Over the past two weeks, Stanford rapist Brock Turner's case has unsettled the nation. The former athlete's lack of remorse and light jail sentence—coupled with his dad's insinuation that alcohol and a culture of promiscuity are the true culprits in the sexual assault of a young woman—have sparked outrage. But perhaps not shockingly, Brock's case is not the first in which a sexual assault has been blamed on everything but the man who committed it.
Back in 2008, Gregory Sako, an undergrad at Oregon State University, got drunk at his fraternity's Halloween party. He was dressed as a beer bottle. Later that night, he took a young woman to his bedroom, held her down, and raped her.
In 2009, Sako was convicted of felony rape and sentenced to more than eight years in prison. Evidence in the case included the victim's blood-soaked costume, photographs of blood-stained underwear, DNA, and medical testimony of vaginal tearing.
But his parents saw the case differently. Rather than viewing their son as a rapist, they wrote an open letter to the public in 2010 blaming the incident on alcohol.
With absolutely no remorse or consideration for the victim—a young woman who will no doubt carry this trauma the rest of her life—Sako's parents sought to seek sympathy for their son and focused only on how his rape and his conviction have now destroyed his life. They titled their letter, "How alcohol ruined a student's dreams."
"Many of you may have heard about our son, Gregory Sako, the college student from Menlo Park who was convicted of a felony rape in Oregon last year," states the letter. "The problem with his case was that at the time the alleged incident occurred, Gregory and his accuser were very drunk."
At various points throughout the letter, Sako's parents try to argue that because their son was drunk and can't remember the incident, it's not his fault. "He experienced a blackout … Because of that night of heavy drinking, his life has been changed forever … People with mature brains are better equipped to make mature choices, like drinking responsibly so that they remain in control of their behaviors" and so on and so on.
Clearly Brock Turner and his father are not the first to come up with this booze-made-me-do-it defense. However, let me say it slow for the kids in the back: A lot people get drunk, even blackout drunk, but not everybody rapes.
The alcohol excuse isn't even the worst part of the Sakos' letter. Without mentioning the victim once or how she might feel or how her life has changed, Sako's parents go on to explain how traumatic this experience has been FOR THEIR SON.
Losing Gregory to an out-of-state prison system following an exhausting court trial has been devastating for him, his friends, and our entire family. He shares a 7-foot x 12-foot cell with another convicted felon 800 miles from home. He eats with plastic utensils. He wears the same type of clothes every day. He sleeps on a hard mattress on a metal frame. The food is horrible and we are prohibited from sending anything.
He has no computer or online privileges, no iPhone, no iPod, and not even access to a typewriter. Calls to his friends are cost-prohibitive. He hasn't seen a tree, a beach, a sunset or even been able to pet an animal in over 15 months.
I understand that parents will always want to protect their children. I understand making a stupid mistake while drunk. I understand that sometimes people are wrongfully convicted and that his parents were hoping this was one of those cases. But, whether he deserved eight years or not (I'm not here to argue the case), the lack of empathy for the victim in this letter is egregious.
Like Dan Turner, these parents weren't trying to prove their son's innocence—they were trying to justify his actions as accidental. As a frat party gone wrong. As a little too much booze. The letter might as well have read, "Yes our son got really drunk, blackout drunk, and this girl may have gotten raped, maybe, but like she was drunk, too, so is jail really necessary you guys? I mean his life is really hard now. He has no internet. No typewriter. Can you imagine? So how about we all take an alcohol awareness class and call it a day?"
There's one more key difference between Dan Turner's statement and the Sakos open letter: When Turner's statement was released, he became a public pariah. But back in 2010, the Sakos and their victim-blaming letter were applauded.
As one commenter wrote:
"Thank you to the Sakos for sharing their heartbreaking story in hope that it will help others. Poor judgment isn't a crime, but it certainly can change your life in the blink of an eye. I wish the best possible outcome for Greg, peace for the Sako family and a safe year to all the kids heading off to college this season."
"I have a son the same age as Greg Sako and I can appreciate how horrific his circumstances are, and how much grief the family has endured."
And this sickening one:
"She was not his victim. He was hers. And from what I've overheard, she's now leading quite the happy life."
It's great people are up in arms about the Turner case, but it's also clear from this incident that Turner's lack of remorse and inability to comprehend what he did wrong isn't an isolated event. Nor is the public's inclination to victim blame—and that's a problem.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.