Campus Rape Culture: Outrage Over Light Sentence in Stanford Sexual Assault

ACalifornia judge sentenced 20-year-old Brock Turner, the former Stanford athlete convicted of sexual assault, to just six months in jail and three years’ probation, sparking nationwide backlash and petitions to recall the judge.


Turner faced 14 years for his crimesbut may only have toserve three months in a county jail. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky said good character references, the defendant’s age and a clean criminal record led to the light sentence.

“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” the judge, who is a Stanford alumnus, said. “I think he will not be a danger to others.”

The victim, who was not a student at Stanford, wrote a letter, which was read in the courtroom after Turner’s conviction. She reveals questions Turner’s lawyer asked her, including, “What were you wearing” “You said you were a party animal” “Did you party at frats [in college]” “Are you sexually active with [your boyfriend]” and “Do you have a history of cheating”

The victim questions if the outcome would have been different had Turner not been who he is.

“The fact that Brock was a star athlete at a prestigious university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a strong cultural message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class,” she wrote.

“The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard earned swimming scholarship. If I had been sexually assaulted by an un-athletic guy from a community college, what would his sentence be If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be How fast he swims does not lessen the impact of what happened to me.”

Questions have been raised about race playing a factor, with Daily News writer Shaun King drawing comparisons to the case of Cory Batey. As a 19-year-old Vanderbilt football player, Batey raped an unconscious woman. In April he was convicted of one count of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Batey, who is Black, will serve a minimum of 15 to 25 years in prison.The judge in Batey’s trial, Judge Monte Wilkins, was also Black.

“The argument here is not that Cory Batey should’ve been given a break and let off in three months like Brock Turner,” King wrote. “Instead, the argument is that the racial disparity in sentencing for similar crimes is completely out of hand.”

Statistically, prison sentences are 20 percent longer for Black men than white men who are convicted of similar crimes.

The notion that Turner’s status as a whiteathlete, lack of prior convictions or academic standing influenced the ruling in any way is a misapplication of the law, according to Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor and sociologist.

“If you’re going to declare that a high-achieving perpetrator is an unusual case, then you’re saying to women on college campuses that they don’t deserve the full protection of the law in the state of California,” said Dauber, who is part of a committee seeking to recall Judge Persky.

A change.org petition was launched calling for the judge’s recall. At the time of this story it had nearly 370,000 signatures.

Twitter users also called into question Turner’s race and athletic standing.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen disagreed with the ruling. “The punishment does not fit the crime,” he said in a statement. “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.”

Turner’s father, Dan Turner, wrote a letter of his own, explaining that his son has already been severely punished for “20 minutes of action.”

“His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve,” the letter states. “This is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

He also cites his son’s loss of appetite and the fact that he no longer enjoys eating steak.

Twitter users slammed Dan Turner for the letter.

Leslie Rasmussen, a friend of Turner’s, also wrote in Turner’s defense, asking for leniency.

“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,” the letter reads in part.

Sexual Assault Scandals at Universities

Turner’s light sentence for his disturbing crime echoes a pattern of college campus rape culture particularly among athletes.

Related Story: Sexual Assault Scandal at Baylor University Goes Deeper

Stanford issued a statement on Monday, which reads in part, “This was a horrible incident, and we understand the anger and deep emotion it has generated. There is still much work to be done, not just here, but everywhere, to create a culture that does not tolerate sexual violence in any form and a judicial system that deals appropriately with sexual assault cases.”

Stanford is not the only college to be scrutinized for its handling of sexual assault. Baylor University remains in the midst of a sexual assault scandal involving numerous football players. Recently released documents revealed that police officers in Waco, Texas, along with former head football coach Art Briles and other school officials, knew of at least a few of the sexual assault allegations against team members but failed to fully investigate the claims or take disciplinary action. In some instances, they even covered up information.

An investigation was conducted by law firm Pepper Hamilton, which concluded that both the university and the football department specifically failed to address sexual assault allegations raised against players.

Briles was subsequently fired. Former university president Ken Starr was also dismissed and stepped down from his position as chancellor. Ian McCraw, the former athletic director, had been suspended and eventually resigned.

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