Assault downplayed by success: Brock Turner released from jail after only three months for sexual assault

As Americans, we’re proud of our legal system. The Fourteenth Amendment establishes “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” However, the law has fine print: if the bad guy is successful, it’s not their fault.

On January 17th, 2015, Stanford University freshman Brock Turner sexually assaulted a 23-year-old woman, whom, for anonymity, has been addressed as Emily Doe. Emily Doe and her sister went to Stanford fraternity house Kappa Alpha for a party. A few hours later, she was found unconscious behind a dumpster by two Swedish Stanford graduate students–with Turner on top of her. When the graduate students tried to stop him, Turner ran. Later he would say he was scared for his life.

The jury unanimously voted that Turner was guilty of three felony counts of sexual assault. He faced a punishment for up to 14 years in jail;the prosecutor asked for six. Yet instead, Judge Aaron Persky, who was coincidentally a Stanford alumni, stated that prison would “have a severe impact on [Turner].” Persky sentenced Turner to six months in prison, three years’ probation, and registration as a sex offender.

The judge cited Turner’s young age, lack of previous records, and his remorse for the sentence reduction. However, despite Turner’s reputation as a nationally ranked swimmer (a skill which earned him a Stanford sports scholarship), he was far from a golden boy. Pictures and texts seized by prosecutors from his phone show a history of drug and alcohol use. Judge Persky disregarded the evidence. Emily Doe received no justice from the courts. Turner was even released three months early for good behavior. As Brock Turner’s father so nicely put it, his son had already received a severe enough punishment by registering as a sex offender for merely, “20 minutes of action.”

Judge Persky also stated that an extended stay in state prison for him would not heal anyone, including Doe. He decided “that justice would best be served, ultimately, with a grant of probation.” Despite his logic of healing the wounds, he merely served to open and pour salt over them by a light sentence that trivialized the crime of sexual assault and the sufferings of the victim. A petition was even made to force impeachment hearings for Judge Persky, who “failed to see that the fact that Brock Turner is a white male star athlete at a prestigious university does not entitle him to leniency.” A sentence of three months in prison is less than most sentences of petty crimes, such as vandalism or drug possession; sexual assault is far from a ‘petty crime’, so why is Turner’s sentence less harsh than it should be?

And, what about the punishment given to Emily Doe? Her punishment, far worse than that of Turner’s, is the mental scars she will have to carry for the rest of her life. The assault caused Doe to no longer feel comfortable in her own skin. When she first awoke in the hospital the morning after the party and discovered that she had possibly been a victim of sexual assault, she described, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”

What’s worse is that investigators did not confirm details of her assault until she found out what really happened to her from an online news article. Emily Doe discovered “how I was found unconscious … that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated…by someone I did not recognize.” The whole legal proceedings afterwards, courtesy of the Turner’s, forced her to relive the nightmare over and over again.

Furthermore, adding to the public’s outrage over this case is the fact that Turner never took responsibility for his actions. Instead, he blames alcohol, college party culture, and peer pressure. He claimed that he “was an inexperienced drinker and party-goer,” yet still made the choice to drink at least six beers and “two swigs of Fireball whisky” at two different parties that night. He also blames his acquaintances, who would “go to parties, meet girls, and take the girl that they had just met back with them.” Participating in all the alcohol and the party culture of that night is a decision Turner made for himself — and therefore, he alone is responsible for the consequences that came with it. His lifestyle cannot be used as a scapegoat for his actions; instead, Turner and other young people should recognize the red flags, exercise better judgment, and take the right action to avoid such predicaments, as well as admit to wrongdoings.

We like to boast of our Declaration of Independence which correctly describes American ways: “All men are created equal.” Our legal system has failed to uphold this principle.  Just because Turner is a fast swimmer who had a chance at making the Olympics doesn’t suddenly entitle him to a sentence six years lighter than average. This is what it means to judge a person based on how well they are known, rather than by their true deeds. However cliche it is, you should never judge a book by its cover.

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