Widespread outrage continues to emerge since Tuesday, June 7 when Santa Clara Superior Court judge Aaron Persky decided to give former Stanford University swimmer, Brock Turner, a six-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. The incident, which occurred after midnight on January 18, 2015, involved an intoxicated Turner taking a heavily intoxicated and fully unconscious woman behind a dumpster and raping her before two men caught him in the act, chased him down, called police and held Turner until law enforcement arrived. As such, there exists little to no ambiguity as to whether or not Turner committed the rape and therefore, no room for plausible deniability from Turner or his legal team. Nevertheless, under Persky’s belief that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Turner will avoid prison, spend six months in the county jail and withhold the ability to appeal upon good behavior after three.
The sentence, quite undoubtedly, is overly lenient and immensely infuriating. Not only did ample evidence exist to prove Turner committed the crime, but Turner was charged with five different felonies that night, for which he could have received a maximum prison sentence of 14 years and was recommended by prosecutors to receive a six-year prison sentence.
For reference, let’s juxtapose Turner’s case against the most recent of its ilk; when, in early 2013, 19-year-old African-American Cory Batey, a now-former Vanderbilt University football player, was accused of the sexual assault of an unconscious woman. Like Turner, Batey and his victim were heavily intoxicated on the night of the incident and ample evidence (in this case, photographs and videos) existed to prove his guilt. In April of 2016, a Tennessean jury found Batey guilty of aggravated rape in the assault of an unconscious woman and sentenced him to a minimum of 15 to 25 years in prison.
This is not to suggest that Batey instead deserved a three-to-six month jail sentence — his acts were equal parts disgusting and reprehensible and were properly treated as such by the justice system — but it serves to illustrate a disparity and obvious racial and socioeconomic biases of judge Persky. Batey, unlike the judge who oversaw his case, is a black male. Turner, like judge Persky, is white. Also, like Turner (who, as a standout swimmer at Stanford, was set to compete in Olympic trials upon eligibility), Persky was formerly a standout athlete at Stanford himself, serving as captain of the lacrosse team. These facts, combined with Persky’s penchant for leniency toward Turner, make it impossible to disregard the influence that externalities had on Persky’s decision.
Of course, one, as many have, could rightfully argue that Turner’s sentencing along with his permanent registering as a sex offender and ban from Stanford’s campus is a very heavy, lasting expense that all resulted from irresponsible drinking. Sure, that’s fair. However, any penalization Turner has had to pay, severely pales in comparison to the unshakeable mental and emotional traumatization that the unidentified 23-year-old victim is forced to carry with her. A traumatization which is only further exacerbated by a lenient sentencing, Turner’s father’s suggestion that his son should not have to serve hard time for “20 minutes of action,” his mother’s misguided concern for the effect this incident has on her son and Turner’s blatant disregard and outright apathy toward the victim herself.
Persky’s actions in this case are arguably as deplorable as Turner’s. He had access to all of the evidence, had all the facts presented and listened to a chillingly heartbreaking 12-page letter from the victim herself and yet, decided a six-month jail sentence was fitting. It is a ruling which illustrates both male and racial privilege to the greatest degree and only further heightens the concern many hold toward the lack of racial equitability within the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the ruling provides little relief for female students whose concerns about safety on a college campus are already at the forefront.
It is the overall disregard for the victim from both the Turner party and the so-called justice system that make this an issue not solely subject to Stanford and the Santa Clara Superior Court, but one that is particularly troubling for female students throughout the nation, including those among UC campuses. If the party culture was indeed a factor in Turner’s actions, as he claimed, this is a culture which is prevalent on just about every campus throughout the nation and one already ridden with the over objectification and sexualization of women. Not knowing if a rapist will be properly penalized for their actions only serves to heighten this concern and, more troublingly, decreases deterrence toward committing rape.
It is not important that Turner had a potentially bright and lucrative future or even that he may not seem to impose future damage. What is important is that he imposed extensive damage on the livelihood of a helpless woman on one night on January 18, 2015. It should have been imperative that the instance be viewed solely as what it was — undeniable rape of an unconscious woman — and not skewed by the color, background or future of the man who knowingly committed it.