by Vincenza Belletti
On January 18, 2015 at approximately 1:00 a.m., ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated woman behind a dumpster on campus. He was caught in the act by two Swedish graduate students, Peter Lars Jonsson and Carl-Fredrik Arndt who chased him down and tackled him to prevent him from getting away. Campus police showed up shortly thereafter and arrested Turner. On March 30, 2016, Turner was found guilty of three felonies: assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
This case came back into light at the beginning of the summer when Turner received his sentence. On June 2, 2016, Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in the Santa Clara County jail followed by three years of probation. This light sentencing sparked outrage across the country, including in Stuart students. In response to the sentencing, senior Vittoria Valentine said, “When I read in the news what Brock Turner’s sentence would be, I was shocked and mortified. My whole life my parents have had to tell me what to do and what to wear so I don’t get raped while Brock Turner can commit an act of violence as heinous as the one he committed and receive little to no punishment? It’s unjustifiable.”
During the trial, Turner’s father, Dan A. Turner, wrote a letter urging a judge to sentence his son to probation. Dan Turner, who read the statement in open court during his 20-year-old son’s sentencing, said his son “will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile.”
The elder Turner also wrote, “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”
Turner’s father is not the only person involved in this trial who wrote a controversial letter. Following Turner’s conviction, the victim read aloud a powerful letter to her attacker in the crowded Santa Clara County Courtroom where she described what she remembered from that night, her experience preparing and enduring the trial, how it all affected her, and her outrage at his prison sentence. She closed the letter by addressing “girls everywhere” and said, “…I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”
After only three months in jail, Turner was released on September 2, 2016 and is now a permanent member of the sex offender registry and is forced to participate in a sex offender rehabilitation program. Following his release, protesters were seen outside his house with guns and signs that read “Castrate rapists” and “Shoot your local rapist”.
Turner’s case is just one among many where the attacker receives an irrationally lenient sentence and the victim is left without proper justice. According to rainn.org, out of every one thousand rapes, only 334 are actually reported to the police and only six of these one thousand rapists will actually be incarcerated.
The reason so many rapes go unreported is due to the commonality of victim blaming. Friends, family, police, attorneys, and even judges have an unfortunate habit of asking the victim questions that somehow push the fault of the attack onto the victim. Questions like, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” or “Did you try closing your legs?” make the victim feel at fault, and thus, less likely to report it. (And yes, both these questions have been asked to victims by judges in recent rape cases in Canada and Mexico, respectively.)
Despite this risk of victim blaming and the lenient sentence handed to Turner, the number of rapes being reported has increased since the trial due to the support other victim’s felt when they read Turner’s victim’s letter. This one positive aspect from the trial is a trend that will hopefully continue in the following years.