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!