A young man, Brock Turner, who assaulted a young woman, walked out of jail after just three months of his six-month sentence. He was released under a law that gives inmates credit for time served.
But what did he learn in three months? Only he knows. And only his future actions will demonstrate whether he's changed. Whether he learned anything at all. Whether he's grown up.
And I wonder ... how can I tell you about all this? When? What do I say?
At 12 years old, you're already a pinch taller than me. Your dark blonde hair is electric with streaks of gold from the summer sun and your blue-grey eyes narrow in determination as you jump in the pool at swim meets or hold a bat at home plate, waiting for the pitch. Yet they're wide with wonder as you laugh with your friends or act shocked by your sister's pranks.
Your innocence is still so intact. Your sweet spirit permeates the room as soon as you enter and I'm humbled at the goodness you exude.
We have only a few more years of this time. These nights of dinner around the table together, bedtime prayers and after-school pick ups where you tell me about your day, your friends, your dreams.
In just a few years, you'll be throwing a bag over your shoulder, carrying your pillow and wheeling a suitcase into a dorm room at a college or university that will suddenly have all those precious hours with you that I no longer will. I'll be a voice through the phone line. A text between classes and studying and partying and all the rights of passage that go along with a continued education, both in and outside the classroom.
But at some point, before you go, we will talk. I will tell you about an "unconscious intoxicated woman." She has a name of course, but those three words are how she was described in news reports. Back then, a nation's knees buckled hearing the story of a young lady who went to a party and wound up behind a trash can with a man violating her.
She woke to find herself in the hospital with people poking and prodding her body as gently as possible to collect evidence from a sexual assault she couldn't remember.
They both had too much to drink. They both had trouble remembering the details. But only one of them had the courage to be truthful. Only one of them had the character to dissect the aftermath and tell her family "I'm here and I'm OK" even though she was not. Only one of them had the audacity to call it what it was. Rape.
She wrote a statement about it
and shared her painful experience with the world.
She was a victim, but she wasn't weak. She was violated but she wasn't conquered. She was stunned, but she refused to be in denial. And she refused to be denied.
As a woman, my heart is ripped apart for her. For her and for every woman who will experience such a betrayal of humanity. The latest numbers
from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center tells us 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lifetime. And many of those women will most likely experience the same humiliation this woman did. Not just the assault itself, but the dismissal of it by the criminal who won't even define it as a crime. He called it a "mistake." A consequence of being a victim himself of the "campus drinking culture."
As a woman I'm horrified for this young lady. As a mother, I'm terrified for you.
I can talk to you from this moment until the day you walk onto a campus. I can take you to self-defense classes, practice situational awareness, encourage the buddy system and the girl code -- you don't ever leave a friend at a bar or a party. Ever. You don't ever take a glass or an unopened bottle of alcohol or soda from someone. You don't ever leave with someone alone.
I can drill all this information into your brain -- but I can't control your heart. I can't control what you do the first time you're invited to a party and all you want to do is fit in. I can prepare you, but I can't control you or the people around you.
That's the gut-wrenching struggle of a parent. These arms that held you when you were sick, enfolded you when you left for school in the morning and were raised high in the air on the sidelines of your soccer games will eventually be the arms that hug you—and let you go.
I'll stand there watching you walk toward your dorm with my heart silently screaming for you to come home. I'll whisper prayers, as I do now, that angels surround you. That God protect you. That you remember how precious you are and that you don't allow anyone to shatter that fact. No "friend." No boy. No violation.
Before that day comes, I'll let you read her letter to her attacker. I want you to know about the bravery that's so evident not only in her words, but in the fact that she allowed herself to go back to those excruciating moments at the hospital, in the car with her sister, in the courtroom under fire from his attorneys during the trial...and to share what it did to her, in brutal detail.
She unwrapped her vulnerability and allowed it to hang in the air of that courtroom to prove that vulnerability is nothing to be ashamed of.
I wondered what her parents were going through as they listened to her face her attacker.
Then I wondered about his family.
I think many people understand that as a parent you'll do anything to protect your child. Even write an absurd letter to the judge, as Turner's father did, pleading for leniency. But I couldn't help wondering how they'd feel if the victim had been their child—if they were in that courtroom listening to a daughter reading her letter. How different would the letter they'd write to the judge be then?
You may think I'm tough on you sometimes, as parents, we do our children no service by coddling them or making excuses for them. In this case it's criminal to do so. And it must be stopped.
When children do something wrong, we need to tell them they're wrong. We need to tell them that we love them but they need to own their actions. If we don't teach them that when they're young, there's a good chance a jury will teach them when they're grown.
That it is the other outrage here...that the judge didn't seem to agree. We wanted to see this man pay, but what we really wanted to see, was this man own it. We wanted him to absorb the severity of what he'd done to another human being.
Now as bystanders, an enormous number of us watch, shaking our heads, wondering why the sentence—why the time served-- doesn't reflect the crime.
My darling daughter, I want to teach you about justice and fairness. I want you to know that actions have consequences. In this case, it doesn't feel like that happened. I don't have the answers.
But I have hope because the woman who was once a victim is now a victor.
Regardless of his sentence, regardless of his early release, she won because she survived. She chose to share truth. She chose to be brave. She chose to allow her vulnerability to be broadcast to the world.
One day, long ago, she was 12, like you. Her parents probably laughed at her antics, cheered for her and like so many of us do, still felt like they were messing it up somehow. We all feel like that.
But in the gift of those ordinary days, that girl knew she was loved.
I hope you know that too. In this world where justice doesn't always seem to prevail, I can tell you that love does.
I want you to know this young woman's story.
And I want you to know her hope. As she wrote at the end of her letter:
"To girls everywhere, I'm with you. I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can't be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you."
For now, I'll hold tight to the gift of these everyday moments I have with you. And even when I must let go, my love will follow you everywhere you go. Because like this courageous young woman, I am with you too baby girl. I am with you.