Brock Turner, sex-offender.
Like many of you, I am tired of looking at Brock Turner’s stupid face. His red-rimmed, blue eyes and puzzling Mona-Lisa smirk have flooded our feeds for months. For those of you who have somehow avoided the tragic timeline of events leading to Brock Turner’s infamy, let me bring you up to speed.
In January 2015, 20 year old Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on the Stanford campus. In June, he was sentenced to six months in county jail. The judge, Aaron Perksy, stated “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him … I think he will not be a danger to others.”, as his reason for this decision. Last Friday, Turner was released after serving only three months of his sentence for three sexual assault counts, including digital penetration of an unconscious woman and assault with intent to commit rape. He has since registered as a sex offender in Ohio, where he now lives at home with his parents.
During the hearing, the 23-year-old victim read a letter she had written to judge Perksy. She implored him not to perpetuate rape culture, stating “We cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault … The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly. We should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error.” In this letter, she described the severe impact Brock Turner’s actions had on her. The victim spoke of the night she learned she had been assaulted by a stranger while unconscious. She described the toll the trial itself had taken on her, during which Turner’s attorneys argued that she had eagerly consented. The victim addressed Turner directly, and told him “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today… I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt.” You can read her full letter here.
In the midst of these events unfolding, Judge Perksy has been heavily criticized for his handling of Brock Turner’s case. He recently voluntarily stepped down from hearing any criminal cases, and resumed work in with civil cases. However, he’ still be a judge, and since this was a voluntary demotion he can resume presiding over criminal cases at any time. Another potential outcome of this case is the passage of bill SB813 by the California State Assembly that “mandates prison terms for people who sexually assault an unconscious or heavily intoxicated victim.” This bill effectively closes a loophole that previously allowed rapists to avoid persecution, and will require a sentence for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious person. As it stands, a mandatory prison sentence is only required when physical force was used in a rape…which does not apply to rapes where the victim was intoxicated, drugged, or unconscious. The bill is currently waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
A recent White House survey found that 10% of female college students experience some form of sexual assault and that only 12.5% of rapes are reported. In 2012, an analysis completed by RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) used data from the Justice Department showed that 97% of rapists will never be punished for their crimes. Another RAINN study showed that 90% of adult rape victims are female, and women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Transgender students are also at a higher risk of sexual assasult; 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.
Light sentences makes rape victims feel like it’s not worth it to come forward when they’ve been abused. Sexual abuse is one of the only crimes where the victim blaming still seems to be acceptable in the court of law. The victim is often questioned about their attire, alcohol intake level, and promiscuous behavior at the occurrence of the assault. We need to work towards legislation that encourages victims to report their assaults, not deter them. Turner’s victim spoke the truth in her earnest plea to judge Perksy- we need to send a message to abusers that what they have done is a serious crime. We need to move to a place where a three month stay in country jail is no longer a fair trade for the victim’s lifetime of trauma. Even if the abuser in question is straight, white, middle-class, and male.