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Barbershop: Stanford University, Sexual Assault And Parenting


Now it's time for our trip to the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on our minds. Sitting in the chairs for our shape-up today are Arun Venugopal - he's the host of Micropolis. It's a series of WNYC that looks at New York City's ethically-diverse communities. And he's with us from the Radio Foundation studios in New York. Arun, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

ARUN VENUGOPAL: Thanks, Michel. Great to be here.

MARTIN: Here in Washington, D.C., we have Leslie Morgan Steiner. She's a writer and blogger, one of our regulars. She might be best known, though, for her 2012 Ted Talk on domestic violence which has now been viewed millions of times. Hi, Leslie. Welcome back to you as well.


MARTIN: And last, but not least, we're joined by Glenn Ivey. He is the former state's attorney for Prince George's County in Maryland. That's just outside Washington, D.C. He's an attorney. Welcome back to you, Glenn, as well.

GLENN IVEY: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, we called all of you to talk about something that's been a major story in the news and on social media all week and that's the case of the sexual assault at Stanford University.

A freshman student named Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail and three months' probation for assaulting an unconscious woman. He was caught after two Ph.D. students riding by on bicycles saw that Turner was on top of the young woman who seemed to be unconscious, and they tackled Turner.

The case is the subject of many op-eds, Facebook posts and outrage by people who feel that the judge's sentence was far too lenient, but also an outpouring of support for the victim who penned an eloquent 12-page letter. There are reports that protests are planned for Stanford University's graduation tomorrow, and we knew that this is something that all of you would have been thinking about.

So, Leslie, I'm going to start with you because you've been so involved with the issue of domestic violence over these years. You've written about it. You are a survivor yourself, and you also wrote about this recently in a post for CNN. So I wanted to ask you what's your take on this? What's your takeaway on this?

STEINER: Well, there's great - there's very encouraging news in this Stanford rape case because there is such widespread collective outrage over the crime itself and the very lenient sentence that's been handed down. But what I find most encouraging about this case is that it's the power of the victim's statement that really got this going.

She wrote an over 7,000 word statement that was read in court that has been repeated over and over and over again on mainstream media and on social media. And it just shows, to me, the power of being a victim who speaks out.

MARTIN: I just want to - I do have to clarify that the specific charge was sexual assault and not rape. Well, there are two issues, though, that you brought up. It's the power of speaking out, but it's also the power of intervention, right? That's one of the other points that you make.

STEINER: Well, and that's what I wrote about for is that the good news here is that although men are being held accountable here, the judge and the - and Brock Turner - for not taking this crime seriously and also the - Brock Turner's father for not taking it seriously.

We have to remember that two men stopped the sexual assault. And, to me, that - that's the hope here is that if good men who would never assault a woman can be encouraged and taught how to recognize assault and how to intervene safely, then that's a very important step in ending sexual assault before it happens and also ending domestic violence.

MARTIN: Glenn, I bet this brings up a lot of things for you as a former prosecutor, as the father of five boys and a girl, as a, you know - as a parent. What does this bring up for you?

IVEY: Well, the statement really was a powerful one. And I - you know, and I knew that. I came home. I read it at work. I was researching something else for my job, and it popped up. And I just started reading it and couldn't stop. And then when I got home I brought it up to my wife, and my 16-year-old son just happened to be in the room. And he said, oh, you talking about that Stanford rape case.

And I froze because I was like he's 16, right? He's not watching the news and that sort of stuff, but this even grabbed his attention in a way that was, I thought, really important.

You know, this victim impact statement - you know, one of the seminal documents for me is the letter from a Birmingham jail and what it meant to the civil rights movement. This might be that document for the movement to fight sexual assault on campuses.

MARTIN: What is it particularly that struck so many people so profoundly?

IVEY: Well, I mean, it's powerfully and beautifully written first of all. So, you know, it grabbed me right away at the beginning and you start reading it. She's very rational in what she writes, so she picks apart all of his arguments about, no, it wasn't the alcohol. And, by the way, you saying that this is just, you know - your life was - alcohol can ruin your life. You know, what about mine?

I just thought that she was very systematic in how she broke all of that down. And the day-to-day piece, too - what she's been living through since, I think - and then lastly, sort of the reaction to the judge and the, you know, sort of what was coming out from the probation officer and the like, I thought were really powerful statements of how the system can re-victimize again.

MARTIN: Yeah. I want to talk a little more about that. I also want to talk a little bit in a minute about the - Brock Turner's father wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency for his son. And I want to hold it - I want to hear from Arun.

Arun, what about you? All of the - all of you here that I'm speaking to have teenagers at home, so this has to be something that, you know, resonates on a number of levels. Arun, what about you? What strikes you about this?

