Survivors of sexual assault are strong men, women, and children, and unfortunately, they are dealing with a judicial system that seems to undermine their suffering and hold perpetrators responsible for the gravity of their actions. One case that highlights this trend is the case of Brock Turner.
On January 18th 2015, Turner was caught sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster on Stanford University’s campus. The two men who confronted Turner intervened because they noticed that the woman Turner was assaulting was motionless. After chasing Turner and holding him on the ground until police arrived, the woman was taken to the hospital, where she was informed that she had been sexually assaulted.
On March 30th 2016, Turner was found guilty on all counts of felony sexual assault, with a maximum of 14 years in prison. He was placed on the registered sex offender list and will remain on said list for life.
People all over the world are reacting to Turner’s sentencing which was handed down by Judge Aaron Persky, a judge who claims to have been a lifelong defender of battered women. Persky sentenced Turner to just six months in county jail, claiming that “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” Turner is only expected to serve three months of the six month sentence.
The woman who was assaulted wrote a 12-page letter, which she read directly to Turner during trial. Many media outlets also released the letter, which alerted the world to the glaring mishandling of this case. Currently, there is a petition with over 900,000 signatures to remove Judge Persky from the bench for his sentencing decision and the reasoning behind the decision.
The case highlights many of the problems that exist in the criminal justice system when it comes to handing down rulings about sexual assault.
Sexual Assault and Sentencing Facts
Lack Of Reporting
About 66% of sexual assaults go unreported. It is the victim’s decision to report, and theirs alone. There are many reasons a victim may choose not to report an assault.
A victim may believe:
- the police won’t be able to help
- that he or she will suffer retaliation from their attacker or someone else
- that the problem is too personal
A survivor may want to avoid:
- getting their attacker in trouble
- being judged
- reliving the pain of the assault by having to recount it in great detail
Ultimately, victims must remember that there is no reason to be ashamed, and they did nothing wrong. If you are concerned about your name being associated with the report, you can choose to remain anonymous.
Judges Making The Wrong Call
In some cases, the judge is allowed to consider “unusual circumstances” when deciding how to sentence, regardless of how severe the jury’s suggested sentencing is. In this case, these circumstances were Turner’s age, lack of a criminal record, how prison would affect him, and his blood alcohol level at the time of the assault. The question is, why do these things make Turner any less responsible for serving the time deemed reasonable for his crime by a jury?
Misattributing The Cause Of Assault
It seems that it has become all too common for courts to decide that someone who has sexually assaulted someone else as somehow not worthy of blame. Instead, courts find ways to redirect blame away from the perpetrator.
Alcohol And Other Drugs
In the case of Brock Turner, the judge cited his almost double the legal blood alcohol level at the time of his assault as one of the “unusual circumstances” warranting a lighter sentence for the young man. While alcohol and other drugs can certainly cloud a person’s judgement, these substances should not be allowed to absorb blame for actions that are inexcusable, regardless of the substances a person takes.
In her letter to Turner, the victim addressed Turner’s assertion that his only mistake was in drinking too much: “You said, ‘I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong.’ Again, you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me.”
Unfortunately, victim blaming seems to have been a factor in the Turner case. The sexual assault survivor in this case alleges that she was asked questions about her sexual habits, her faithfulness to her boyfriend, and her drinking habits.
These types of questions imply that she could have done something to prevent herself from being attacked. In other words, asking these questions blames victims for their own assaults. A victim’s level of intoxication and how many times he or she has had sex do not suddenly make him or her more deserving of sexual assault.
While not everyone agrees that rape culture exists in America, some believe that it influences the way that women are treated in the United States. Rape culture is defined as a culture that tells us how to avoid getting raped, rather than to NOT rape in the first place. In other words, rape culture is a culture that normalizes sexual assault and sexual violence in everyday culture.
It can be argued that certain jokes, song lyrics, advertisements, music videos, films, television shows, pornography, and even legal proceedings (such as the kinds of questions the survivor in the Brock Turner case was asked), contribute to the normalization of objectification and sexual violence in the United States.
Who Stands For Survivors and Potential Victims?
The state of sexual safety and health in America is not stable for the majority of college-age women. In fact, women who are in college between the ages of 18 and 24 are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than the general population. What is being done to protect victims and survivors, and who is speaking up?
The current Vice President wrote an open letter to the victim in the case described above. In it, he criticizes people who turn a blind eye to sexual assault, and who fail to intervene. He praised the two young men who saw the assault happening and stepped in to stop it. He blames college campus culture that he contends “promotes passivity” and “encourages young men and women on campuses to simply turn a blind eye.”
1994 Violence Against Women Act
In addition, the Vice President wrote the, which provided many provisions for prosecuting violent crimes against women, including $1.6 billion dollars dedicated to investigating and prosecuting these types of crimes. The act also created an office within the Department of Justice called The Office on Violence Against Women.
What Can Survivors Do If Assaulted?
When a person has been attacked, it may be difficult to decide what to do next. The trauma of the situation can make thinking about the future very difficult. It is important for survivors to remember that they are just that: survivors. They carry no blame for what happened to them, and they have the right to report what happened to them.
Why Report It?
The idea of reporting what has happened can be terrifying. However, there are many really important reasons why a survivor may want to consider reporting the assault.
Reporting the assault may place restrictions on the person who committed the assault, which may prevent them from assaulting again. For example, by reporting an assault, the assaulter may be placed on the sex offender registry, which would alert future employers, neighbors, and anyone who checks the list of the violence of which this person is capable. In addition, reporting the assault may result in a jail sentence for the attacker, which would put them behind bars, unable to hurt potential victims.
While not all reports of sexual abuse lead to a conviction or jail time for perpetrators, survivors can find comfort in having their voices heard. Calling attention to the wrongs that were committed to survivors can allow them to assert that the perpetrator was wrong, and that assertion can bring immense peace.
Contribute To The Movement
The problem is that perpetrators of sexual violence are not being effectively punished in America. The good news is that incidents of sexual assault have fallen by 50% since 1993. The horrible truth is that out of every 994 out of 1,000 rape perpetrators will not see jail time for their offenses. Part of this is because only 334 of those 1,000 rapes are reported. The other part of this problem lies in the conviction process. Only 63 of those 334 reports lead to arrest, and of those 63 reports, only 7 will result in a felony conviction. By the time it comes to sentencing, only 6 out of the 334 reported rapists will see jail time. This is unacceptable and we are working to fix this problem.
By reporting what happened, survivors can contribute to positive change in sexual assault legislation. Survivors who report assault assert that their pain is legitimate, that it was unwarranted, and that it is unacceptable. The more survivors who report their sexual assault experiences, the more voices who demand justice. Demanding justice can and does lead to system-wide change. We must band together and advocate for what’s right, and make sure justice is served.
If you have been affected by a sexual assault, we are here to help. Please reach out to one of our dedicated attorneys to discuss your legal options.