Yesterday, the now-infamous convicted sexual assailant Brock Turner had to register as a sex offender in his home county in Ohio. In her also now-infamous letter to Judge Aaron Persky in which she asked the judge for mercy, Brock’s mom Carleen Turner bemoaned the fact that he’d have to register as a sex offender. Because in her mind, he’s not a sex offender, he’s her little boy who got a little too drunk and then got himself into a bad situation.
Mrs. Turner hasn’t admitted her son’s wrongdoing, so it shouldn’t be surprising that her son has not taken responsibility for his actions, either.
But he still had to register as a sex offender, and when he did? His mom did this:
— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) September 6, 2016
She lifted her white cardigan in the air, the sides spread out like angel’s wings, and she shielded her son from the consequences. Yes, he still had to sign the registry, but she tried to let his moment of shame pass undocumented by cameras.
The photo of Mrs. Turner shielding Brock from photographers at first angered me and then broke my heart. This young man committed a crime and someone was trying to shield him from the humiliation and the consequences that followed. Wasn’t it enough that his sentence was so light? Wasn’t it enough that the media called him the “Stanford Swimmer” instead of the “rapist” or the “sex offender”? If it is true that you reap what you sow, at the very least, this young man should face this public outcry and accept that because of what he did, millions of people are repulsed, abhorred and disgusted. He should be resigned to the fact that the media will continue to take this and run with it.
Photo: Brock Turner’s photo from the Greene County, Ohio Sex Offender Registry, Greene Co. Sheriff’s Office.
Who would protect a man like this from the consequences of his actions? Who would dare to try and physically cover him and spare him from public outrage?
A mother, of course.
And I’ll admit, I kind of get it.
Nine years ago, when my youngest son was 6, he accidentally closed a car door on his friend’s hand. Fortunately, it didn’t cause major damage. It hurt, but mostly, it scared his friend and made him cry. My son was scared too, but he was also ashamed that he hurt his friend. As the friend calmed down, my son started tearing up and buried his head in my shoulder and wouldn’t look up. I told him he should apologize, but he remained silent. I reminded him that saying you’re sorry makes everyone feel better, including you. He cried harder into my shoulder. I carefully lifted his head and said “you have to say you’re sorry” but he wouldn’t speak. I felt like a failure. My son couldn’t even recite an apology when asked to do so. I wondered what kind of mother I was, and what would become of this child if I didn’t make some changes. Because the truth is, if he couldn’t say sorry for an accidental wounding, how would he ever take responsibility for the inevitable HUGE screw ups we all face as teens and adults? Again, I spoke to him, and he reluctantly agreed to apologize the very next day.
A year later, when my middle son was 9, his cousin hit him. He was teasing and taunting and bullying, and this cousin got angry. My son often did things like this, but usually he got away with no consequence. This time was different, and it hurt. My middle child has always been smaller than most of his peers, and because of this, most kids went easy on him. I struggled with the safety that my child’s stature provided. It’s not right to hit the “littlest kid” but it isn’t right for the littlest kid to get away with everything just because he’s little. If he hit them, they didn’t hit back. If he took something that didn’t belong to him they’d just tell me or another adult rather than getting physical with him. If he made fun of someone enough to make them angry enough to hit him, his brothers and cousins would almost always find the will to walk away or tell an adult rather than taking justice into their own hands. But that changed one day when his older cousin, who was practically double his weight at that time, simply had enough. He slapped my son right upside his head. My son was surprised, devastated, and sad. While I comforted him in my lap, I fought a looming feeling of relief. My son learned a hard lesson that he needed to learn. It was a lesson that I had been bracing myself for, and I knew there was no way to make it easy. That day, he learned something that I was incapable of teaching him and he learned it because he had hurt another child who decided he wouldn’t stand for it anymore.
During each of these incidents, as a mother, I couldn’t help but feel responsible. What did I fail to teach them? How could I have done it differently? At the same time, my maternal instincts couldn’t be quieted; even though I wanted each child to understand what he did wrong, my heart broke for him. Even though my child needed to face and accept the consequences of what he had done, that fierce and unrelenting desire to protect and comfort my child welled up inside me. I knew that if I spared him from the consequences of his actions, he wouldn’t learn from them. And even though—and because—I’ve made mistakes of my own, I know my sons still need to face the music, no matter how hard it might be for me as their loving mother to watch.
I would so much rather they face humiliation as a child than as an adult, that they get deservedly smacked upside the head by a friend when they’re little than deservedly FIRED from a job they need and love as an adult. I would SO much rather they learn these hard lessons NOW while they’re still in the safety of my home.
Because if they don’t learn them as children? They were SURELY flounder as adults.
Carleen Turner might come from a different upbringing, social status and income bracket than I. She undoubtedly has made mistakes as a parent as we all do, and there are many obvious life lessons that Brock Turner was clearly exempt from learning. But I understand her heart. Hopefully, it won’t take much more for her to learn to let go and let her son stand in the blinding light of the consequences of his actions. Hopefully, she’ll come to learn that the measure of shame her son now feels is something he heaped onto himself when he made the choices he made on the night of January 18, 2015. Nothing she does will erase how much he hurt his victim. Contrary to his father’s wishes, his life WILL be forever judged on those “20 minutes of action” behind a dumpster.
Because actions, no matter how short-lived, have consequences.
A mother’s love is boundless, but it’s not enough to shield a child forever. Nor should it be.