted. Stop perpetuating myths. Also the bogus statistics are cited to include Any unwanted advance so that we’ve all been raped. How does this help actual rape victims? Mattress girl is a pathological liar. We are encouraging girls to lie and setting up ksngaroo courts! Again how does this help rape victims. It HURTS them. the sentence was low for sure but why is this getting international news coverage??? Why are indecent people threatening to rape the judges wife? Penelope I am sorry for your awful experience but I think your posts on rape culture and gender neutrality are perverse and conformist and im not sure how you really relate this to homeschooling. I am interested in your typical day with both kids or how your kids meet other kids if they have outside friends other than each other and you only talk about cello and video games. I think these posts should not be under education. If you have to educate your child not to violate a drunk woman…. The reality is too many guys would do this given the chance. And who your sons adult friends are will matter more than anything you do. Hell be re educated. If he attends frat parties his culture will likely change. I can’t stand people denying the drunk hook culture is any part of the problem. Does your older son even date? A little premature no?

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      If you think there is not a rape epidemic on college campuses, I can only assume you never actually went to college.

      Also: “If you have to educate your child not to violate a drunk woman…. The reality is too many guys would do this given the chance” are conflicting assertions. If “too many guys would do this” then indeed every single mother on the planet needs to be talking about rape with her sons.

      • Lauren
        Lauren says:

        I went to college. There are statistics. You can choose to ignore them. You’d be going against actual math and assuming against all logic that college rapes are more under reported than other rapes. Fact is according to actual data, not your feelings, a non college student is far more likely to be raped.

        • Tina
          Tina says:

          Arguing that other people are “far more likely to be raped” only underscores the point that we need to be talking about rape. A lot. To everyone.

  9. Erin
    Erin says:

    I too have been raped. It took me 15 years to realize it was rape. Even now I feel guilty calling it rape, because “it wasn’t as bad as what happened to other people.” But then to read what happened to the Stanford victim & see her narrative ripped so horribly away from her by Brock & his lawyers & the probation officer & the judge & his father…it makes me sick to my stomach. It makes me feel helpless. So I’m glad her letter is published. I’m glad because, in the light of day, it’s so clear that it was rape.

    How can I protect my daughters from rape culture? The legal failure in the Stanford case depresses me, but the public reaction surrounding it gives me hope. I can’t protect my daughters from a bad culture, but I can take responsibility for being a part of a culture that is toxic and I can have the guts to make hard choices to push for change.

    And today I think that means digging my heels in and stating clearly: when I was a 15 year old virgin, my 17 year old boyfriend raped me repeatedly in his bedroom, after convincing me that what we were doing was not even sex. And that was not ok.

  10. barbara
    barbara says:

    The lengths men will go to tarnish a woman’s reputation after realizing he raped her is something you can’t fathom until it’s being done to you. It’s a hopeless incredulous feeling. You learn to keep your mouth shut about such things. You learn to protect yourself ‘better’ next time. I usually quickly scan articles to get the gist, but her statement I read to the very end.

  11. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    I recently started up a new catchphrase: Government is injustice. I thought it was a bit of a stretch, but now I am finding it rather powerful.

    Do not look to government for justice; pretty soon you will be on the receiving end of its justice: suffering under the injustice of ordinary bureaucrat prosecutors, ordinary bureaucrat judges. Hey: I wonder if the rapist’s lawyers found something embarrassing in the judge’s past.

    And do not think that you can solve “rape culture” with a new campus bureaucracy and new due-process rules. Government is injustice.

    Politics and government are downstream from culture. Politics is violence; government is force. But what are we going to do about the culture?

  12. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    Honestly, I don’t think I could make my son read this because he would probably cry for a week.

    Empathy for other people is not something I worry about him lacking.

    I expect we will talk about issues of attraction and consent soon enough, but it won’t start with a bombshell into his heart.

    I do agree with this post in that it is the responsibility of us parents to teach our sons not to be rapists. I say that from the observation that this boy’s dad failed utterly in that department.

