So­cial me­dia users slam judge on le­niency for ex-Stan­ford stu­dent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

Al­though a 23-year-old who was sex­u­ally as­saulted at Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity said she wanted her case to ig­nite “a tiny fire” about the is­sue of sex­ual as­sault, her words, aided by a pow­der keg of so­cial me­dia, may have started a wild­fire.

A re­call ef­fort is un­der­way against Santa Clara County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Aaron Per­sky, who sen­tenced Brock Allen Turner, a 20-year-old for­mer Stan­ford stu­dent, to six months in prison and three years’ pro­ba­tion for his crime. The judge said a length­ier term “would have a se­vere im­pact on him” and ar­gued that Turner posed no threat to those around him.

Crit­ics con­tend the sen­tence for Turner, who was found guilty in March on three counts of felo­nious sex­ual as­sault and faced a max­i­mum sen­tence of 14 years, was far too le­nient.

Santa Clara County District At­tor­ney Jeff Rosen said in a state­ment that the pun­ish­ment “did not fit the crime.” He noted that Turner failed to show re­morse for his ac­tions dur­ing the hear­ing and dis­played signs of be­ing a “preda­tory of­fender.”

Turner was an Olympic-cal­iber swim­mer on a schol­ar­ship at the pres­ti­gious uni­ver­sity be­fore with­draw­ing. He ad­mit­ted to drink­ing the night of the as­sault in Jan­uary 2015 but said the sex­ual con­tact was con­sen­sual.

He was ar­rested af­ter two cy­clists saw him ly­ing on top of an un­con­scious, half­naked wo­man be­hind a trash bin. They in­ter­vened and held him un­til po­lice ar­rived.

Af­ter Turner’s sen­tenc­ing, the vic­tim ad­dressed her at­tacker in the court­room and read a lengthy set of re­marks de­tail­ing her recollection of the as­sault and its af­ter­math as well as her dis­ap­point­ment with the out­come.

“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 rea­son for all of us to speak even louder.”

Buz­zFeed first pub­lished the ora­tion in a post that has since been viewed more than 9 mil­lion times. Last week, CNN an­chor Ash­leigh Ban­field ded­i­cated her en­tire one­hour pro­gram to read­ing the 7,244-word state­ment on the air.

By last Tues­day, a pe­ti­tion was launched call­ing for Judge Per­sky to be re­moved from the bench. It gar­nered nearly 400,000 sig­na­tures in less than 48 hours.

Vir­tual out­rage has trans­lated into re­al­world ac­tion. Michele Dauber, a Stan­ford law pro­fes­sor and a fam­ily friend of the vic­tim, is head­ing an ef­fort to re­call Judge Per­sky.

“He has made women at Stan­ford less safe,” Ms. Dauber told The Guardian. “The judge bent over back­wards in or­der to make an ex­cep­tion … and the mes­sage to women and stu­dents is ‘you’re on your own,’ and the mes­sage to po­ten­tial rapists is, ‘I’ve got your back.’”

The rapid­ness of how the events played out at Stan­ford and the in­flu­ence of so­cial me­dia were not lost on some ob­servers.

Shan­non Rauch, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Bene­dic­tine Uni­ver­sity who has re­searched the ef­fects of so­cial me­dia on be­hav­ior, said net­works such as Face­book and Twit­ter present a dou­ble-edged sword for po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.

They of­ten cap­ture heat-of-the-mo­ment, emo­tion­ally laden re­ac­tions to events, she said, which has the po­ten­tial to cat­alyze move­ments rapidly, such as in the case at Stan­ford.

“When peo­ple are an­gry, they are mo­ti­vated to see change hap­pen,” Ms. Rauch said. “So so­cial me­dia can def­i­nitely have a pos­i­tive im­pact.”

But the im­pas­sioned snap­shot cap­tured by the net­works also has the po­ten­tial to in­flame po­lit­i­cal dis­course, Ms. Rauch said, point­ing to stud­ies show­ing so­cial me­dia users “dis­pro­por­tion­ately ex­posed to mes­sages that are con­sis­tent with their own at­ti­tudes, which could partly ex­plain in­creased po­lar­iza­tion.”

Her stud­ies have shown that what mo­ti­vates users to log on — whether to find news or to in­ter­act with oth­ers — of­ten af­fects how they will be­have on the plat­forms.

In one study, Face­book users who sought to re­lieve bore­dom or so­cial­ize were more likely than those who used the site for news ag­gre­ga­tion to agree with racist com­ments.

Ms. Rauch said the sit­u­a­tion may be nat­u­rally mit­i­gated by in­no­va­tive plat­forms that of­fer more bal­anced ways of ag­gre­gat­ing news with­out tak­ing away the pos­i­tive as­pects of in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity.

“In the mean­time, how­ever, I would sug­gest that peo­ple ven­ture out­side of so­cial me­dia for their news and in­for­ma­tion,” she said.


Brock Allen Turner was sen­tenced to six months in prison and three years’ pro­ba­tion for rap­ing a wo­man af­ter a judge said a length­ier term “would have a se­vere im­pact on him.” The vic­tim’s re­sponse spread like wild­fire on so­cial me­dia, and a pe­ti­tion call­ing for a re­call of the judge gar­nered 400,000 sig­na­tures in 48 hours.

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