No Mom Should Blame Brock Turner's Mother for Standing by Her Son

Brock Turner

We all want to believe, as moms, that the worst couldn't happen to us. We look at the moms in the news, the ones who lose their children, fail their children, aren't there for their children at critical moments, and we think, "Never us." If we didn't do that, we'd never be able to sleep at night. Which is why it makes so much sense that we all heap hate on Brock Turner's mother.


Brock Turner will forever be known as the "Stanford rapist." He is the 20-year-old man who led a woman too drunk to stand to a dumpster behind a frat house and sexually assaulted her. He was found during the act by two men on bicycles who chased him down and may have saved his victim's life. His victim wrote an incredibly profound and moving letter about Brock's pathetically short jail sentence (of six months, out in three) that was circulated widely last spring.

He is a complete waste of space in every possible way. And yet, he is also someone's son. He is the son of Carleen Turner. And back in the spring, Carleen and her husband, Brock's father, also had letters go viral. They'd both written to the judge in Turner's case, asking for leniency. In both cases, their words were stupid, ill-advised, and ultimately damning to their public image. Brock's father asked that his son not pay with his life for what amounted to "20 minutes of action."

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His mother wrote of her fear that her son would be a "target" in prison:

Look at him. He won't survive it. He will be damaged forever and I fear he would be a major target. Stanford boy, college kid, college athlete, all the publicity ... this would be a death sentence for him. Having lost everything he has ever worked for his entire life and knowing the registry is a requirement for the rest of his life certainly is more than harsh. ... Your honor, please be kind and merciful to my beautiful son. He is suffering and will continue to pay for this for his entire lifetime.

Neither parent showed any remorse for what the victim went through. Now, Brock's mother is on the receiving end of public vilification for, among other things, trying to shield him from photographers as he registered as a sex offender.

It is so easy to see why we all want to hate Carleen Turner. But the truth is, when we look beyond the black and white, when we see the shades of gray inherent in all our lives, when we look at our own children, many still blessedly innocent and far younger than Brock Turner, we have to understand her actions. We might not be able to stomach them or agree with her, knowing what we know about her son, but when we think of our own children, we have to be able to get it.

The Internet comments on articles about Brock's mom suggest that we all have a measure of control over our children we actually don't have. "His mother has been shielding this asshole all his life," one comment on New York magazine's Facebook page says. "Too bad she didn't instill the proper values into him when he was young and teach him one fundamental thing: 'Don't rape!'"

She's right. And she's wrong, too. Because there is no mother alive in the world who doesn't have blind spots. We can all do our very best with the very best intentions. We can send our children to the best schools and stay home with them and nurse them and co-sleep and birth them naturally and talk to them about consent and they can still try cocaine and die or beat someone up for looking at them wrong or have sex with the wrong person. Kids mess up. They experiment. They do things we would never approve or condone. Would that be our "fault"? Every time?

Of course, none of these things is rape. And, as a mom, I intend to teach my son about consent. And my daughters, too. My children are only 9, 8, and 2 and I have already started those discussions.

"If your sister squirms like that, she doesn't want your hug. You need to let her go right away."

"Your brother doesn't appreciate being poked and he's showing you that by moving away. You need to respect that."

"Your sister said she doesn't want to play. No means no."

I say all of these things to my children daily. We all should.

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Maybe Carleen didn't. Or maybe she did and her son is just an asshole anyway. How can we possibly know what she did or didn't teach him? Is it just too frightening for us to believe she did everything "right" and he still turned out horribly? And can we really blame her for standing by her son?

My kids mess up all the time. They are still little and we have time before their mess-ups are serious or have lasting consequences. But they still do it. Constantly. My oldest daughter hits. My son called someone fat. One of my children said something so offensive the other day, I can't even admit it in a public forum. Each of these transgressions earned stern words and, later, a much longer, in-depth conversation to help them understand why what they did was wrong. They were punished as well.

But I can't be everywhere. I am sure they have done and said things when I am not around that would make me ashamed and go against the things I hope to teach them.

The truth is, none of us is immune. And none of us have the control we'd like to believe we have. We can do everything right and still turn out children who are not what we want them to be. None of us is a perfect parent. Not you. Or them. Or me. Or Carleen Turner.

There is no excuse for her son. What he did requires the rest of his life as payment. His sentence is a joke and his inability to recognize his actions is beyond criminal. But how can we blame his mother for supporting him anyway? She nursed him and nurtured him. She did the things she thought were best. She failed anyway. By all means let's vilify and hate Brock Turner. But do we really need to hate his mother, too?

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Sooner or later our kids will be adults. And they will do things we'd never condone. Will we stop loving them? Will we stop supporting them? Her son is a criminal. He is a horrible person who is unable to take responsibility for his actions in any way. There is no excuse for what he's done.  

But Brock Turner is an adult. At some point, we all stand on our own feet and our actions become our own. We can't blame our parents forever. And we can't be forever blamed for the actions of our children.


If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, you can find help and support at, the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1 800 656 HOPE (4673), or Safe Horizon Crime Victims Hotline 1 866 689 HELP (4357).

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