Brock Turner’s Internet Week
On Thursday June 2, Brock Turner, a one-time top swimming prospect at Stanford University, was sentenced to six-months in county jail for an attempted rape of an unconscious woman behind a campus dumpster in January 2015, below both the 2-year minimum and 14-year maximum sentence he might have served in state prison. In addition, due to prison overcrowding, it is likely that he could be released after serving only three or four months.
The sentence followed the recommendation in the Probation Report by Deputy Probation Officer Monica Lassettre that factored in Turner’s loss “of a hard-earned swimming scholarship”. In an editorial, the San Jose Mercury News called the sentence “a slap on the wrist” and “a setback for the movement to take campus rape seriously.”
While Turner made a statement stating he “can never forgive myself for imposing trauma and pain” on the victim, he contradicted himself at trial, refused to acknowledge guilt (and is appealing the conviction) and principally attributes his actions to alcohol.
Judge Aaron Persky, who once prosecuted sex crimes but who also had been captain of the Stanford lacrosse team, stated that
The media attention that has been given to this case has in a way sort of poisoned the lives of the people that have been affected. … The question I’ve asked myself is … ‘Is state prison for this defendant an antidote to that poison?’
He then explained,
- “I take him at his word that subjectively” Turner believed that attempting to have intercourse with an unconscious women was consensual;
- “there is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is … intoxicated;”
- gave weight to his lack of prior criminal activity, expression of remorse and explained “I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him;”
- he was moved by letters supporting Turner’s character, saying they “do show a huge collateral consequence for Mr Turner”; and
- “[a] prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”
The next day, BuzzFeed published the victim’s letter (which has 15,792,968 views) and a nationwide outcry began, demonstrating both the power of online media and its interplay with traditional media. The Brock Turner rape case comes at a time when campuses nationwide are under scrutiny for failing to address sexual assault on campus (as discussed more below).
Sun. June 5
(1) Twenty Minutes of Action
The sentencing statement submitted by Turner’s father says jail would be “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 years of life” hits the press and goes viral.
(2) USA Swimming Bans Turner
USA Swimming releases statement that while Turner is not currently a member, he would not be “eligible to become a member should he attempt to return to the organization in the future.”
Mon. June 6
(3) CNN’s Banfield Reads Victim’s Full Statement on the Air
Outrage grows as CNN’s Legal View anchor Ashleigh Banfield spent half of her program reading the victim’s statement to the court.
(4) Judge Persky Targeted by Recall and Change.org Petitions
In addition, a recall campaign against Judge Persky begins that includes a Change.org petition for the California legislature to impeach the judge.
(5) Police Belatedly Release Turner’s Mugshot
As Sports Illustrated explained:
concealment of Turner’s mugshot . . . highlighted the fact that the photo most commonly used by the media—a smiling portrait of the swimmer—was inconsistent with photos used of other accused rapists, particularly when the accused is a minority.
(6) Leslie Rasmussen Letter Decries “Political Correctness”
Reporters revealed more from the sentencing files, including the following from a letter Leslie Rasmussen written on behalf of Turner:
I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.
Rasmussen, who is the drummer in indie rock band Good English along with her two sisters, quickly felt the wrath of the internet for her support of Turner and her comments, as the band was dropped from an upcoming music festival in Brooklyn. Venue operator David Kyrejko explained he demanded that the band be dropped since “[t]he support of rape culture is not tolerated.”
Tues June 7
(7) Primary Day
(8) DA Criticized and Defends Judge Persky
The punishment does not fit the crime. The predatory offender has failed to take responsibility, failed to show remorse and failed to tell the truth. The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault, or the victim’s ongoing trauma. Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape. And I will prosecute it as such.
Wed June 8
(9) Defense Bar Backs Judge Persky
Several defense attorneys from the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office spoke out Wednesday in support of Judge Persky and his decision, including the head of the office, Public Defender Molly O’Neal. As the San Jose Mercury News reports
O’Neal is the first gay woman to hold the Santa Clara County position, has a daughter heading to college this fall, and is known as a feminist.
O’Neal said she is appalled at the venom directed at Persky, who she says has received multiple threats. The victim was vindicated by the jury verdict, which sent a strong message that such assaults are not to be tolerated, she said. . . . “I stand with the judge,” O’Neal said, “but also with the whole process. The judge listened to everyone involved and made a difficult call.”
(10) HBO’s Girls Express Solidarity for Victim
Thur June 9
(11) Vice President Biden Praises Victim as a “Warrior”
BuzzFeed published an open letter from Vice President Joseph Biden, who as a Senator sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, to Turner’s victim:
I do not know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul. Words that should be required reading for men and women of all ages.
Words that I wish with all of my heart you never had to write.
I am in awe of your courage for speaking out — for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity.
And I am filled with furious anger — both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth.
It must have been wrenching — to relive what he did to you all over again. But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.
You are a warrior — with a solid steel spine.
(12) Rep. Speier Reads Victim’s Letter on House Floor
Bay Area Congresswoman Jackie Speier read a portion of Turner’s victim’s letter on the House floor and has organized a bi-partisan group to read the entire speech into the record. Speier explained that reading the Stanford victim’s statement on House floor means it will be a part of official documented American history
(13) More Trouble for Persky
As many as 20 prospective jurors cited Judge Persky in asking to be excused.
In addition, reports of Persky’s leniency in a domestic violence case immediately prior to Turner’s sentencing. Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber appeared on Democracy Now and described Judge Persky ‘s handling of the sentencing in a domestic violence case immediately prior to the Turner sentencing:
right before Brock Turner was sentenced, a domestic violence case came up, and the defendant was there to plead guilty in a plea deal. And the victim, which is very rare, stepped up and made a victim impact statement, even though it was a plea deal, and it was a lengthy victim impact statement. And she was a Chinese immigrant who spoke very eloquently, although her English was not terrific, and—but she had pages and pages, and her statement was essentially, “I am not getting justice, because I’m a woman of color and I don’t speak English and I’m Chinese. But here, I want to show the audience,” she said, “I want to show the courtroom these photos.” And she held up photos that were grizzly. She had been beaten so badly that she was completely unrecognizable. She was covered in blood. She repeatedly referred to this as having been tortured, that her hair had been pulled out, that she was very, very, very severely injured, that she was hospitalized, that she had stitches. And, I mean, the photos were almost impossible to look at. They were like crime scene photos. And he got like a weekend or two in jail. And she was decrying this and saying, “This is too light. Where is justice? I’m not getting justice.”
Fri June 10
(14) The Anti-Persky Movement Gains Steam
The Recall Persky movement got a huge boost by the addition of Joe Trippi.
Petitions to remove or censure Persky on Change.org gathered as much as one million supporters.
(15) Legislators Call on Persky to Step Down
I believe the Legislature is ready to use all of its constitutional powers to express society’s disapproval of the sentence.
(16) Santa Clara Bar Ass’n Supports Persky
The Santa Clara County Bar Association released a statement opposing the move to sanction Judge Persky:
The SCCBA has seen no credible assertions that in issuing the sentence, Judge Persky violated the law or his ethical obligations or acted in bad faith. Nor is the SCCBA aware of any other complaints or allegations of impropriety against Judge Persky during his 13 years on the bench. Seeking to punish a judge under these circumstances presents the very threat to judicial independence that the SCCBA has resolved to condemn.
(17) The Debate Rages Nationwide
Newspaper editorial boards across the world reacted to the verdict. Here is a sample.