“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”
This summer, a Stanford swimmer named Brock Turner drunkenly sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, after which the survivor wrote these words in an open, heart-wrenching letter to Turner. The case garnered national attention after she read this deeply personal letter about her emotional and physical trauma aloud in court.
Turner eventually received a mere six-month sentence for the brutal and violent crime he had committed. In fact, he spent only three months in jail, before being released for “good behavior.” His lenient sentence sparked outrage in the U.S. over how poorly the justice system handles rape cases.
There is no shortage of disheartening statistics about rape and sentencing. During Turner’s short prison term alone, roughly 325,000 women were raped in the United States. That’s 1.3 million women raped each year. Of these 1.3 million cases, 65% go unreported. In America, only three percent of rapists see jail time. Rape is a serial crime, so rapists are likely to be repeat offenders. Giving little or no jail time for rape puts entire communities at risk.
In this rape case, the judge assigned an aggressor the role of a victim. Judge Aaron Persky looked at Turner and saw a young, successful, talented, white male athlete with a promising future. Persky explained the lenient sentencing by saying he “think[s] that he [Turner] will not be a danger to others” and did not want to make this young man a victim by “ruining his life” with more serious jail time.
By treating Turner as a victim, Persky trivialized the severity of his crime. Turner’s gruesome and violent actions were his own, regardless of whether he was under the influence of alcohol. The lenient sentencing showed mercy for the wrong victim.
Judge Persky said that Turner deserved a short sentence because prison would have “a severe effect on him [Turner]”. Turner did not deserve the judge’s sympathy; he deserved the severe effects of prison, because he had a severe, irreversible, impact on the young woman he raped behind a dumpster.
In the victim’s heartbreaking letter, she called out Turner’s probation officer for minimizing her trauma. “The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, and of the consequences of the pain I have been forced to endure.”
The California justice system failed by trivializing a sexual assault and treating the attacker like a victim. The soft sentencing of this case sends the message that California does not care about the safety of its female citizens, that a woman’s violent assault is irrelevant if the assailant is white, talented, and has dreams for the future.
By giving a rapist a sentence unworthy of his crime, the California justice system blatantly neglected this woman and every other victim of sexual assault. Our country must learn from this case and change the way we discuss sexual assault.
Because she had dreams for the future too. Because there was only one victim that night, and it was most definitely not the rapist. Because no amount of “good behavior” will make up for his behavior behind the dumpster. Because no matter who committed the crime, it will not be okay.
It will never be okay.