Rape, privilege and justice. (Off-topic).

Tonight I’m going to write about something that isn’t directly San Francisco-related, or education-related, but it’s of importance to men, to women, and to people who have sons or daughters.

In early 2015, a young woman went to a party at Stanford University and got drunk. Very drunk. A few hours later, two cyclists saw a man on top of a body behind a dumpster. They yelled. He ran. They followed, apprehended him, and held him down until the police came. The young woman was taken to a hospital where she was found to have been raped. Here’s her blisteringly honest perspective on that evening and what happened next (taken from a letter she read her attacker, a star swimmer named Brock Allen Turner, on the day he was sentenced in court).

Brock Allen Turner, or Brock Turner depending on how formal you want to be, was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Judge Aaron Persky, a Stanford alum and onetime lacrosse coach at the university, decided he should serve only six months in county jail with probation, even though the offenses could have landed him in state prison for up to 14 years (prosecutors recommended six years).

In his decision, Judge Persky said that “prison would have a severe impact” on Brock Turner, and that he doubted Brock Allen Turner would be “a danger to others.” This is  not the first time Judge Persky has issued a lenient decision in a campus rape case.

I have teenage daughters, and I fear for their safety always in situations where drugs and alcohol are involved. Still, I think my anger in this case is related to the fact that, like many women, I was raped by an acquaintance in college after a night of drinking. I never reported it, because the situation was consensual up to a point, until it wasn’t. I was confused enough, and drunk enough, that I could never completely make sense of what happened, even though I felt violated and ashamed after he left. I never spoke to him again.

How is OK for one person to violate another, just because alcohol is involved? How is it OK for a judge to essentially slap a convicted rapist on the wrist, because of the “severe impact” of laws we’ve put in place to deter just this kind of predatory behavior? And if the circumstances were the same, but the attacker had been a young black man from East Palo Alto rather than a white, star Stanford swimmer named Brock Allen Turner, would the sentence have been the same? I think it would have been far harsher.

Judge Aaron Persky took class and privilege into account. He looked into the future, at the future a young, affluent, white, Olympic-hopeful athlete from Stanford could have, and he felt empathy. He thought, “well, one bad decision shouldn’t derail a bright future.” He could even have thought back to his own college experiences and bad decisions, and thought “boys will be boys,” because even at my own elite women’s college in the mid-1980s, that was the prevailing view. I didn’t tell my friends about my experience because I thought they would judge me for choosing to put myself in a vulnerable situation.

Anyway, I wish Judge Persky had felt the same empathy for the victim, who is still dealing with the consequences of that night in January almost 18 months ago. She’ll never shed it completely, especially since Judge Aaron Persky looked at her, and looked at her attacker, Brock Allen Turner, and decided it was more important to protect his future than uphold justice for her.

Brock Allen Turner of Ohio was convicted of three counts of sexual assault, carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years in state prison under California law. Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County Superior Court decided his offense, over the heartfelt pleas of the victim and strenuous objections from prosecutors, deserved just six months and probation. Let’s remember this injustice.

TAKING ACTION: I don’t recommend filling out change.org petitions because the change.org business model is essentially to generate leads for nonprofit and advocacy organizations that want to solicit those leads for donations (i.e., they sell your information to others). Still, there is some good information in this petition on how to lodge a complaint against the judge.

Oh. P.S.: In a letter to Judge Persky, Brock Allen Turner’s dad, Dan A. Turner of Dayton Ohio, called the rape “20 minutes of action” and says therefore that justifies a very lenient sentence. SMH. (full letter here in case it gets taken down).

P.P.S. Columnist Scott Herold of the San Jose Mercury News thinks we should all be OK with a lenient sentence, because, you know, campus drinking culture. Yay Brock Allen Turner for increasing awareness!



11 responses to “Rape, privilege and justice. (Off-topic).

  1. Rachel,
    Thank you for this post. It takes courage to share your experience and it also takes courage to point out that white privilege, class and sexism play a huge role in sentencing within our criminal justice system. This overtly lenient sentence clearly demonstrates how white, male privileged functions within our legal system to the detriment of our own society, particularly women’s rights and their ability to access due process. As women’s legal rights erode nationally, we need to press our local courts so a prejudiced system does not slowly diminish the scope of our rights nor our access to legal system which is not supposed to reinforce bias.

  2. This is why I’ll never vote for anyone else. You’re tremendous. Thank you for your brave leadership on this and so many other hard topics.

  3. I applaud your courage in speaking out publicly about this. Very important.

  4. Holly Herndon

    Total respect to you for speaking out and sharing your story, Rachel. It’s happened to so many of us. May we create a world where it doesn’t happen to our daughters.

  5. Oh, but this is education-related and your courage with sharing your story shows how sexual assault changes and stays with you.

  6. I was assaulted in high school and again after college. I didn’t have the words to express what happened to me (16 and 11 years ago) until very recently. The first time I was shamed into silence by our mutual friends who insisted it must have been consensual. The second time I was tired and finally gave in to a man I had just met who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I doubt either of those men remember the incidents as sexual assault, but they were. The more of us who are brave enough to share our experiences, the more we can pull back the curtain on the rape culture that impacts us all.

  7. I was sexually assaulted on a Canadian university last year. I am very sorry about your terrible experience, but I’m glad you spoke out, for yourself and all women who are survivors of sexual assault.

  8. Leslie Spring

    Well done, Rachel! Terrific piece. I am so sorry this happened to you. You are so brave and articulate. This whole case just made me sick. Thanks for your honesty. And for helping all of us with your voice. It’s an honor to know you.

  9. Thanks Amy! and thanks for the correction. I’ve rephrased accordingly.

  10. Wonderful piece. I’m so sorry about your awful experience, and grateful to you for speaking out about it here. That must be difficult.

    One slight correction: the victim in a criminal case may have an attorney, but the prosecutor is not “her lawyer.” He is OURS, the people’s, charged with protecting us from crime. And WE should be outraged that a judge was so unheeding of the requirements of justice. WE are less safe from Brock Turner and others who look at this case and see permission to rape someone who’s incapacitated.