Hundreds of Thousands Call for Removal of Judge in Stanford Rape Case (Video)
Since Judge Aaron Persky sentenced 20-year-old convicted rapist Brock Turner to a minimum-term six months in jail, online petitions seeking Persky's removal from the bench have garnered several hundred thousand signatures.
Turner, a 20-year-old former Stanford University swimmer, was arrested in 2015 after being caught sexually assaulting a woman who was unconscious. Initially, he was charged with five felony counts, which were later reduced to three felony sex crimes—two counts of sexual penetration of an intoxicated or incapacitated person, and one count of assault with intent to commit rape. On March 30, Turner was convicted of all three felonies and sentenced on June 2.
Despite being found guilty, Turner, who admitted to the sexual contact but said it was consensual, has continued to blame what he described as the school’s “party culture” of “drinking” in a letter to Judge Persky.
“I've lost my chance to swim in the Olympics," he wrote. "I've lost my ability to obtain a Stanford degree. I've lost employment opportunity, my reputation and most of all, my life. I want to be a voice of reason in a time where people's attitudes and preconceived notions about partying and drinking have already been established. I want to let young people now [sic], as I did not, that things can go from fun to ruined in just one night."
“People need to know that this way of thinking is dangerous,” the survivor said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Guardian. “It’s threatening. More than my emotions, it’s my safety, everyone else’s safety. It’s not just me feeling sad and defeated. It’s honest fear.” She added: “The anger everyone is expressing has so many levels of being hurt and feeling that fear. Anger is how a lot of us are expressing it, but it comes from a place of pain. It’s unacceptable. There’s no way you can wiggle out of this.”
In a powerful statement made in the courtroom, she said:
"I told the probation officer I do not want Brock to rot away in prison. I did not say he does not deserve to be behind bars. The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women. It gives the message that a stranger can be inside you without proper consent and he will receive less than what has been defined as the minimum sentence."
Judge Persky made his controversial sentencing in the face of direct requests from both the survivor and the prosecutor for a longer term sentence. In his judgment, Persky defended his decision noting the “severe impact” a longer sentence would have on Turner, who was attending Stanford on a swimming scholarship at the time. In light of what many are calling the judge's severely misogynist rationale, UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy organization, launched a petition asking the California Commission on Judicial Performance to remove Persky from his position on the bench. The petition garnered overwhelming support in just two days.
“Instead of standing with a survivor of a horrific rape, Judge Persky chose to put the well-being of a rapist ahead of the woman he assaulted,” said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, in a press statement. The UltraViolet petition says, "This judge's sentencing is rape culture at work."
"This isn’t the first time that Persky, a Stanford alumnus who was captain of the lacrosse team, has sided with a star athlete over a survivor of sexual assault either. While prison has a 'severe impact' on anyone sentenced, with one in four women sexually assaulted in college, Persky’s decision sends the wrong message that if you’re wealthy, white and an athlete at a prestigious school, your life matters more than the life of the woman you raped."
Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber, in an interview with Democracy Now, said that Judge Persky "really bent over backwards in order to give this defendant a very light sentence." She also noted Stanford’s “long history... of not treating these offenses particularly aggressively. For example, up until at least last year, Stanford had only ever expelled one student in the whole history of the university for sexual assault."
Persky suggested that since Turner was drunk when committed the crime, he should receive different treatment than a defendant would if he had been sober. “There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is… intoxicated,” said Persky, who noted that the “defendant is youthful and has no significant record of prior criminal offenses.”
Under California state law, Turner’s crime carries a minimum punishment of two years in prison. Though many have criticized Persky's sentence as lenient—the Guardian reports that Turner will "likely only spend three months in jail”—the sad truth is that, as Jezebel's Stassa Edwards points out, "Brock Turner will spend more time in jail than 97 percent of rapists."
Edwards points to a 2012 analysis of Justice Department data by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) that found that only three out of every 100 rapists will ever spend time in prison for their crimes. "This staggering statistic sends a clear message to offenders that they can commit this horrible crime and get away with it," said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN's president and founder.
"Despite the recent attention paid to the prevalence of sexual assault, despite the overriding fear among many that the adjudication of sexual assault crimes will punish good young men far more than is necessary, it remains true that perpetrators of sexual violence are far less likely to go to jail than any other kind of criminal," writes Edwards.
The Turner case has generated significantly more attention to this issue. Along with UltraViolet’s petition, others on Change.org and Daily Kos have received an additional 125,000 signatures. In total, more than 760,000 people are now calling for Judge Persky’s removal.
However, Dauber points out that the numerous online petitions do not represent the official California recall effort, which she is spearheading along with what she described as “a group of Democratic and progressive women here in Silicon Valley.” They launched a formal recall election campaign to remove Persky on RecallAaronPersky.com.
“The law requires us to wait 90 days after his new term of office begins before we can start our recall effort,” they write on their site. “We will need to collect the signatures of at least 20 percent of the votes cast in the upcoming November 2016 election in Santa Clara County, and we will have 160 days to do so once we start.”
Dauber and her colleagues explain how decisions like Persky’s cause systemic harm:
"Judicial rulings like this actively damage our justice system in at least two ways: 1) discouraging the reporting of these devastating crimes by reinforcing the fear that justice will not be served; and 2) demonstrating that there are two systems of justice: one for people of privilege such as elite athletes, and one for everyone else."
Watch Dauber's interview on Democracy Now: