On Friday, September 2nd, Brock Turner was released from prison in Santa Clara, California. The typical sentence for the crimes he committed is fourteen years. The prosecution requested six years. Turner was sentenced six months. He served three. He was out early, with probation, for “good behavior”.
Under current law, sexual assault is treated much differently if the victim is unconscious, and therefore unable to resist. California doesn’t consider such assaults to involve the use of force, which is the deciding factor for probation denial. This major hole in the law is what gave Judge Persky the ability to give such a grossly lenient sentence. On Monday, August 29th, a bill was passed in California to close that loophole. This bill now states that all perpetrators of penetrative sexual assault are denied probation, regardless of the state of the victim. If signed into law, this would make a three-year prison sentence the mandatory minimum for these crimes.
“If we let a rapist off with probation and little jail time, we re-victimize the victim, we dissuade other victims from coming forward and we send a message that sexual assault of an incapacitated victim is just no big deal,” a coauthor of the measure, Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D-Napa), said during the floor debate.
The bill itself, while a definite positive response to the issue, has received much criticism. Some victims’ rights groups say the bill is “too reactionary, and that policymaking should focus on prevention, survivor support, and processing rape kits” (Hilary Beaumont, Vice News).
One particularly strong point against this bill is about privilege, and Brock Turner’s experience is a perfect example. His family’s ability to afford the best lawyers, and put up a vicious defense is something that people from lesser privileged backgrounds cannot afford. Take the case of Brian Banks, for example. 13 years ago, he was falsely accused of rape as a high school student. He served five years, and lost his football scholarship to USC, but his accuser eventually recanted. He was from a less privileged background, unable to afford the security of the best lawyer available, and was given a sentence ten times longer than Brock. Sure, the minimum sentence will be three years, but many people with lesser legal counsel will not be able to plead down that low.
It’s important to see that the solution is not about mandatory minimums. It’s about fair and equal legal council, and unbiased judging. A petition has been passed around on the website Change.org, calling for the removal of Brock’s judge, Aaron Persky, specifically to force impeachment hearings.
There is no easy way to talk about these crimes. Privilege, race, and the acknowledgement of their effects is not an easy pill to swallow. Brock Turner’s case highlights cracks in our legal system and in our society, and it’s important to address them. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, and the statements released by Brock Turner and his family are heavy handed with victim blaming, and attempts to explain away his actions simply because he “has his whole life ahead of him”. But the effects of his actions will stay with the victim forever. Her experience does not end like his probation will. If you have not seen the letter she read in court to her attacker and to the judge, I urge you to take the time out of your day to do so. It is exceptionally powerful and gives a perspective that is so often silenced by society. Read the letter here.
Brock is set to return to his hometown of Greene County, Ohio where he will permanently register as a Tier Three sex offender.