I told him. I had that conversation, the conversation that made me sick to my stomach, the conversation that I wish wasn’t necessary, the words that I wish my son didn’t know. But now he knows it all. Because he is ten. Because he will one day be a man. Because he has a sister, a mother, friends who are girls. And because he lives in a world where these conversations need to be had.
And so we talked. I made him a cup of decaf just how he likes it with a huge teaspoon of sugar and lots of milk and asked him to come sit with me on the couch. I told him I had something hard to talk to him about, something that would be very upsetting, but something that he needed to know.
And then I spilled out the details. One-by-one. Fact-by-fact.
College students at a party who drank too much.
A once-promising athlete named Brock Turner.
A brutal rape behind a dumpster.
A heroic rescue by men who were willing to intervene when they very easily could have turned a blind eye.
An attempted escape.
And then I came to the end.
“And so, the judge sentenced him to six months in jail.”
My son’s eyes darted up. “Sixty years?” He looked at me, confused, as if he must have misheard me.
“No, six months.”
“Six years?” This time, his brow furrowed.
“No, Joey, six months.”
“But mom, he hurt her so badly. He’s so dangerous. How do we know he won’t do it again to someone else? And they are letting him out in six months?”
Even as a ten-year-old, he understood that this was a serious crime that warranted serious punishment.
“Joey, what do you think Brock Turner SHOULD have done in that moment when he realized he was at a party with a woman who wasn’t able to talk or walk?”
Joey didn’t even hesitate. “He could have taken her to a hospital or urgent care.”
Then his eyes raised with another idea. “OR, he could have looked on her cell phone and called all of the people on her favorites list and told them where she was. Then he could have waited with her to make sure was safe until her friends or family came and got her.”
“Another good idea. Any others?”
“He could have called 911. Or the police.”
“Or he could have called out to someone else nearby asked them to help her.”
In a matter of minutes, my ten-year-old was able to rattle off four appropriate reactions, four things a man could do to help protect a woman who is too ill to take care of herself. I’m not saying this because I think my son is special or unique– in fact, I think that if most of you were to ask your 9, 10, 11, 12 year old sons the same exact question, they would have similar responses. They would innately know what to do in a similar situation. They would innately know that what happened was wrong. They would innately know that it was serious. And they would innately innately recognize that what Brock Turner did was a serious violation.
There are hundreds of thousands (millions!) of boys and men out there who understand that Brock Turner had a choice and he chose wrong. Who think what Brock Turner did was reprehensible. Who treat women with respect and dignity, with grace and kindness. These are the men who I want representing our college campuses as leaders, as athletes. Who I hope set an example for my sons. Who will eventually date my daughter. These are the men who I want my kids looking up to, striving to be like.
Not a man who took what he wanted in spite of the damage he caused others. Who committed an act that even an innocent child can tell you was reprehensible. An act that deserves jail time, not leniency.
An act that has now become my son’s first definition of rape.
And while I know this isn’t the last conversation we will have about this topic, I hope it’s the last time I have to say “he was sentenced to six months.” I hope that next time I can say “Yes, they got him. He’s in jail for a long time.”
Let’s hope that over time, that definition will change.
That he will see change unfold, that more of the men who innately know will stand up for what what is right.
That perpetrators will go to jail.
That his innate understanding of today will blossom into a conviction, a passion to protect those who need it most.