A professor from the hometown of the Stanford University sex offender is speaking out about a dark side plaguing her community and the country.
Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer, sexually assaulted an unconscious woman and was sentenced to six months in jail because a longer sentence would have “a severe impact on him,” according to a judge.
Turner is from Oakwood, Ohio, a community about an hour north of Cincinnati that professor and Oakwood resident and Kate Geiselman describes as idyllic.
There is an Oakwood in every city, Geiselman says. And there’s a Brock Turner in every Oakwood.
She describes him as the “nice,” clean-cut, “happy-go-lucky,” hyper-achieving kid who’s never been told “no.”
"There’s nothing he can’t have, do or be, because he is special," Geiselman says. "Fortunately, most kids like this will march into their predictably bright futures without victimizing anyone along the way. Many will do good in the world."
In a column published in the Washington Post Wednesday, Geiselman, who teaches at Sinclair Community College in Dayton describes an "alternate version" of the story that has been spinning in her imagination since last January, when she first heard of his arrest:
"In my version, he recognizes that what happened on Stanford’s campus behind that dumpster was rape. He comes to understand that intoxication is not consent. He takes responsibility for his violent 'action' that irreparably harmed another human being, instead of blaming them on alcohol. Rather than spending a year and a half honing his story, making excuses and lawyering up, he pleads guilty. He looks his victim squarely in the eyes and says, 'I’m sorry. I had no business putting my hands on or in you after you were no longer able to give consent. I should have helped you to safety instead of running and lying about why I did. I will do everything I can to spare you any further pain. I will spend the rest of my life educating young people about consent and sexual violence.'"
But that’s not what happened.
"And because I live in the community that spawned Brock Turner, I have known on some level for many months that my version would never be reality," Geiselman writes.
"It is about as idyllic a Midwestern community as one could imagine," Geiselman said. "The streets are tree-lined, the houses charming. The kids walk to school and go home for lunch. The schools are nationally recognized. In fact, the nickname for Oakwood is 'The Dome,' so sheltered are its residents from violence, poverty and inconvenient truths."
Geiselman has lived in the community for more than 20 years.
With all its charm, she says there is a dark side:
"The conflation of achievement with being 'a good kid'; the pressure to succeed; the parents who shrug when the party in their basement gets out of control (or worse yet, when they host it) because 'kids are gonna drink'; the tacit understanding that rules don’t necessarily apply. The cops won’t come. The axe won’t fall."
Yet now it has.
When Geiselman tells someone she lives in Oakwood, she says they will assume she is rich, narrow-minded, a Republican or some combination thereof.
"My closest friends and I have a long-standing joke about needing to remember to 'lower the bar' around here — about not falling prey to the pressures to conform and compete, not buying the line that the schools or the kids here are special," she writes. "Most of us understand our privilege and good fortune. Many do not."
Her column continues:
"But it’s not hard to draw a straight line from this little ‘burb (or a hundred like it) to that dumpster at Stanford. What does being told 'no' mean to that kid? If the world is his for the taking, isn’t an unconscious woman’s body? When he gets caught, why wouldn’t his first impulse be to run, make excuses — blame the Fireball, or the girl or the campus drinking culture? That is entitlement. That is unchecked privilege."
When the news of Turner’s arrest broke a year and a half ago, it was met in Geiselman's community with a fair amount of shock and denial, she says. Before details emerged, the whispered sentiments at Starbucks and in the aisles of the local grocery were compassion for his parents and hopes for a fair trial, she says.
"I thought the outrage over this story would start before now, but it took a viral victim’s statement to bring it the attention it deserves. At every turn, I’ve thought of how things could have gone differently. I’ve wondered if all of this was the attorney’s doing — that Turner and his family were manipulated into denial because their lawyer told them there was no other alternative. But his father’s letter and his own lame 'apology' make it seem clear that they truly believe that bad timing and alcohol — not Turner himself — were to blame.
Ultimately, there is no happy ending to a story like this one, Geiselman says. Not in the version she imagined months ago or in the one that actually came to pass.
She says she takes some solace in the fact that the victim’s statement has brought more attention to rape culture than any single indictment or verdict could.
"It’s cold comfort, to be sure," Geiselman says.