A North Carolina father wrote a poignant open letter in reply to the one from the father of Stanford sex offender Brock Turner, saying he wants his words to break the silence surrounding sexual assault.
Before Turner’s sentencing, his father, Dan Turner, wrote to the judge pleading for a lighter punishment for his son, who was found guilty of sexually assaulting an intoxicated and unconscious woman behind a trash bin at Stanford University in January 2015.
“These verdicts have broken and shattered him and our family in so many ways,” Dan Turner wrote. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”
On Monday, Pavlovitz wrote a response, saying he wanted to do what Turner’s father failed to do — “teach not only his son but other sons as well.”
“The crime itself was horrible enough, but [the] father’s letter — it really summed a lot of what we’re doing wrong in our culture regarding sexual assault,” he told The Washington Post Wednesday afternoon. “There’s a blaming of the victim and removing of culpability from the assailant.
“The letter made the victim invisible and it made Brock a sympathetic figure. The only thing Brock was a victim of was his own bad choices.”
Pavlovitz, 47, a youth minister at North Raleigh Community Church, told The Post that he wrote the open letter father-to-father, in the hopes that his own children will one day live in a society that is “a little more sensitive and understanding and wise when it comes to sexual assault.”
I need you to understand something, and I say this as a father who dearly loves my son as much as you must love yours:
Brock is not the victim here.
His victim is the victim.
She is the wounded one.
He is the damager.
In the days since Pavlovitz posted his letter online, he has been swept up in the news storm surrounding Turner’s case.
His blog, johnpavlovitz.com, has barely been able to contain its readers — frequently flashing an error message and prompting Pavlovitz to encourage people on Wednesday to “keep refreshing if you get errors.”
“It’s one of those situations where you’re thrilled you’re reaching so many people, but you’re sad it’s for such a bad reason,” he said. “My hope is that my words will encourage victims, give them a sense that they’re seen.”
Brock Turner’s story caught fire last week when his victim, who has not been named, read her own letter to Turner in court, calling his recommended sentence a “soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults.”
He was sentenced to six months in county jail and three years of probation, and ordered to register as a sex offender — a perceived soft sentence that drew fury from many who are now calling for the judge’s removal.
Things intensified when the letter from Turner’s father was released, saying that his son should not receive prison time.
“I felt his words were obliterating that woman, so I felt someone needed to speak to that,” Pavlovitz said about the plea.
Pavlovitz wrote in his response:
Brock has to register as a sex offender because he sexually assaulted an incapacitated young woman. This is why we have such requirements; because one vile act against another human being is one too many, because we don’t get a do-over when we do unspeakable things, because people need to be protected with knowledge of others in their midst who have failed so egregiously at respecting another person’s basic dignity.
The idea that your son has never violated another woman next to a dumpster before isn’t a credit to his character. We don’t get kudos for only raping one person in our lifetime. I don’t believe your son is a monster, but he acted like one and that needs to be accounted for. To be sure, this decision is not the sum total of Brock’s life, but it is an important part of the equation and it matters deeply.
And to be clear, Mr. Turner, “alcohol and sexual promiscuity” are not the story here. The story here, is that young men have choices to make and these choices define them, even if those choices are made when temptation is great and opportunity is abundant. In fact, our humanity is most expressed when faced with such things, we choose integrity and decency; when we abstain from doing what is easy but wrong.
We as parents don’t control our children. Most parents understand this. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, they fail and fall and do things we’d never consent to. I certainly hope this is such an occasion, though it is not coming across that way in your letter. It feels like you want more sympathy and goodwill toward your son than you want for the survivor of his crime, and that’s simply not good enough for her or for those young men and women watching.
Pavlovitz said he believes Turner’s actions were “a symptom of his disregard for another human being.”
“I hear the phrase, ‘Boys will be boys,’ ” he told The Post, “but what about boys being men? What about them being men of integrity and character — like the two men who came upon this crime and intervened?
“That’s what they should aspire to.”
He told Turner’s father:
You love your son and you should. But love him enough to teach him to own the terrible decisions he’s made, to pay the debt to society as prescribed, and then to find a redemptive path to walk, doing the great work in the world that you say he will.
For now though, as one father to another: Help us teach our children to do better — by letting them see us do better.