Ex-Stanford swimmer: Brock Turner is 'the problem'

Stanford rape survivor's letter to her attacker
Stanford rape survivor's letter to her attacker

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Story highlights

  • Former Stanford swimmer says Brock Turner case is disgraceful
  • Sabir Muhammad: "Brock needs to realize that he was, and is, the problem"

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN)A former All-American swimmer at Stanford says the Brock Turner sexual assault case is a "teachable moment" for parents, especially fathers, to teach their sons to respect women.

Sabir Muhammad, the first African-American to set a US swimming record, told CNN in June it is imperative for men to speak out against rape and "to teach their sons that no means no -- and unconscious means call 911 or get medical help."
    "As a parent, it's important to teach your children the difference between right and wrong," said Muhammad, a father of four children. "It's also important to teach your children accountability. What Brock Allen did on that night was wrong. ..."
    "Brock needs to realize that he was, and is, the problem here," he added.
    Muhammad said he had never met Turner and that he only keeps in touch with elite swimmers within the program.
    In a wide-ranging interview about the case that has stirred national outrage, Muhammad blasted Turner's father for referring to the assault as "20 minutes of action" and for showing a lack of empathy to the victim -- behavior that Muhammad called "shameful and disgusting." He also called the case a disgraceful example of class and privilege.
    To the victim, he said, "She should also know that we are not going to be silent about this. We are not waiting for this to blow over. We want justice. The sexual assault should never have happened. The light sentence handed out by the judge should never have happened."

