A Santa Clara (Calif.) County Superior Court judge handed down a sentence earlier this month that has us shaking our heads at the criminal justice system.
The case against Stanford University student Brock Turner seemed airtight. Two witnesses stumbled across him sexually assaulting a young woman behind a frat house Dumpster and tackled him as he tried to run away. The rape tests conducted on his victim, whose blood alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit, proved the assault. She was found unconscious, pants-less from the assault with her bra removed.
What more could a jury possibly want in finding a conviction for such a horrendous case? This was about as far away from the “he said, she said” dilemmas plaguing many of our nation’s college campuses as possible.
And a jury agreed, finding the 20-year-old college freshman guilty on all three felonies that he stood accused. For those who advocate on behalf of sexual assault victims, it seemed the Turner case was destined to be a shining example of justice in a difficult topic growing worse by the year.
But then Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky imposed his sentence: six months of incarceration in the county jail followed by three years of probation and a lifetime registration on the sex offender list. With good behavior, Turner will be released after three months behind bars. It was an outrageous abdication of justice in America.
The maximum penalty that Persky could have issued under the charges was 14 years in prison, and the county’s prosecutor was seeking six years of active incarceration given Turner’s otherwise clean record and other factors.
But Persky concluded that a lengthy prison sentence would “have a severe impact” on Turner, and decided to be far more lenient. Critics have begun a petition against the judge, saying his sentence smacks of “privilege” and favoritism, as Persky too was a Stanford student athlete and even helped coach the university’s lacrosse team after graduating.
Meanwhile, Dan Turner has also been lambasted in social media and by the press after he submitted a letter to the court requesting leniency for his son. Dan Turner’s letter praised his son’s academic and athletic gifts and blamed the crimes for which his son was found guilty as “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” He laments the effect that incarceration and a sex offender status will have on his son, but never addresses the unspeakable pain — physical, mental and emotional — that his son imposed upon his victim.
To this day, Turner has not admitted guilt in the incident and claims the sexual activity was mutual despite all facts dispelling such nonsense. He and his father blame the whole crime upon “the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.”
Brock Turner’s victim challenged that narrative from her attacker and his father in a powerful, moving victim impact statement at Turner’s sentencing.
“As this is a first offense I can see where leniency would beckon. On the other hand, as a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”
The woman quoted and responded to several of Turner’s statements for sentencing, including this one:
“You said, I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong.” In her statement, she responded: “Again, you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me. You were wrong for doing what nobody else was doing, (sexually assaulting) ... my naked, defenseless body concealed in a dark area, where partygoers could no longer see or protect me, and my own sister could not find me. Sipping Fireball is not your crime. Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to ... (sexually assault me), is where you went wrong. Why am I still explaining this.”
The public is right to be upset with Brock Turner and Judge Persky, but we are perhaps most angry with Dan Turner. As a father, your most important role is helping to shape the character of your children. Downplaying his son’s crime as “20 minutes of action” and aiding efforts to try to discredit his son’s victim only goes to show that Dan Turner is not the type of man that any should strive to be.
Citizens rarely have a chance to shape the judicial branch, but we do have the opportunity to shape our children. Teaching our sons to respect women and their rights to their bodies is as essential as teaching them how to read and write.
True change in our battle against sexual violence will start at home rather than in our courtrooms. A good start would be reading and discussing the victim impact statement delivered by the woman Brock Turner sexually assaulted.