While the presidential election has dominated the news, another story has filled social and other media feeds over the past few months: the March conviction of a Stanford student of three felonies relating to the vicious sexual assault of an unconscious woman. These were serious crimes for which the maximum sentence is 14 years in prison.
So when Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky sentenced 20-year-old Brock Turner to six months in county jail and three years probation, we and many others were outraged. When the assault survivor's 12-page heartbreaking statement to the court was released online, we all felt her pain and anger. And when commentators continue to defend the sentence, we're enraged all over again.
How could our judicial system have let her down so spectacularly? Unlike many sexual assault cases, there were witnesses--heroes who stopped the assault on her next to a dumpster, and then chased and detained the perpetrator. There was evidence. Twelve jurors found him guilty.
Persky said he considered the defendant's age (19 at the time), prior record (none), academic status (Stanford freshman on a swimming scholarship) and intoxication (twice the legal limit) when sentencing. Stanford Law School and sociology professor Michele Dauber has called Persky's ruling a "dangerous" decision that will have an impact on the safety of students.
Virtually all campus sexual assaults are committed under the influence of alcohol by young men who are students. Excusing these crimes from the bench will mean even fewer women will report rapes and intended rapes.
Judge Persky appears to have given greater weight to the character letters on Turner's behalf ("he wouldn't hurt a fly," according to one family friend) than the jury's verdict. In his sentencing, the judge ignored a blatant lie by the assailant, who claimed not to have abused drugs or alcohol in the past, despite clear evidence seized by police to the contrary.
Though he says he regrets his actions that January night in 2015, Turner continues to show no real remorse. In a letter to the judge he blamed "the party culture and risk taking behavior that I briefly experienced in my four months at school." He claimed to want to educate others about "sexual promiscuity." Here's what no one taught you, Brock: rape is about power, not sex.
Turner's father's assertion that his son shouldn't have to pay for "20 minutes of action" out of 20-plus years of his life has intensified the public's anger. Sexual assault is a crime, and the sentence handed down by the judge does not begin to reflect the nature of the offense. It is beyond time for parents, friends, newspaper columnists and judges to stop making excuses for those who commit campus sexual assaults.
Many have noted that Judge Persky is a Stanford alumnus and former athlete himself. As Stanford alumnae, we do not feel that his Stanford connections made him unqualified to rule in this case. Yet we vigorously believe his decision is a betrayal of the judicial process and support multiple efforts to recall Judge Persky and demand his ouster by filing complaints with the Commission on Judicial Performance.
We hope Santa Clara County residents will take action to right a wrong.
Meanwhile, millions of us will be watching to see if this case replays itself on college campuses around the state and nation, and if women continue to be victimized twice — by their rapists and by the system. Or perhaps this will be a turning point when one brave, young woman helped make all women safer through our collective outrage.
Originally posted by The Mercury News
By Debbie Duncan and Susan Frank, Special to The Mercury News
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