Brock Turner, the man who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on the night of January 18th, 2015, was released from prison on the morning of September 2. He was charged with the assault of a 22-year-old woman — called “Emily Doe” to protect her identity. She wrote a moving and eloquent letter detailing the assault, her perspective, and her trauma.
Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault — assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated/unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person. This conviction carries with it a potential sentence of fourteen years in prison. The prosecutors of the case recommended six years, and the Judge — Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky — sentenced Turner to six months in Santa Clara County Jail, followed by three years probation. Turner served three months of that sentence.
This is stomach-turning. It is appalling. It is, without a doubt, an example of rape culture. Both Turner’s actions and the sentencing feel like a blow to the gut — they leave you winded and outraged. And it is by no means surprising. Turner is white, male, and young (nineteen at the time of the assault.) He was a student-athlete. We have all seen the headlines and links describing Turner as first and foremost a swimmer — printing his swim times alongside facts about the case, and displaying his swim team photo instead of his mugshot. Though the empirical data is lacking, studies show that athletes are more likely to be arrested for sexual assault than the rest of the population, and yet less likely to be convicted. A study published in 1997 by the Sociology of Sport Journal analyzed 217 criminal complaints and found that 54% of arrests in the general population for sexual assault result in conviction, compared to 31% of athletes arrested for sexual assault.
In the past months, we have seen Daniel Holtzclaw, a man who used his power as an Oklahoma City police officer to look up women with prior convictions and force them to engage in sexual acts, was convicted of only eighteen of the thirty-six charges he faced. We watched as Jameis Winston, who now plays football in the NFL, received no jail time whatsoever for the assault of two of his fellow students – one of whom was driven out of the college town because she reported the crime. By now we are used to the fact that a rapist most often serves a much shorter sentence than those who are convicted of even drug-related and other non-violent crimes. This goes double if he is white and male. The conflagration of Turner’s privileges – his race, his gender, his class, and his status as an athlete — without a doubt indicate to the source of this extreme leniency.
Turner’s father wrote a letter defending his son, calling the charges “A steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action.” Gary Goodman, of the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office stated that Turner is “not a predator.” That it was “a bad mistake on that night. Nothing indicates it’s anything more or less than that. And he will suffer the consequences for the rest of his life.” This rhetoric is one that paints Turner as a young kid who somehow committed a crime ‘on accident’ – like mistakenly committing a parking violation, or perhaps jaywalking on an empty street. This language serves to remove Turner of culpability and erases the victim completely.
But, perhaps, the one note of distinction in this story is the outcry that has come out against both Turner and the sentence. And unlike many other stories, it is ongoing and palpable. Since the sentencing, there have been several “fuck rape culture” events hosted by GRLCVLT speaking out specifically against Judge Persky, calling to have him removed from office, as part of a movement to speak out against both assault and the extremely lenient treatment of it. The letter written by the victim went viral – here it is again, it is so important I decided to put it in twice, no wait make that three times — and Joe Biden wrote an open letter to the survivor, as well as all survivors.
Following Turner’s release and registration as a sex offender, armed protestors gathered outside his home. They have signs calling for the ‘Castration of All Rapists’ and carry assault rifles – garnering criticism as being counterproductive, and even dangerous. The protestors claim that they are technically following open carry laws in Oklahoma – where Turner is from – and declare that their presence and their protest is a political statement against all assaulters.
Also in response to Turner’s case has been California bill AB 2888 – which has been written to ensure minimum sentencing statutes in cases of sexual assault in California. California Assemblymember Nora Campos, one of the coauthors of the bill, stated on the day that Turner was released, that “We’re here because justice did not happen at 6 o’clock this morning” Campos also said, “We are here to stand with ‘Emily Doe.'” Campos spoke to the victim, saying “Emily, we know that that was a hard journey for you and your journey isn’t over. But we came forward and we’re here today to make sure that your voice, along with all the other women that have been assaulted from a sex crime, are heard.” The bill itself is not free from controversy – it has been criticized for likely contributing to the disproportionate conviction of people of color, as many minimum sentencing laws do, as well as contributing to prison overcrowding. Activist and survivor groups have come out against the bill for these reasons, but it is now heading over for review to California Gov. Jerry Brown.
There is no feeling of resolution to be had in a crime of this nature. Even when assault is prosecuted – and prosecuted adequately – the scars that remain last a lifetime. Perhaps the most important thing that we, as a community and a culture, can do is remember this crime, remember this victim and her words. We must hold onto the pain of it, the unfairness, and the outrage, and call for change. To try and affect change in our communities, in our legislature, and in our everyday lives, to try to stop such crimes.
Upon Turner’s release Santa Clara Country Sheriff Laurie Smith said “I think it was a wrong sentence…It’s a terrible crime. We have a victim. No woman should have to go through that,” she said. “And he should be in prison,” she added, “but we’re done with him today.”
photo source: Wikipedia
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