    Turner's early release

    Turner, 20, was convicted in March of three felony counts of sexual assault, including intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person. Prosecutors had asked that Turner be sentenced to six years in prison for the January 2015 assault.
    Citing Turner's age and lack of prior criminal history, Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky gave him a six-month jail sentence -- a decision that resulted in more than a million people signing an online petition to remove the judge. At his own request, the judge will no longer hear criminal cases. Effective September 6, Persky will hear cases in the civil division.
    Turner is scheduled for early release from jail Friday after serving three months of the six-month sentence.
    CNN asked Muhammad in June for his reaction to the case since few Stanford swimmers have spoken publicly about it. Muhammad earned 25 All-American honors and set three NCAA, US Open and American records, among many other accolades in the late 1990s.
    He said those awards aren't important for this discussion. Muhammad is speaking up as a human and as a father. He now mentors young black swimmers around America and teaches swim lessons in inner city neighborhoods in his hometown of Atlanta.
    Here's an edited version of what he had to say:
    CNN: What were your thoughts when you read the woman's powerful statement? What would your message to her be?
    Former Stanford swimmer Sabir Muhammad said it's imperative for men to speak out against rape.
    Muhammad: I think I speak for all Stanford swimming alumni when I say that in hearing of this incident my first thoughts were with the victim and her family. I am deeply saddened by what happened. As a human. As a father. As a member of the Stanford swimming community.
    I think it's important that the victim knows that our support, thoughts and prayers are with her -- and not her attacker.
    She should also know that we are not going to be silent about this. We are not waiting for this to blow over. We want justice. The sexual assault should never have happened. The light sentence handed out by the judge should never have happened. Also, Brock's apology came after his verdict when it should have come sooner. Further, his father's warped and misogynistic approach to this event -- and his lack of empathy toward the victim -- are shameful and disgusting.
    There are a couple of issues that need to be addressed that are pervasive and a detriment to our society. The first issue is sexual assault. Men need to speak out against sexual assault. Parents need to teach their sons that "no" means "no" -- and unconscious means call 911 or get medical help.
    The second issue is racism and privilege. Brock Allen Turner was found guilty of three felonies and he got a slap on the wrist -- just six months in jail. It's hard for me to accept this as justice, particularly when similar crimes by black students and athletes result in sentences of years and years. This case speaks volumes to class in America and the inequities of the American judicial system. We rely on our lawmakers to preside in ways that uphold our laws and punish the guilty. Six months is not an adequate sentence for this triple felony crime.
    CNN: As a decorated member of the Stanford swimming community, what was your reaction when you heard of the sexual assault?
    Muhammad: Before I answer this question, there's a very important point I think we've all missed in all of this. It's a point that the victim spoke about in her statement, and I think it may be one of the most important messages missed in all of this.
    You started your question with "As a decorated member..." Although I'm proud of my accomplishments, the last thing in the world that matters in this conversation are accomplishments. The victim mentioned how awkward and horrible it felt to read about Brock Allen Turner's swimming times within the same story of the account of how he raped her. This is a big problem. We as a society, especially so-called "high achievers," are far too concerned with accomplishments, decorations and accolades.
    The only thing that really matters is one question, and I'd like everyone reading this to ask themselves this one question: "Am I an actual human being?" Bearing in mind that human beings inherently care for each other and show empathy to each other.
    I wish Brock Allen Turner asked himself this question before that night. I wish Brock Allen Turner cared more about this question than his swimming times or SAT scores.
    CNN: You've described this as a disgraceful example of class privilege. Elaborate on that.
    Muhammad: Brock Allen Turner's jail sentence was too light. As an African-American, it's incredibly hard for me to ignore this kind of injustice. I have no doubt that had Brock Allen Turner been poor and black, he would be serving a much longer sentence. History shows us that those with power and money use it to escape the consequences of their actions. Brock Allen Turner leveraged his class to escape the consequences of his actions. The problem with this is, it is still happening. We need criminal justice reform in this country.
    CNN: You have two sons that you hope could follow your footsteps at your alma mater. What have you told them about this case and the way women should be treated?
    Muhammad: I have two teenage sons and also two very young daughters, and this event has made me think deeply about the way I raise my children, especially my sons. I speak to my children about the importance of right and wrong and the respect we must have for our own bodies and those of others.
    I also teach my sons that 'no' means 'no,' and the perils of drugs and alcohol, and how these influences destroy lives.
    CNN: If you could talk with Brock, what would you say to him?
    Muhammad: I teach my children that if you hurt someone you apologize and ask for forgiveness immediately. It appears to me that Brock only apologized, and a weak one at that, after he was found guilty and given his incredibly light sentence.
    Brock needs to realize that he was, and is, the problem here; not drunkenness, not the vagueness of his own memories and certainly not the victim.
    I would tell Brock that he got off easy but he still owes a debt. I would encourage him to find positive ways to contribute to society and to work to understand the factors that resulted in him becoming a sexual predator. When Brock finally understands this, I believe he can start to rebuild his life.
    He must also understand that the victim may never forgive him -- and that is her right to do so.
    CNN: His father all but blamed drinking and the swim team culture for what happened, ignoring his son's actions. Your thoughts about that?
    Muhammad: As a parent, it's important to teach your children the difference to between right and wrong. It's also important to teach your children accountability. What Brock Allen did on that night was wrong. And unfortunately, everything his family did following that night was also wrong. Hiring private investigators and attempting to change the conversation to cast doubt on the victim and insinuate her culpability was an incredible abuse and, for me, it will be this cowardly act that defines Brock Allen Turner and his family.
    CNN: What's your overall message, as a father and as a man?
    Muhammad: For parents and children: Let's share proper respect and empathy for each other. Let's hold ourselves accountable for our actions. Let's not be overly concerned with accomplishments and remember that we are human beings first.
    For Stanford alumni, students, staff and faculty: It's been 18 years since I graduated, and the thing I remember most about Stanford was the incredible empathy the students have for one another. I was a poor black Muslim kid from the South, and I was always treated with respect and generosity by my peers and Stanford faculty. This "Stanford Empathy" I speak about was clearly present when the two Swedish Ph.D. students arrived on the scene and stopped the attack.
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    As a Stanford alum, I think it's too easy to become consumed with one's personal goals, and I believe there are too many students who simply see Stanford as an accolade to be won and added to one's resume. Stanford is an opportunity to grow, to learn from others and to participate as a part of a community. I call on Stanford students, alum and administrators to make a big deal about this incident -- to not hide from it, to use it as a teachable moment -- and act as leaders to prevent this from happening again at Stanford and other colleges and universities across the country.
    That's why I'm lending my voice. Rapes on campuses are far too frequent. Racial bias in the American judicial system is far too frequent. And it all needs to stop.