I have been watching the growing response to the Stanford rape case over the last week. I think you would have to be living in a cave (without internet) not to have watched.
First we had the judgment of six months in jail and probation for the crime of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Then the victim released a copy of her statement to the court and we learned what the young man’s father had said to the court.
Next, a recall effort was started to get the judge involved in the case removed from office. There was discussion about the fairness of what kinds of pictures to use of the defendant, and then we learned the father had started a funding page for legal fees.
The backlash to all of this included open letters here, here and here, amongst others, to the dad, culminating in this letter to the victim from Vice President Joe Biden. The fall out also included a childhood friend of the young man and his ban from any future involvement in swimming the Olympics.
I am frustrated with all of this.
I want to see perpetrators of violence learn to change their ways …
I’m hopeless this will happen in our present justice system.
I want to see these same people given the support they need to be able to face the very difficult truth of the results of their actions …
I’m hopeless this will happen in our present environment of public anger and outcry.
I want to see equity in dealing with people who have violated the rights of others …
I’m hopeless this will happen in our present culture of white privilege and power over.
I want to see people taking personal responsibility for their actions and words …
I’m hopeless this will happen in this culture of blame and shame.
I want to see a country where we watch out for those that are vulnerable …
I’m hopeless this will happen in our get ahead at all cost culture.
I’m longing for more self-awareness and empathy from everyone …
And I’m hopeless.
Here’s what I want:
I want to see our entire judicial system changed from a system of punitive justice to restorative justice. In that system Brock Turner would still have been found guilty of sexual assault and been sentenced to jail, but his sentence would have included the goal of his fully understanding the consequences of his behavior and sharing that understanding with his victim if she wanted to hear. I think she does. I think the most frustrating thing about this for her, besides the act itself, is the fact that she doesn’t have the understanding that Brock Turner fully understands what he did, and feels the deep pain of his choices.
For him to be able to do this, he is going to need some real support. So does his family. Being fully responsible for his decisions is going to be very, very painful. It might take quite a bit of time for him to be able to bear this pain, but that is what is needed for both he and the victim.
Blame and shame isn’t going to help. Believe me, there is a voice way down inside of him that has whispered some of the truth to him about what he has done, but he silences that voice. It’s too painful to hear right now. He would rather grab onto the stories that she was willing at some point, or he just had too much to drink and didn’t know what he was doing, or anything else than the truth that he chose to assault an unconscious woman.
I want to see this kind of justice applied to everyone, equally. It’s the only kind of justice that heals, and I want everyone to experience this healing so that I can live in a kinder, safer world. I don’t have a fantasy that the world will become some perfect place, but I do know that the system right now doesn’t work towards making the world safer. With restorative justice we would be more conscious and equitable with our justice system.
I want to see people becoming more self-aware and responsible for what they say and do. This isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about understanding why you are saying what you are saying and taking responsibility for that. Most people are just unconscious about what they are feeling and needing in every moment.
We have been taught to be that way. We have been taught to tell ourselves all kinds of stories and speak from that place. We have been taught that so many things aren’t in our power, and to blame what we say and do on others. We have got to claim that power back along with the responsibility.
In doing this we have to find the courage to help the vulnerable. The two men who chased after and tackled Brock Turner found that courage. I wish someone had found the courage to step in and stop the victim before she ended up unconscious behind a dumpster. We are our brother’s keepers. Contributing to others is the most enjoyable part of being human. We have got to find that again.
I’m longing for a world in which we have enough self-awareness to be able to be empathic with those around us. In even the most trying circumstances. I’m longing for us to have the ability to understand that we would have done the same thing Brock Turner did if we had been in his shoes. Yes, we would. If we had the same life circumstances, same beliefs, same thoughts, we would have.
Why is that important for us to grasp? Because it allows us to have empathy for him. And we would have ended up drunk, passed out, behind a dumpster if we had been the victim. It’s not about blame and shame. It’s about having an open heart and helping others stand in the deep pain of decisions that weren’t life serving for anyone.
That is my hope.
Heather Schlessman, PhD is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has spent her career either working with or teaching about families. She is also a mother who, like so many other parents, spent years muddling her way raising 3 wonderfully different children, one who happens to be experiencing a disability. Fortunately she has a life partner who muddled along with her. Spending most of her time trying to be perfect, as that would be the safest way to live, she became aware of a desire to be able to see people in a more compassionate way. Little did she know that the person she needed the most compassion for was herself. There is a saying that when you are ready to learn a teacher will appear, and so it was for Dr. Schlessman. She was introduced to the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of Nonviolent Communication, and her world completely changed. She learned a way to have an intimate connection with herself and others, a way to truly contribute. Her passion now is to help others find their way to a more compassionate life. You can find more of Dr. Schlessman’s empathic expressions along with her husband’s, Rev. Mark Schlessman on their website.