Talking To A 10-Year-Old Boy About Brock Turner And Rape Culture

Rapists don’t always “look” evil. Rapists look like all-American swimmers. They look like the boy next door.

I had a pretty scintillating date night planned with my apartment—unloading my dishwasher, cooking some pasta, and in other ways making attempts at adulthood—but it was derailed by a text from my cousin/pseudo big sister May. Her 10-year-old son Leo had posted a PopSugar Celebrity video that mused on the sentencing differences between Brock Turner, Stanford Swimmer and Rape Enthusiast, and Cory Batey, Vanderbilt Football Player and Lack of Consent Proponent. It’s PopSugar, so it wasn’t exactly a piece that would go down in history for its critical thinking content, but it was posted by a 10-YEAR-OLD, and the fact that Leo could look at these cases and think critically about the intersectionality of sexual assault and race and the judicial system was impressive. But, alas, that was not where we were going with this.

“Leo just asked me why Uncle Garrett is defending a rapist,” May said in her text.

Uncle Garrett is my mother’s brother. He labors under the delusion that he is so wildly intelligent that he simply cannot function the way other mere mortals do, and we will never be on his level. He loves attention, he loves trolling people on the Internet, and he loves to throw Scarlett O’Hara-level hissy fits when accused of trolling people.

Apparently, Uncle Garrett had blathered at Leo about how Brock Turner had only been sentenced to six months because he actually only dry-humped an unconscious girl—he didn’t rape her, he said—and the girl’s statements weren’t really believable. I’m going to put those specific statements aside, though, because while they are not unimportant or meaningless (the perpetuation of flagrant lies and rape culture myths and stereotypes are never meaningless nor innocuous and should never be given a free pass), what is most meaningful at this particular moment is the question that my 10-year-old cousin asked in the first place: “Why is he defending a rapist?”

So here’s my answer:

Dear Leo,

First of all, let’s establish that in life, there are people who like to hear themselves speak and who love to stir up drama. You will note that I am dedicating several paragraphs to a simple question that you probably only wanted a one-sentence response to, so I am not immune from being classified in that category. Uncle Garrett definitely joins me there.

Secondly, I doubt that Uncle Garrett really saw himself as defending a rapist (it’s still unforgivable, though). Remember that whole intrigue on social media about “Where is the Brock Turner mug shot?! His mug shot has to be terrible! Let’s see the terrible mug shot instead of the smiley yearbook photo!” The masses were stunned when the mug shot was not terrible. His eyes were bloodshot from crying/staying up all night, sure. But he looked the same. And that hit some people hard: Rapists don’t always “look” evil. Rapists look like all-American swimmers. They look like the boy next door. They look kind of like Uncle Garretts. They aren’t easy to demonize based on looks alone. (Unless you’re black like Cory Batey, as that article you posted mentioned.) When Uncle Garrett thinks “rapist,” he doesn’t think of someone who looks like him. Uncle Garrett was very comfortable with the Cory Batey sentence being longer than Brock Turner’s and it probably wasn’t conscious (not that that makes it OK.) It’s human nature to be uncomfortable at having something hit too close to home. White people are used to doing the mass generalizations of “all you people are bad” at other groups of people.

Thirdly, people don’t believe women who are raped. I’m not sure if you are ready to read the victim’s impact statement. Someday, I think you should. I think at least you should ask your mom and dad to go through it and read parts with you. I could sit here and detail the experiences of women who come forward with allegations of assault, but I think that this woman’s courageous story speaks volumes. Needless to say, many women do not come forward at all because they do not want to remember, they do not think they will be believed, the medical testing that will be done is excruciatingly time-consuming and invasive, their entire lives will be turned inside out, the questions they will be asked are grueling, they will be crucified in public opinion, and because they will have to be perfect witnesses while they are going through PTSD, which, I can tell you, is no joke, and can derail your life. All of these things that women fear are encapsulated in the dismissive sentences your Uncle Garrett wrote on Facebook.

And lastly, there are things personal to Uncle Garrett himself that cause him to hold that view. A person’s own lived experience is part of what causes them to hold certain beliefs and make certain choices—including whether or not to be a total douchecanoe. There are a few kinds of douchecanoes. There are douchecanoes who paddle along merrily in their own little pool and never venture out into open waters, so they just make ridiculous statements based on their tiny frame of existence. There are douchecanoes who have been through terrible storms and they think this makes them entitled to tell other people how to paddle their canoes and they get huffy when people say “thanks but no thanks.” There are douchecanoes who won’t even get in canoes and get jealous when other people do, and try to bring those people down.

Leo, it’s basically just a shit show when it comes to people in canoes. My best advice is to identify the ones who have obnoxious people in them, steer clear, and go places you find interesting with people who have cool things to say and fun things to do. And most importantly, what I want you to take from this long-winded response to your question is that you were not wrong in your outrage about Brock Turner’s short sentencing. You were not wrong to be confused about racial sentencing disparities in our judicial system. You had your head and your heart in the right place, and I love you.

Sheila Kelly is a writer who also holds down a day job as an academic, researching social epidemiology, violence, and health disparities. She is based in the northeast and has a love-hate relationships with running and Boston sports.

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