A Santa Clara County judge’s decision to sentence a former Stanford University swimmer to a relatively light six months in jail for the sexual assault of a drunken and unconscious woman at a fraternity party has sparked national outrage and an online campaign to remove him from the bench.
Victims’ rights advocates called Judge Aaron Persky’s punishment last week of 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner a slap on the wrist. Their anger was fueled by a statement from the swimmer’s father, who told the court that his son’s life shouldn’t be ruined because of “20 minutes of action.”
As the case has exploded into the spotlight, tens of thousands of people have flooded sites like Change.org to voice their support for an effort to remove from the bench the 54-year-old judge, who is up for re-election Tuesday but is running unopposed.
During the sentencing phase of the trial last week, the 23-year-old victim read an emotional 7,244-word letter to Turner, recounting what happened to her outside a fraternity party the night of Jan. 18, 2015, and laying out in precise and poignant detail the trauma she has struggled with since. The letter was picked up by the website Buzzfeed and went viral over the weekend; on Monday, a CNN anchor, Ashleigh Banfield, read the entire statement on the air.
One night, two lives
“I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect,” the woman wrote.
“You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again,” she said. “Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
The statement written by Turner’s father, Dan Turner, also went viral. He wrote that his son’s “life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.”
Prosecutors had sought a six-year state prison sentence for Turner after he was convicted of three sexual assault charges. In sentencing him to six months in county jail instead, Persky said he had weighed Turner’s lack of criminal history, character and his demonstration of remorse.
Turner, a champion swimmer from Dayton, Ohio, who participated in the 2012 Olympic Trials, will have to register as a sex offender on the California Department of Justice’s online database when he is released. He left Stanford after being arrested.
Persky, a former sex-crimes prosecutor in the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office, was appointed to the Superior Court bench by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. A spokesman for the court said the judge is barred from commenting on the case because it is under appeal.
Persky’s sentence and the comments from Turner’s defenders exemplify the conflicting attitudes about sexual assaults on college campuses versus those that happen elsewhere, victims’ rights advocates said.
‘Slap on the wrist’
“This sentence was a complete slap on the wrist. It’s unbelievable,” said Sofie Karasek, who co-founded End Rape on Campus, a sexual-violence victims’ rights group that’s working to reform how campuses and law-enforcement agencies respond to sex assaults.
Karasek said the case highlights the pervasiveness of sexual violence on college campuses, and how many sex assault cases are trivialized as a result of college drinking culture with criminal charges never filed.
The case prompted strong reactions well outside Stanford. San Francisco school board member Rachel Norton revealed on her SF Board of Education blog that she had been raped at a college party in the 1980s while she was drunk, but had kept quiet because “I felt guilty about it like it was my fault.”
She thought things had changed in the three decades since then, Norton said in an interview. But despite Turner’s conviction, his sentencing indicates there’s still a blame-the-victim mind-set that’s alive and well, she said.
“This incident really crystallized that things haven’t changed. It’s still her fault,” Norton said. “I just would have hoped we would have moved so much more from (the idea) a girl deserves it if she gets drunk or wears a short skirt.”
In his plea for leniency, Turner told the judge that he was making preparations to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.”
Victim takes issue
But speaking directly to Turner, his victim shredded the idea that her assault was merely a result of too much booze, saying “You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone?”
The woman wrote that she had decided on the spur of the moment to attend the party with her younger sister, and that she hadn’t expected the alcohol she drank to affect her as intensely as it did.
“I was the wounded antelope of the herd, completely alone and vulnerable, physically unable to fend for myself, and he (Turner) chose me,” she wrote. “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else.”
Karasek said Turner’s sentence “sends a message to survivors that if this happens to you, things won’t work out for you. I was infuriated at the sentence, but I wasn’t surprised. I remember when (Turner) was found guilty. I said, ‘I bet he’s hardly going to serve time because rapists never serve time.’ I wish I had been proven wrong.”
The crime happened after a party at the Kappa Alpha fraternity on the Stanford campus. Around 1 a.m., two graduate students riding bikes on Lomita Court came across Turner lying on top of the partially clothed, unconscious woman in a field next to garbage bins near the fraternity.
The students tackled the freshman after he tried to run away, then called police. The victim was treated at a hospital where she awoke on a gurney covered in dried blood, pine needles and bandages.
Turner told police that he had seven cans of beer that night and was having consensual sex with the woman. A jury found him guilty of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person.
“The predatory offender has failed to take responsibility, failed to show remorse and failed to tell the truth,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said Thursday. “The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault, or the victim’s ongoing trauma.”
But on Monday, Rosen stopped short of saying Persky should be removed from his judgeship.
Thousands urge recall
That opinion stands in contrast to the tens of thousands who have signed online petitions calling for the judge’s removal.
“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,” Miami resident Maria Ruiz wrote on one Change.org petition.
That petition urges people to fill out a complaint form to submit to the Commission on Judicial Performance.
Recalling a Superior Court judge in California is not easy. Petitioners in the district must gather enough signatures to reach the equivalent of at least 20 percent of the previous election’s vote, according to the secretary of state’s office.
Chronicle staff writer Jill Tucker contributed to this report.
Read the victim’s full statement here.
- Recalled judge in Stanford sex assault case fired from girls tennis coaching job
- Augmented reality brings to life words of Stanford sex assault survivor
- Stanford sex assault survivor ‘Emily Doe’ reveals name with new memoir
- PIO doc gets 3 life sentences for sex assault on patients in UK
- British Family Doctor Given Life Sentence for 90 Sex Assaults on Women and Girl Patients
- Stanford sex assailant Brock Turner appeals conviction, outraging activists
- Ohio Superintendent Gets Max 10-Year Sentence for Sexually Assaulting Students
- Chilling moment burglar entered home of widow, 89, before subjecting her to horrific SEVEN-HOUR sex assault and violence ordeal ending in her brutal murder - as he is given three life sentences
- GP Manish Shah jailed for 90 sex assaults on patients
- Man Gets Prison In 'Torturous' Bristol Sex Assault
- Man Gets Prison In 'Torturous' Bristol Sex Assault (ICYMI)
- Panel clears judge of bias in sentencing of Brock Turner
- ‘Surprise’ ruling halts push to oust Brock Turner’s judge, Persky
- TUI passenger who was groped in front of his son, 10, by a drunken mother, 38, who tried to perform a sex act on him during flight to Turkey claims she was only spared jail because she’s a woman
- Site of Brock Turner assault at Stanford turned into commemorative park
- State officials say recall effort against judge should move forward
- The other reason for Brock Turner's short sentence
- Bettina Arndt hits back at ’poisonous’ side of feminism as backlash grows against her Australia Day honour
- Mother, 38, is spared jail for trying to commit sex act on male passenger on TUI flight after ditching her daughter, 7
- GP who used Jade Goody's cancer to do intimate exams jailed over 90 sex offences
Outrage growing over judge’s sentencing in Stanford sex assault have 1740 words, post on www.sfchronicle.com at June 7, 2016. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.