Will the Stanford Rape Case's Ripple Effect Finally Change the Conversation About Sexual Assault?

Outrage over the Stanford rape case found its way back into the courtroom; eight days after Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to six months in county jail for his sexual assault of an unconscious woman, reports indicate prospective jurors are refusing to serve with the judge over Turner’s light sentence.


According to the East Bay Times:

“‘I can't be here, I'm so upset,’ one juror told the judge while the lawyers were picking the jury in the misdemeanor receiving stolen property case, according to multiple sources.

In each case, the judge said, ‘I understand,’ thanked the prospective juror and excused her or him from duty.

The case, which made national headlines this week, underscores an important dialogue about sexual assault, class, privilege, and gender. The victim wrote a powerful letter to Turner and the court detailing the experience of navigating a judicial system and court of public opinion that repeatedly required her to defend her character despite being found unconscious, with the defendant sexually assaulting her. 

Two members of the House of Representatives read portions of the victim’s statement on the House floor. Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas), who spent 30 years as a criminal court judge and prosecutor, called for Judge Persky’s removal Thursday, slamming the judge for his concern over Turner’s future and suggesting the Appeals Court should issue a tougher sentence for the rapist.

“The punishment for rape should be longer than a semester in college,” Poe said.

Speaking with the Houston Chronicle, Poe said the conversation around sexual assault needs to shift. "Too often the focus is on defending and protecting and excusing sex offenders like Brock Turner,” Poe said. “The entitlement mentality, being a good college athlete and self-righteousness do not trump justice.”

“Car thieves get more than six months in jail, and this is a crime against a person,” Poe told the Huffington Post. “The judge was wrong on this.”

Representative Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) also read a portion of the victim’s statement on the House floor. Next week, Speier will host a special order inviting members of Congress to read the full statement in “a symbolic act that underscores the gravity of the offense.”

Speier told the Huffington Post the victim’s statement “so dramatically and powerfully reflects the damage, the scarring that conduct has done on the woman. It’s a very extraordinarily powerful statement.”

“I hope that by reading it into the record, by elevating this issue, that we’re going to take some steps to provide leadership on the federal level to address sexual assault on campus and in the military,” Speier added.

But the impact of the Stanford rape case isn’t restricted to the judicial and legislative branches. Vice President Joe Biden Thursday released a powerful open letter to the victim, calling her “a warrior—with a solid steel spine.”

Biden, who has led the White House’s It’s on Us campaign against sexual assault on college campuses, wrote:

“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.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also payed tribute to the victim, posting a live video on Facebook featuring a host of people (including actress Cynthia Nixon and de Blasio’s wife Charlene McCray) reading the victim’s statement.

For all the flaws the case has exposed about how our culture and systems handle sexual assault, at least the victim’s fearless statement is now leading the dialogue.

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