    “Twenty minutes of action.” There is something seriously wrong with that guy. Honestly, it makes me wonder how many women the dad raped. Anybody who doubts there is such a thing as rape culture should reflect on the fact that Dan Turner calls raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster “twenty minutes of action.”

    Rape culture is also bound up with jock culture. Screwed up priorities overlap. I hear about a kid who shouldn’t get punished because his sporting achievements are so competitive, and it doesn’t make me think that makes it an extra shame he got caught. It makes me less surprised – there’s another boy who probably wasn’t doing anything worthwhile in college, and spent half his days isolated at a sausage-fest, bitching about women. Brutality starts in the locker room.

  13. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    This is why the goofus trump is ascending. This constant bartering of men as would be rapists. I’m not joining this chorus and the only white privilege aspect I see here is white privileged people reading about the case around the clock. Do you not have better reading? Sorry but I think this is grossly inappropriate reading for a 13 year old who doesn’t even seem to be dating

    • May
      May says:

      Lauren, why do you think teaching about rape and consent to a 13-year-old is too early? Are you perhaps unaware of how sexually active teenagers burgeoning on puberty are? Even before then, the world is steeped in mixed messages of the values of conquest and aggression.

      Maybe you should ask yourself why you think raising a child to morally and critically navigate the world and how they may affect others and themselves through their decisions is inappropriate.

      I think sometimes people won’t “join the chorus” because they are pretty much tone-deaf when it comes to these issues. Which might explain why they think Trump sounds so good.

  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Well, now you have me searching and reading various accounts of this horrific and sad encounter by these two individuals. Originally, I had no intention of reading a 13 page victim statement. However, it was included in one of the articles I read and once I started reading, I had to finish it. She is very brave. Also, it is very fortunate that she got a lot of good support from various people to bring her this far along. She will continue to need it for some time to come. Like the rest of her life.
    There’s more evidence about this case that has been released since this blog was posted. It seems as though Brock Turner had a prior history with drugs, drinking and women as reported by the LA Times – “But 471 pages of documents released by the Santa Clara County Superior Court show Turner lied about never using drugs and not drinking before college. And they depict Turner as not simply making a bad choice, but having a penchant of making aggressive, unwanted advances on women; at the frat party where he met the victim, he kept forcing kisses on the victim’s younger sister as she “wiggled out of his hold.” At a party a week before, he “creeped out” a woman he tried to grab.”
    Brock Turner managed to get a very light sentence for these felonies for which he was convicted. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an appeal filed.
    I have four nieces. Two recently graduated college. One will be going to college this Fall. And one will soon be entering middle school. The niece who’s going to college this Fall just posted a video to Facebook about this case and rape culture in general. So I was glad to see that she is aware. I think that’s a good start thanks to this woman who was raped/sexually assaulted and went through hell. The kicker is the hell she went through after the rape could have perhaps been alleviated somewhat if Brock were able to express sincere remorse and settled the case out of court. Instead, he (or his father or others) decided to go to trial and roll the dice. Now he has his own Wikipedia page. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him to improve upon it. I hope he’s able to do so.

  15. CristenH
    CristenH says:

    This topic absolutely belongs on an education blog, certainly on one that focuses on homeschooling and unschooling.
    With life as our set for learning, how we explore, expand and communicate with the world is our education.
    In my home, we are negotiating consent every day. My kids are still very young, but still, consent is a part of life.
    My son, 8, and my five year old daughter are very close and spend hours playing together.
    My daughter loves this time with her brother, and works very hard to keep him engaged with her.
    I notice that occasionally she will let him get too rough, past her point of comfort, to avoid the play ending. Sometimes she gets hurt.
    We have so many conversations around this.
    With my son, the idea of “no means no” is not enough, because sometimes his sister does not ask him to stop.
    I talk with him about checking in with her, to find the yes: “Is this ok?” Or looking at her body language, or listening to her tone to see if her responses are truly “yes! I’m enjoying this!”
    I ask him to check himself with the Golden Rule: If someone was doing this to me, would I like it? Would it be ok?
    With my daughter, I explain that she must be clear with her words, “Stop, I’m done, let’s do something else, this hurts,” etc.
    I’ll step in for her to model the language of self-ownership. I want her to value herself in the play more than she values his favor.
    My son does not actually want to hurt her. I encourage her to see that her silence doesn’t protect him. That he needs to hear when he’s going to far, so he can stop. Because hurting her hurts him, too.
    And we revisit this often, because they play together often. Play is where the learning happens.
    I’m so grateful to be navigating these ideas together as a family, themes that become so important as they grow and the stakes are higher.

