This week, John Pavlovitz wrote a letter to a stranger, a single page of harsh truth, a splash of cold water in the face of a fellow dad.
From his home in Wake Forest, Pavlovitz published an open blog post addressed to Dan Turner, whose son Brock outraged the world by sexually assaulting an unconscious student at Stanford University and walking away with a six-month sentence. The moment that got Pavlovitz typing, though, came when the elder Turner ignored his son’s victim and pleaded for leniency in his son’s case, infamously dismissing the crime as “20 minutes of action.”
In his letter, Pavlovitz included many notes of compassion: “You love your son and you should.”
But he minced no words for a father blind to facts.
“Brock is not the victim here,” Pavlovitz said. “His victim is the victim. She is the wounded one. He is the damager.”
You might have read these words already. Pavlovitz, a youth minister with North Raleigh Community Church, has gotten more than 3.5 million hits on his blog since then. His words have appeared on CNN, in the Huffington Post, in People magazine and in The Independent of London. In a half-hour’s time, he unintentionally became a global spokesman for moral courage.
“It just kind of came out,” said Pavlovitz, 47, father of an 11-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. “Some pieces you labor over. This was a pure emotional response.”
Working part-time with the church, Pavlovitz meets weekly with teenage students. But his blog, titled “Stuff That Needs To Be Said,” reaches a wider audience on a full-time schedule. Only a week before, he wrote a post titled, “Parents, If You Think What Happened at the Cincinnati Zoo Can’t Happen to You – You’re Wrong.” He is well-versed on the topic of sexual assault.
“I hear from victims quite often,” he said, “in the trenches, so to speak.”
Pavlovitz dresses down Dan Turner using words that millions of parents must have shouted to their newspapers and their computer and TV screens, dissecting his defense with a clarity that is amazingly free of expletives.
On the idea that Brock Turner is a first-time offender:
“The idea that your son has never violated another woman next to a dumpster before isn’t a credit to his character. We don’t get kudos for only raping one person in our lifetime.”
On the idea that Brock Turner will suffer by registering as a sex offender:
“Brock has to register as a sex offender because he sexually assaulted an incapacitated young woman. This is why we have such requirements; because one vile act against another human being is one too many, because we don’t get a do-over when we do unspeakable things.”
Pavlovitz told me he tried to blend honesty with compassion, and I think he succeeded. His purpose, to me, isn’t to kick a man already nursing a million kick wounds. But rather, in a dozen-odd paragraphs, he aims to turn a father’s focus away from his own pain and recognize that his words have sharpened the pain so many victims already feel.
He doesn’t know whether anyone in the Turner family read his blog post. He’s had no contact.
But he knows he’ll keep writing words that need saying, and he hopes this viral moment will hold the world’s attention. Sadly, Brock Turner won’t be the last mug shot in our Facebook feeds.
“After people stop calling me,” Pavlovitz said, “this stuff is still going on.”