In a letter penned in defense of a light sentencing for his son, Brock Turner’s father described him as “happy go lucky” prior to the events one night in January 2015. Even after accepting his son had sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, he still believed it could be true that his son had an “easy going personality.” But a “happy go lucky” person could not rape an unconscious woman. Read father’s letter here.
Let’s analyze this criminal’s psychological profile, the way they do in all our favorite crime dramas on TV, by starting with the crime. Let’s imagine ourselves in the shoes of the criminal that disturbing way our TV protagonist profilers do, by getting into mind of the perpetrator. Let’s speculate together what could make a person rape an unconscious woman.
Trigger Warning: We are going to try to think about this unconscious woman as a rapist might.
We find ourselves with an unconscious woman who is passed out behind a dumpster. The circumstances by which she ended up there, was brought there, are unclear. Really try to imagine this; It is late at night, you are at least somewhat drunk, as he reported to be, you see she has passed out, behind a dumpster.
What would have to happen inside our mind in order to decide to do anything other than seek out help?
Here are the motivations and alternative actions I came up with that could deter someone from seeking help for the young woman. Please see if you can think of others.
- Poverty: I can imagine a very poor person, or even just someone who found themselves in real or imagined desperate need for money, might see if the woman had money or items of value. That might be a strong enough urge inside a person to prevent them from seeking help for the unconscious woman.
- Fear of Law: If someone was part of a disenfranchised group, in a “wrong neighborhood”, had a criminal history, was carrying drugs or an unregistered gun, they might want to distance themselves from an unconscious body. Instead of contacting the police or reaching out for help of another sort, they might flee the scene. They might then contact aid for the unconscious woman, but from a distance.
- General Apathy/Inaction/Absence of Concern for Others: Someone might decide to just abandon the unconscious woman. They might walk away, try to put it out of mind, tell themselves someone else will find her, they don’t care, tell themselves it isn’t their job or responsibility. Not the most upstanding of citizenship, not a person I would want in my life, but not criminal.
I really cannot think of a single other reason a reasonably decent person would do anything else. I could understand, even forgive, the person who felt their need for money, or their fear of the law, trumped the imperative to immediately call for help, assuming they then followed up with a call for help once leaving the scene. Personally I could not forgive the person whose apathy or inaction stopped them from contacting someone to help the unconscious woman. I don’t have much positive to say about someone who could do this, and would be heart-broken if my son or daughter were capable of such apathy. It would make me re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about my child.
Now let us imagine the mind of a person who not only isn’t going to seek help for this woman, but sexually assaults her instead. The person who upon realizing she is unconscious, or perhaps in the beginning in a drunken stupor, decided to strip her clothes leaving parts of her body naked, penetrate her body with his fingers, getting dirt and pine needles in her vagina, touch her with his hands, and mount and hump his body on her. What must he think about his wishes and wants, and her rights and needs, in order to do that? Who must he be?
He might imagine an unconscious woman, that he either dragged behind a dumpster or who fell into unconsciousness behind the dumpster, is just a good opportunity. He might not see her as human. He might feel that way in general about other people, or maybe just about women. Maybe he dehumanized her as a drunk person, told himself she needn’t be treated with respect or humanity. There are many reasons and means by which someone might dehumanize another, but none of them fit the “happy go lucky“ kid Mr. Turner thought described his boy. A person who can dehumanize another is a very dangerous person. This person will likely hurt many over their lifetime, maybe in one on one criminal activity, maybe through corporate blindness to destruction in their community, maybe through disregard for the emotional lives of their family. Certainly this is someone who will rape again, A person who could treat another human as an object who they needn’t worry about is a very dangerous and disturbed person who will do much damage in their lifetime.
Perhaps he was filled with such an overwhelming need/want/impulse that he might have decided his needs were more important than hers. What needs must have overcome him so intensely that he would decide it was okay to create or use her compromised situation to satisfy them?
- Was he a virgin, filled with feelings of inadequacy and shame about his inability to seek access to a consenting woman and so decided to use her body as practice for sex or to put an imaginary end to his virginity?
- Had he had a bad day, or night? Was he agitated, frustrated, depressed, restless, angry, embarrassed, and saw using her lifeless body as a means of releasing or satisfying his mood. Is this the son Mr. Turner felt deserved a light sentence, and would surely contribute positively to society moving forward?
- Did he see her and feel a hate or disgust, for her woman-ness, her drunken-ness, that made him want to defile her?
The truth is, we know exactly who this rapist is, because he wrote the judge a letter to tell us. He is frighteningly certain of his overall goodness, bemoans how the events of that evening negatively impacted his life, as if they happened to him versus were perpetrated by him, and feels no need to make mention of the impact raping his victim might have had on her life. He is clearly someone who has not learned how to take personal responsibility for his actions, who feels entitled to take what he wants without remorse, and is blind and uncaring about the impact of his actions on others. Read his letter to the judge here.
Like parents whose children commit suicide who still hold desperately on to an image of a happy child, Mr. Turner refuses to see the truth about his child. Brock Turner is a depraved young man, with a greedy, selfish, angry, entitled world view. While it is true that we live in a rape supporting society, and continue to promote views of men and women that encourage dehumanization of women, and prioritize male desire (be it for sex, power, money, …), your average entitled man isn’t capable of rape. Most men, no matter how much they longed for sex, or power, or experience, or release, could not rape a woman, unconscious or otherwise. It takes a sick, depraved person to do so.
While lots of average men and women create and support rape culture, it takes a fair amount of internal disturbance to sexually molest an unconscious woman. While it is grotesquely common for men to betray women’s consent by throwing protesting girls into pools of water while laughing with their encouraging buddies, penetrating a passed-out women’s vagina on the ground takes a troubled and broken soul. Brock Turner was not, and is not, a good person who just did a bad thing. Nor does he have the kind of heavy-hearted, soul burdening regret that could potentially put him on a path to redemption.
A person of even basic good character does not behave as this young rapist did. A person of character maintains their character even under quite horrific circumstances. A perfect example being his victim. Reading her letter to the court, which she read to the perpetrator directly, any parent who could stomach hearing what had happened to their child, would be filled with pride. Read her statement here. And rather than trying to express why she is a child that would make any parent proud, read here a tribute to her searing character strength by Joe Biden.
We all have fantasies about who our children are, and that is okay. But as a nation we can not afford to associate rapists with happy go lucky kids.
Smith is and analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additional the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.