    • Aquinas Heard
      Aquinas Heard says:


      The approach you described taking with your kids is exactly how you foster relationships based on consent. Bravo to you with this excellent approach to parenting. This is parenting done right!

    • Aquinas Heard
      Aquinas Heard says:

      I also want to add that I would really enjoy an article by CristenH expanding on how she fosters the idea of consent between her family.

      • Reading too
        Reading too says:

        I don’t think kids negotiating consent has anything to do with rape either but what do I know. It’s a good thing to draw boundaries but weaving the story into rape prevention strikes me too as waaaaay out there.

    • billie
      billie says:

      Cristen H Thanks for your comment. That is a great way for me to begin the dialogue of consent/reading others with my very young kids who are too young to understand or emotionally handle talking about rape just yet.

  16. A reader
    A reader says:

    I didn’t enjoy the article here. I thought it was bonkers. I did think the victims statement was compelling and sad.

    • Wendy
      Wendy says:

      It was not written for you to “enjoy”. It’s about rape. I am confused as to why anyone would expect it to be “enjoyable”. It’s a painful, uncomfortable subject.

  17. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    The level of ignorance in comments like “Your son is too young for him to read something like this” is disturbing. Penelope’s son is thirteen. Thirteen year-old boys are absolutely capable of sexually assaulting others. It nearly happened to me in 7th grade (which are generally made up of 12-13 year-olds) and it happened to several of my friends. It’s not uncommon. If you think it is, you’re an imbecile.

    I wish all parents were responsible enough to have these conversations with their sons at this age. It’s difficult and uncomfortable, but it is absolutely irresponsible – to say the least – to avoid it because you think he’s “too young” or “would never do such a thing”. I can guarantee the vast majority of parents of boys and men who have sexually assaulted someone would have SWORN up and down that their son would NEVER have done such a thing.

    • Reading too
      Reading too says:

      Actually the Stanford dad doesn’t seem to be treating it like a rape. That’s the thing. Most rapes aren’t stranger rape so I’m guessing parents of rapists and accused rapists would be likely to think it was consensual.

    • Bookish Jen
      Bookish Jen says:

      I agree. My nephew is nearly 13 and should learn about this case and how to act in kindness and empathy towards others.

  18. Reading too
    Reading too says:

    I think the reader meant they didn’t get anything out of it. I’m inclined to agree.
    There have been cases of boys much younger than 13 sexually. Should they have been educated?
    If he isn’t even asking girls out yet which many 13 year olds don’t, when would this be happening. Plus it seems like Penelope is a helicopter mom. When would this happen? When is her son alone with a girl at another location?
    I think if you have to educate a 13 year old on this without them asking maybe you should be concerned with their activities. Very FEW 13 year old boys were anywhere near sexually active when I was younger but some were. Most were happy to kiss and well you know a bit more. They mostly seemed scared as heck till a few years later. But that was my experience. Naturally anyone who disagrees is ignorant. I don’t believe 1 in 5 women is raped. I don’t believe there is a rape culture poisoning our men. Maybe you should look into South Africa. In any case you won’t solve rape by negating due process for the accused. The thing with the Stanford case is that guy was busted by two passerby. His life is ruined. As it should be. But what kind of society are we if women can’t stop reading about this? It’s like the Boston bomber on rolling stone. It reveals an inner ugliness of sorts consuming this stuff almost as entertainment however masked by an overweening sense of superior morality like seriously I don’t care about this case beyond thinking its a good thing that guy was busted.

    • May
      May says:

      Please do not use “BACK IN MY DAY” and “WELL I DON’T BELIEVE IN STATS” to occlude your naivete on the matter.

