In January 2015, Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner was arrested for raping an unconscious woman outside of a fraternity house. Turner, who was the subject of a very sympathetic “once-promising” Washington Post write up, was caught mid-rape by two men who happened to be riding their bikes nearby.
According to testimony in Turner’s March trial, one of the bicyclists yelled, “What are you doing?” at Turner, who proceeded to run away. The bicyclists managed to wrestle Turner to the ground. The former Stanford swimmer, now 20, was convicted of multiple felonies including assault with attempt to rape.
On Thursday, prosecutors asked sentencing judge Aaron Persky to sentence Turner to six years in a state prison, though the maximum for his crimes is 14 years. But the judge instead decided to side with the probation officer and sentenced Turner to a mere six months in county jail. The Guardian reports that Persky cited Turner’s age and lack of previous criminal history as the reason for his decision. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him…I think he will not be a danger to others,” Persky said.
Persky’s sentencing factors have shades of that “once-promising” narrative, singularly focused on the well-being of rapist rather than the victim; it’s concern—the emphasis on the “severe impact” punishment could potentially have Turner—over the real, tangible crimes Turner committed. Perhaps the sentence shouldn’t be surprising, after all, only three out of every 100 rapists will spend a day in prison. Those numbers dwindle significantly for other sex-related felonies, like the ones Turner was convicted of.
Yet this sentencing seems particularly callous, particularly given the statement delivered at Turner’s hearing by the 23-year-old victim. In the courtroom, the victim looked directly at Turner and asked him, “I was awake, right?”, refuting Turner’s insistence throughout the trial that she was conscious throughout the encounter and verbally consented.
She also, Palo Alto Online reports, directly refuted large portions of Turner’s statement in which he blamed “campus drinking culture” and “the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that,” for raping a woman. She took particular issue with Turner’s false repentance (“I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life,” Turner wrote in his statement). The victim said in court:
“Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, 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. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. 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.”
In her statement, too, the woman seized on the story that surrounded Turner—one that made him a victim of some inevitable circumstances, rather than a felon. A familiar narrative about rape and assault in which the effect of his crimes are diminished so that an upstanding young man could be mourned, so that he could be the victim:
“In newspapers, my name was “unconscious intoxicated woman”, ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster, while you are the All-American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake. I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, who waited a year to figure out if I was worth something.”
She also spoke directly about the probation officer’s recommendation, saying that she didn’t want Turner “to rot away in prison,” but rather for him to “understand and admit to his wrongdoing.” It, however, became clear to her after reading Turner’s statement (where he reiterated that he was drunk, she was conscious, the encounter was consensual, and drinking and hookup culture were the real culprits), that he was unable to “exhibit...remorse.”
“I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of promiscuity. By definition rape is the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.”
After hearing and reading her statement, the judge still sentenced Turner to six months, though, as Palo Alto Online notes, it will more than likely be reduced to three months “with credit for good behavior.”
The county prosecutor said, “The punishment does not fit the crime.” It hardly ever does, but at least Turner’s future is still promising.
Read her full statement here.
Screenshot via ABC 7