This month, the public expressed justified outrage that a 20-year-old Stanford student received a 6-month sentence for raping an unconscious girl. The most disturbing thing about the light sentence should not be how grossly out of the norm it was, but just the opposite; that it is all too normal. The judge's June 2 sentence tracked a probation officer's recommendation that the rapist should get 4-6 months, because -- in the department's view -- the perpetrator had been drinking, had not committed other crimes, and had otherwise been an upstanding student-athlete with his whole life ahead of him.
That evening there were no outraged headlines in newspapers. There were no noisy protests by prosecutors or pickets outside of the courthouse. The sentence that was handed down was business-as-usual in a system that still does not get it. The only reason that people discovered this injustice and reacted so angrily was the bravery and eloquence of the victim whose impact statement was published by Buzzfeed.
This situation is familiar to us. There was a time when courts operated in the same way when it came to drunk driving or domestic abuse. Until the 1980s, it was common for a court to give drunk drivers a light sentence -- because it was normal to drink, because people's judgment is impaired when they drink, the lines of when someone was too drunk to drive were blurry, and because many drunk drivers were otherwise upstanding citizens or young people with their lives ahead of them.
This reasoning led courts and society to tolerate the notion that a certain number of innocent people would die or be horribly maimed each year because of drunk drivers. Likewise, for most of our lifetimes, courts took a lenient view toward domestic abuse. Light sentences were given to domestic abusers --because a person who is drinking might momentarily lose his temper, the lines of fault between a fighting couple can be blurry, and because many abusers were often otherwise upstanding citizens or young people with their lives ahead of them. And so Courts and society accepted that a certain number of women would live in terror in their homes with no protection from their abusers.
Today, we live in a world where based on that same logic we accept that 1 in 4 girls are sexually assaulted before the time they are 18.
The veil of silence about these sexual assaults has finally begun to lift from college campuses, military barracks, high schools and middle schools where these sexual assaults are all too common. Thanks to movies like The Hunting Ground, The Invisible War, and Audrie & Daisy, the public is finally coming to terms with the epidemic of violence against our girls that has been tolerated for far too long. The solution, as with drunk driving and domestic violence, is for the public to rise up and demand more from their courts, from their communities, and from themselves.
There is no excuse, ever, for getting behind a wheel drunk, or hitting a spouse, or having sex with a person who did not or cannot consent. This message needs to be reinforced among judges, prosecutors, probation officers, campus administrators, military commanders, principals, teachers, doctors, but also parents. The public also needs to understand that most people who engage in these actions are not usually upstanding. The vast majority of these crimes are caused by a small number of people who have not been deterred.
Between the two of us, we have three sons and three daughters, and it's our responsibility to make sure our boys know that it is never okay to assault a girl, or to look away as another boy does. It's also our responsibility to make sure our daughters know that it is never okay for them to be assaulted, and that we will have their back if and when they choose to speak out. If a parent, or coach, or mentor, or teacher, or a judge does not know how to start, there is a manual to help: http://teachearly.org
This Father's Day offers us all a chance to reflect on doing the two things every father is expected to do: raise their kids to lead good lives, and protect them until they are old enough to protect themselves. We can't be good fathers as long as we tolerate the epidemic of sexual assaults against young women and girls. Re-educating courts is a start. But changing a culture that has allowed this situation to exist, means taking that a step further and pledging to change all of our attitudes.