Turner’s sentence sparks outrage

Natalie Engler

On June 7, Brock Turner, a 20-year-old student athlete of Stanford University, was sentenced to 6 months in jail with 3 years probation after being convicted of sexual assault in Santa Clara County, California. In January 2015, Turner was seen assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and was apprehended by two students until police arrived.

Before the sentence was handed down, the victim read a 12 page letter she had written which described a detailed account of how being raped left her “closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty.” In those pages, she described the traumatic and humiliating experience of a sexual assault forensic exam.

Describing her subsequent shower, she wrote: “I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I didn’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky stated that due to Turner’s age and lack of criminal history, he felt that a six month jail sentence – rather than the six years prosecutors asked for – was an appropriate decision.

Much of the country disagrees with Persky’s ruling, claiming that in the wake of physical evidence, two eye witnesses and a confession by the defendant, the punishment was far from fitting the crime. 

Dr. Sharon Sullivan, theatre professor, felt the sentence was “ridiculously short” and “unjust.” She believed the judge displayed more concern for Turner than the victim.

“The young woman will be affected by this trauma for the rest of her life,” Sullivan said. “Turner committed a horrible crime and got only a slap on the wrist. This is an example of rape culture.”

Not only was the sentence at the center of attention, but the photo used by several media outlets as well. The photo portrayed Turner as a bright, young individual. He was dressed in a suit and tie with a huge smile on his face. It was not until later that Turner’s mug shot was used.

Kimmy Woodworth, sophomore graphic design major, was angered by the photo. She felt that by using the photo instead of his mug shot, the media was trying to paint him as a model citizen who had experienced a lapse in judgment.

“They should have exposed him for what he really is – an entitled criminal,” Woodworth said. 

With this case, activists have been demanding for a change in rape culture. They call on society to stop blaming the victim and to punish the perpetrator. A petition was created on Charge.org, calling for Persky to be recalled. The campaign has now over 1 million signatures. Another protest at Stanford University took place on graduation where students showed their support with signs that read, “You are a warrior” and many others. 

Tony Palbicke, a professor of criminal justice, believes that Turner will be punished appropriately. He also believed that Persky may have been in his legal right to sentence Turner to six months.

“I do think the judge erred on this case with a lenient sentence,” Palbicke said. “If there is evidence of racial inequality then Persky does not deserve to be a judge.”

While justice was not served for the victim in this case, Woodworth is hopeful for the future. She believes that now sexual assault cases will get the attention they deserve. She also hopes that people will realize that so many sexual assault cases end in the attacker’s favor.

“Hopefully, that will spark a new age of justice for sexual assault victims and survivors,” Woodworth said.