Outrage has ensued after a California judge ruled to give a former Stanford University swimmer a six-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
Brock Turner, former Stanford University swimmer, was convicted of three felonies: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person; sexual penetration of an unconscious person with a foreign object; and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person with a foreign object. The 20-year-old Dayton, Ohio native faced up to 10 years in prison, but received a far lighter sentence. He has been sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious 23-year-old woman in January 2015. This controversial decision has sparked public indignation.
Santa Clara County Superior Judge Aaron Persky, who has been identified as a Stanford alumnus, explained the light sentence, saying, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” The judge also stated that Turner had been negatively affected by the intense media coverage and that “there is less moral culpability attached to the defendant, who is…intoxicated.”
Judge Persky faced reelection on Tuesday, but the election was cancelled because there were no challengers. However, steps are being taken in order to ensure he will not be able to complete his six-year term.
“His victory will be short-lived,” Michelle Dauber, Stanford law professor said, “I am 100% confident we will recall him. His decision hit every woman in the state of California in the gut.”
Dauber has started a website in order to recall Judge Aaron Persky; the website accepts donations and has already received over $26,000 towards its $100,000 goal. In addition to this, over 500,000 people have signed a Change.org online petition calling for Persky’s removal from the bench. The petition’s opening states:
“Despite a unanimous guilty verdict, three felony convictions, the objections of 250 Stanford students, Jeff Rosen the district attorney for Santa Clara, as well as the deputy district attorney who likened Turner to ‘a predator searching for prey’ Judge Persky allowed the lenient sentence suggested by the probation department…Please help rectify this travesty to justice.”
The case itself was met with controversy before the light sentence was reached because the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department did not release Turner’s mugshot for months, prompting online fury as news outlets were only using Brock Turner’s smiling yearbook photo. This fueled the belief that a tactic was being used to preserve Turner’s identity. On Monday, the sheriff’s department finally released Turner’s mugshot from the day of his trial, later releasing his original 2015 booking photo. The story is that the Stanford Department of Public Safety originally arrested Turner, but it was up to the the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department to decide whether or not to release the mugshot. James Jensen, a public information official for the Santa Clara’s Sheriff’s Department revealed that although the image is available in the county network, it is the responsibility of the arresting agency, in this case, the Stanford Department of Public Safety, to decide whether or not to release the image.
During the time the image was withheld, comparisons were drawn to representations of people of color who commit crimes and of how quickly their mugshots are released. Releasing the image is only one of the steps taken to stop the attempt of preserving Turner’s image. In the victim’s statement, she describes how she found out about her attack:
“I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me…I read something that I will never forgive; I read that according to him, I liked it. It’s like as if you were to read an article where a car was hit, and found dented, in a ditch. But maybe the car enjoyed being hit…Then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming.”
Turner, 20, was found guilty in March. He claimed the victim had consented to sex. However, at his sentencing Thursday, his victim read an emotional letter explaining the “severe impact” the assault had on her. After she released the 12-page, single-spaced letter to the media, it went viral.
“Your Honor, if it is all right, for the majority of this statement I would like to address the defendant directly,” she said, continuing with, “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”
The victim was assaulted at a party on Stanford University’s campus she attended with her younger sister. The victim was not a Stanford University student. Due to her intoxication level, she could not remember the assault, but described her feelings after the rape kit examination occurred at the hospital:
“After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take my body off like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”
Turner’s original statement implied that consent had been established. One year after the incident, he described the events of the night as having had clear boundaries of consent.
“According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down. Note; if a girl falls down help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls down, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her vagina.”
The victim was rescued by two Swedish graduate students on bicycles. The Swedish graduate students who came to the victim’s rescue have spoken about the incident. The students—Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson— key witnesses in the case, were riding their bikes through campus when they witnessed Turner sexually assaulting a woman on the ground behind a dumpster. In the victim’s statement, she described how Turner ran and was tackled by one of them. When the policeman arrived and interviewed the man who tackled Turner, “he (Jonsson) was crying so hard he couldn’t speak because of what he’d seen.”
Arndt told the Swedish news outlet Expressen on Tuesday. Turner was “aggressively thrusting his hips into her,” but the woman was not moving, the students told the authorities.
“She was unconscious, the entire time. I checked her and she didn’t move at all,” Arndt told CBS News
When they approached Turner, he ran. Jonsson ran after Turner and stopped him; the two men restrained him, called the police, and held Turner until the police arrived. The victim addresses these two men in her statement, saying, “Most importantly, thank you to the two men who saved me…I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story.”
In her statement, she describes how she hoped Turner would understand the wrong in his actions, but the only consequence he seems to have understood from the situation is that his swimming career has been jeopardized and that he understands what a night of heavy drinking can do. After all the proof and the witnesses’ statements, Turner has only admitted to ingesting alcohol that night, repeatedly claiming the sex was consensual. In a letter he wrote to Judge Persky, he states, “I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone. But I never ever meant to intentionally hurt [redacted]…I wish I never was good at swimming or had the opportunity to attend Stanford, so maybe the newspapers wouldn’t want to write stories about me.”
If Turner’s reaction wasn’t horrifying enough, there has been further backlash due to a statement released by Brock Turner’s father, Dan, in which he asked the judge to grant his son probation because he had already paid “a steep price…for 20 minutes of action.”
“He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile,” he wrote of his son. “He has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015. Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.”
Turner’s grandparents have also spoken in support of their grandson, describing the kindness Turner showed towards an uncle, Scott, who had a physical disability and died at 38. His grandparents are on record as saying, “Brock is the only person being held accountable for the actions of other irresponsible adults.” His friends and family are petitioning for a lighter sentence.
These statements have been met with outrage on social media, however, Dan Turner’s words have been more widely publicized, with many rebuking the tone of the letter and attacking Turner’s father’s casual tone about his son committing a brutal sexual assault.
The victim has expressed disappointment at the “gentle” sentence, but she is “overwhelmed and speechless” at the support she has received in the form of the recall campaign towards the judge who sentenced her attacker.
“Even if the sentence is light, hopefully this will wake people up,” she said. “I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”
She concludes her statement:
“As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, ‘Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.’ Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”