By now, you’ve probably heard of the Stanford Rape Case, but in case you haven’t, here’s a refresher:
- In January, 2015, former Stanford student Brock Allen Turner severely sexually assaulted an unconscious woman, who was on campus visiting her sister. Two passing men on bikes happened to see the assault in progress. Turner realized he’d been spotted, and attempted to flee, but the witnesses managed to catch him and call the authorities.
- The woman woke up in the hospital not realizing what happened, until she had to undergo the traumatic and jarring examinations that accompany sexual assault and rape.
- Turner was brought before the court this past month, and the woman who survived his attack was made to ensure invasive, unfair, and aggressive questioning about her character and possible culpability by Turner’s defense lawyers. Throughout the trial, the survivor had spoken out against the legal system’s approach to sexual assault, calling out the defense team for questioning irrelevancies like what she was wearing that night, appearing blatantly to impugn her character and implicate that perhaps she was culpable for what happened.
- Before sentencing, the survivor read a brutally honest account of Turner’s assault and the life-shattering aftermath.The account clearly and painstakingly detailed the immense damage Turner’s actions had on her life and the lives of her family members.
- The sentencing judge on the case, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, convicted Turner of three counts of felony sexual assault: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
- Judge Persky then sentenced Turner to only 6 months in jail. In his sentencing statements, he added that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” With good behavior, he is expected to serve only three of those six months.
- Turner went on to continually deny culpability or to take responsibility for anything but drinking too much, and continues to allege that his victim was conscious and consenting, despite the fact that the court found otherwise. As if to add insult to injury, he has stated that he plans to start a cause in which he’ll “teach and educate” college students about the negative effects of a culture of excessive drinking and the “sexual promiscuity that comes from that.”
- Turner’s father, who bemoaned how the trial was making his son so depressed that he’ll “never again be his happy-go-lucky self”, then stated that Turner should not have to go to jail for “twenty minutes of action.”
- Turner’s attorneys say that they will appeal the sentence.
White privilege shielded Turner from the sentence he deserved.
There is so much here that is clearly and obviously atrocious, indicative of the many levels on which our legal system is deeply flawed when it comes to handling sexual assault. It is clear, and was basically bluntly stated, that Turner’s privilege as a wealthy white male directly resulted in an absurdly lenient sentence. These things are true, and it’s right to be angry about them and about the broader systemic sicknesses they represent.
However, where does one go from there?
There’s no changing Turner’s sentence. He’ll do his 3 months, 6 at the most, while his survivor is left to pick up the pieces of her life. This isn’t acquiescence: it’s just the facts. What we in the general public can do is to remember his face, support the survivor of his crimes, speak our own truths, and make sure that what he did isn’t forgotten.
And, of course, attempt to right any future systemic wrongs that we can.
That’s where Persky comes in. It just so happens that Judge Aaron Persky, the judge who sentenced Turner–you remember, the one so concerned about his future–is currently up for re-election in Santa Clara County, and, since he is running unopposed, stands to be granted another term today. A running petition, however, is calling for his removal–and so should anyone who doesn’t support rape culture and the people who perpetuate it.
Persky’s decision to be so unduly lenient with Turner is the embodiment of a gamed system in which white, male, wealthy people routinely evade justice. And not just for the reasons you think: there’s every reason to believe that Persky, once himself an Olympic-hopeful athlete at Stanford, identified with Turner to such an extent that it biased his judgement about what does and does not constitute a person who is likely to harm others.
Without the explanation of bias, Persky’s ruling makes very little sense. Just hearing such jarring, raw testimony about the crimes Turner committed from the woman who survived them, coupled with Turner’s continued refusal to admit his she was not consenting, should have been enough to make any reasonable judge realize the gravity of the situation and act accordingly.
In addition to this indisputable reality, if anyone should know the impact of sexual assault and rape on the people who survive it–and the likelihood that people let off on charges will rape and assault again–it should be Persky. He worked for years as a persecutor against perpetrators of sexual violence, a fact he often likes to tote around. Given all of that context, it seems that Persky acted with favorable bias toward a criminal because he was a young man he related to, due to shared class, race, and sex. Critics agree: Stanford law professor Michele Dauber told NBC News that she “can’t fathom” what Persky was thinking. “The judge had to bend over backwards to accommodate this young man,” Dauber said. “I think he was very persuaded by the background of the young man as an elite athlete.”
That is the position of the petition to have him removed from office, which has been signed by nearly 400,000 people as of Tuesday afternoon. The petition’s mission statement reads as follows:
“We the people would like to petition that Judge Aaron Persky be removed from his Judicial position for the lenient sentence he allowed in the Brock Turner rape case. 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. Turner has shown no remorse and plans to attempt to overturn his conviction. Judge Persky failed to see that the fact that Brock Turner is a white male star athlete at a prestigious university does not entitle him to leniency. He also failed to send the message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender or other factors. Please help rectify this travesty to justice.”
The author of the petition goes on to state that, though some may think a judge cannot be removed this way, it is indeed possible, per California Law, to do so–the only catch being that the Supreme Court and/or the Senate (depending on which of the three possible ways to impeach a judge is pursued) must be convinced to hear the case.
Though betting on legislative bodies to actually represent their constituents is usually shaky at best, there is arguably significant outrage at Persky’s ruling to merit attention by lawmakers. Removing Persky would be at least one step in the right direction, an indication that this sort of blatant bias and disregard for sexual assault survivors, at least once, at least in this case, will not stand. So if you’re feeling hopeless, or infuriated, or saddened, or anything, really, about this case except for that it was just, here’s something you can do about it.