      You complain about “what kind of society we would be” if women felt like thinking about these icky sordid matters were important–despite it affecting their very lives? Is this mismatching with your sense of decorum and etiquette?

      That you “don’t care” about how children and adults are taught to behave and think critically, and the culture surrounding how we may be complicit, just as long as “well badguys were caught!” doesn’t look good on you. It’s short-sighted to say the very least. You need to think a little more.

    • Wendy
      Wendy says:

      5.6%, that’s around 1 in 20. Many middle school classrooms have at least 20 students in them, so in any given 7th grade classroom there’s bound to be at least one student who’s had sex. Also, as the sources you link point out, there are plenty of sexual behaviors aside from intercourse that the 5.6% probably didn’t cover.

      As for “Reading too”, to your response that “there have been cases of boys much younger than 13 sexually. Should they have been educated?” Are you seriously expecting a “no”? Look at CristenH’s comment. Obviously, with very young children, actually going into the subject of rape in and of itself would be too much, and probably beyond their comprehension. But children can learn very early to show respect for others’ personal space and boundaries.

      Lastly, many elementary schools, not to mention middle schools, have sex education in their curriculums, and if you’re old enough to learn about sex, I don’t see why you shouldn’t also be learning what rape is and why it’s wrong.

  19. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Surely there are at least a handful of girls who wish they had never come into close proximity to Brock Turner. For a freshman especially, his actions were brazen. You don’t march onto a college campus at 18 years of age and act like that, not without some history.

    It would be great if there was more conversation/dialogue between parents and boys about personal responsibility. Goodness knows there is a ton between parents and girls; when to wear makeup, what kind of makeup, how much, skirt length, hairstyles, swimwear, and then as they get older the discussion turns to when and where is it safe to jog, use an ATM or park a car.

    How many little girls know exactly at what age they are allowed to wear make-up, or get their first pair of heels? There is nothing inherently evil about make-up, okay maybe heels, but what every parent fears is what that make-up signals to a man who feels no personal responsibility.

  20. Lina puglisi
    Lina puglisi says:

    Not everyone agrees there is a rape epidemic or a rape culture. With the needless adding of “I think rape is wrong”. Who thinks it’s right? Most rapists don’t think they raped. You can see it in their statements. I don’t think personal boundaries as discussed here is going to translate to any rape prevention. That’s wishful thinking. At some point you have to be able to discuss the difference between physical activity that led to nonconsensual sex and nonconsensual sex. Men get riled up. I don’t think we should think of all men as potential rapists nor do I think the hook up culture isn’t a HUGE part of the problem. And I don’t want to teach women that a) it’s ok to get hammered at a frat party. You could vomit and die. Or get robbed. Raped etc.
    b) if you have sex under the influence or regret sex that’s rape.
    Look at rolling stone. The mattress girl. This didn’t happen before “rape culture” but as a RESULT and it degrades the actual victims and crime.
    If you really think there’s a rape culture explain why statistics of actual rape forced penetration of some kind NOT unwanted advances do not support a rape epidemic even allowing for estimates of unreported rape. If there really is a rape culture why do you think your sons will rise above it? Because you’re that phenomenal parent? Of course.
    And I find this all about as relevant to homeschooling as long discussions about the evils of red dyes and gluten on homeschool lists.

  21. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    Rape is not about sex. It is about using sex to exert control over another person. Brock Turner and his father are trying to confuse this fact by focusing on college drinking and promiscuity. Promiscuous and/or drunk people don’t typically commit rape. Narcissists commit rape. Control freaks commit rape. Sociopaths commit rape. If Penelope and CristenH are trying to teach their sons that it is wrong to exert power and control over a more vulnerable person, than that is a good thing. It has less to do with sexual education and dating at 13 and more to do with respecting and valuing another human being and their boundaries.

  22. Paulette
    Paulette says:

    Heartbreaking, a very difficult read. A pity that no one seems to care about her ordeal, or the other horrifying sexual attacks women around the world suffer constantly. There is one common denominator, but it is never addressed, and if people like Brock Turner continue to get nothing more than a slap on the wrist, nothing will ever change.


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