When a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman gets sentenced to just six months in a county jail, you have to wonder whether the courts will ever stop treating rape like some naughty, boys-will-be-boys escapade.
In case you missed the social media firestorm over this miscarriage of justice: Brock Turner, 20, was found guilty of three felonies, including assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, for the January 2015 assault that occurred after both left a fraternity party. Two students noticed Turner on top of the half-naked woman, who wasn't moving, on the ground behind a campus dumpster. He ran. They chased and caught him, they testified. The jury rejected Turner’s story that the victim consented. And prosecutors asked for six years in state prison.
Judge Aaron Persky instead gave Turner what will likely amount to three months, in the county jail rather than state prison. The overly lenient sentence might have gotten little notice but for the searing and eloquent letter by the 23-year-old victim, who read it aloud in a Santa Clara County courtroom.
If there are any doubts about the violence and enduring damage of rape, her words should obliterate them. She told of waking up on a hospital gurney, learning that she had been attacked and wondering whether her body was contaminated or who had touched it: “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital.” Amid nightmares or sleepless nights, she has become someone she hardly recognizes, guarded, timid, empty. "You took away my worth, my privacy ... my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today."
Even so, she did not want to see Turner “rot away in prison.” But she did want justice and found the probation officer’s recommendation for a year or less in a county jail to be “a mockery of the seriousness” of his crime and of her pain. And so it is.
In sentencing, Persky cited Turner’s youth, his lack of any "significant" criminal record and his intoxication during the attack. The judge seemed to buy into Turner’s self-portrayal as a small-town Ohio boy, an “inexperienced drinker and party goer,” despite prosecution evidence that Turner had smoked marijuana, taken drugs and used alcohol in high school. Nor did the judge take note that Turner tried to shift responsibility, attributing his crime to “poor decision-making and excessive drinking.”
If this case were a singular event, it would be bad enough. But the story of the privileged college athlete getting little or no punishment for sexual assault has become a cliché. In the latest episode, an investigation found last month that Baylor University officials discouraged victims from even reporting allegations of assault by football players to police.
Even when courts do get involved, some judges shockingly treat rape lightly, particularly when it doesn't involve a knife or a gun.
In 2014, a man who admitted raping a 14-year-old schoolmate when he was 18, was sentenced to 45 days in jail. Dallas Judge Jeanine Howard, proving a woman judge can be just as clueless as a man, explained that the girl “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be” and the defendant “was not your typical offender.”
In 2013, a Montana judge sentenced a teacher to serve just one month for raping a 14-year-old student, who later killed herself. His reasons? The adolescent was “as much in control of the situation” as the perpetrator, and the sexual assault wasn’t “some violent, forcible horrible rape.”
Such twisted thinking belongs nowhere in the justice system. To set the record straight, rape — even without a conventional weapon — is a violent crime. Some attackers use alcohol as their weapon, finding a woman too drunk to consent. Children and teenagers do not entice adults to rape them. And first offenders do not get a pass for their first rape.
Judges should, of course, take into account a defendant’s character, record and remorse — but not to the extent that it outweighs the impact on the victim or undermines deterrence.
That said, calls for violence against Judge Persky are wrong, and the calls for his removal are overdone. An otherwise fair judge should not lose his job for a single misjudgment.
Nevertheless, the public backlash is a heartening sign of progress in understanding this often misunderstood crime. Those on the bench should pay attention. Until women believe that convicted rapists will get serious punishment, even fewer will be willing to report sexual assaults and endure humiliating investigations and trials.
Originally posted by USA Today
By The Editorial Board
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