VENUGOPAL: Well, I can tell you that this letter as, you know, Glenn and Leslie have pointed out is an incredibly important document, I think, for our era. And the fact that I was reading it online - my daughter who's 15 - she just saw it at some distance. It was on my monitor - or my computer, and she sees this sea of text against a red background which is how BuzzFeed had laid it out. And she said, oh, are you reading the letter? And so I was like, oh, OK, so you've read the letter, huh?

And as I'm going through this letter, I'm thinking like, wow - that it's being discussed by my daughter. I was asking her about, you know, what are the conversations you're having with your friends, you know?

And for me as a dad - on one hand, I find it very useful that that letter's there. It helps, you know, these conversations happen in homes like ours where I see my daughter going away to college in three years and, you know - and on one hand, you're trying to prepare them. At the same time, you feel constantly ill-equipped what you're going to do, how much you can do.

MARTIN: Leslie, what about you?

STEINER: Well, I have two teenage daughters, a 17 year old and a 14 year old. And I also have a 19-year-old teenage son who is already at college. So it's very much on my mind how important it is to talk to teenage boys and girls about rape culture and what to do to make your own environment safer.

One of the poignant things in "The Hunting Ground," the documentary about rape on campus is one of the victims says that the hardest thing to do was to tell her own parents that she had been raped. And that makes me so sad to think that that would maybe even be harder than being raped itself is to tell your parents. And I don't want my kids to feel that way, so I want to talk to them about it now.

MARTIN: So many things, as I said, to unpack here, but one of the things I wanted to ask you about is the, you know - the parenting aspect of this that's also gotten a lot of attention.

Brock Turner's father wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency, writing about how his son is so distraught he can't eat his favorite foods and his son's life will never be the one that he dreamed about and used the phrase a lot of people found really offensive was for 20 minutes of action, that kind of thing. But I - how common, though, an attitude do you think this is in this day and age?

IVEY: I think that's pretty - I think it's still very common. And, you know, part of it is going to be, you know, part of it is going to be, you know, natural. Parents want to protect their children, and, you know, I would see this in other types of crimes, too. You know, I hardly ever had a mom come forward and say, yeah, my son probably did kill that other guy, and I've seen it coming for a while.

They always defend their child. But I think in this scenario, especially in a - when you're writing something to a judge. I'm a defense lawyer now, right? I don't know that I ever would have let the dad submit something like that or make it public. If the lawyer had a chance to shut that down - because you got to know how offensive that statement would be, not only to the public, but to people like the judges who might read it. And I have a negative influence on their sitting there...

MARTIN: But maybe it suggests that they didn't know that it was offensive which suggests that perhaps more people find that acceptable than perhaps we are aware of.

So before we let you all go, I just wanted to ask each of you, are there any lessons that we can take away from this? We've all been sort of talking about lessons that we can take away from this. So I just want to kind of tie a bow on it.

And maybe, Arun, I'll start with you. What lessons do you hope that we'll take away from this - we as a country, as parents, as listeners?

VENUGOPAL: Well, I think as a parent, you want your child to be - to feel comfortable to know that, at least at home, they can raise these issues, talk about it and, you know, figure it out together.

That's what things like this - this document helped do - like the letter - it helps. There's such an agency in this despite her being the victim of this. It allows all of us to sort of talk about this not as an abstraction, but, you know, hearing from somebody who's gone through this and is helping us figure this out.

MARTIN: Leslie, what about you?

STEINER: What I would want to say is that it's important, I think, to understand that rape and domestic violence - although they're often considered women's issues, perhaps to marginalize them - that they really are societal issues and men's issues. Men commit rape - the vast majority of rape. And it's up to men to prevent rape, and what I'm seeing more and more is that men are willing to take responsibility for this.

And I just think that we are seeing - we're really at a tipping point in our society where victims are speaking out, but also that people who perpetrate violence against women are starting to speak out, too, and admit it. And we - in order to end all this, we have to help them as well and listen to them.

MARTIN: Glenn, what about you? Leslie, thanks for that. Glenn?

IVEY: I hope that this letter becomes required reading for every freshman class at every college across the country. I hope that prosecutors will use this for people who are going through it, maybe not right initially, but for, you know - you're not the only one. This is what somebody else went through, and it's a very eloquent description of it so that you know.

And then lastly, I just hope that boys, men, whatever will see this, too. And the test for young men - what do you do when you're in that situation? Are you the bystander or do you intervene? Don't just walk away. And that's the key message, I think, of her letter.

MARTIN: That's Glenn Ivey. He's an attorney in private practice, former state's attorney in Prince George's County, Md. We were also joined by Leslie Morgan Steiner, writer and blogger and Arun Venugopal from WNYC. Thank you all so much for joining us for our Barbershop today.

IVEY: Thank you.

STEINER: Thank you so much, Michel.

VENUGOPAL: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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