Take a moment and imagine yourself waking up in a hospital with no recollection of how you got there. Your clothes are missing, you have cuts and bruises on your arms and legs, and as you gain consciousness, a police officer enters the room and tells you that you have been sexually assaulted. As time goes on, you must endure countless blood tests, invasive photographs and you are forced to re-live the horror of your attack time and time again. This situation is one that many of us would not wish on our worst enemy, but this is exactly what 23-year-old “Emily Doe” —a pseudonym to protect her privacy — endured on the night of January 17, 2015.
On that night around 1 a.m., two male Sanford graduate students were riding their bikes across campus when they saw a man on top of an apparently unconscious woman, behind a nearby dumpster. The two male students rushed over and the man fled, leaving the woman half-naked, and bloody on the ground. One of the students tackled the man while the other checked on the unconscious woman. The fleeing man turned out to be 20-year-old Brock Turner. Turner and “Emily Doe” had attended the same party that night and while “Doe” continues to maintain that she has no memory of the sexual encounter, Turner stated that she consented to his sexual advances.
Although this incident took place more than a year ago, outrage swept the nation last week when Turner was sentenced to a measly six months in jail and three years of probation after being convicted of three felonies by a jury of his peers. A unanimous jury found Turner guilty of assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person; sexual penetration of an unconscious person; and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person. These charges, which make the average person cringe, carry a maximum sentence of fourteen years in prison. But because Judge Aaron Persky believed that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Judge Persky saw fit to significantly lower Turner’s sentence.
Interestingly, in no sentence does Turner express remorse, sympathy, address the victim directly, or offer an apology in any way.
Before the sentence was handed out, Turner addressed the court in the form of a letter in which he described himself as an “inexperienced drinker and a party-goer” who was “shattered by the party culture.” Most of the statement explains how confused and terrified he was throughout this entire process and that being charged with rape was “a hard thing to wake up to.” Interestingly, in no sentence does Turner express remorse, sympathy, address the victim directly, or offer an apology in any way. In a similar letter, Turner’s father addressed the court and sought to persuade the judge to impose a lenient sentence by explaining that his son had already suffered greatly for “twenty minutes of action.” Although Turner’s father has since apologized for his choice of words, this letter has now become infamous.
Judge Persky, who is a Stanford alumnus, has received sharp criticism for his handling of this case. In fact, since this sentence was handed down, change.org has organized a petition to force the California Assembly to begin impeachment hearings against the judge. The petition needs 1.5 million signatures to go into effect and has already generated a whopping 1.3 million signatures. The petition needs just over 300,000 more signatures until it will be implemented.
Stanford Law School professor Michele Dauber is one of the individuals who has pressed for the recall of Judge Persky following this outrageous sentencing. Dauber has called the judge’s decision “incredible.” She goes on to say that the victim’s statement reflects “tremendous power and clarity of thought.”
Powerful and clear are not the only two words that can be used to describe 23-year-old “Emily Doe’s” statement that she read aloud to Turner in open court. While graphic at times, Doe is chillingly candid about the emotional turmoil this entire case has caused both her and her family. She explains how she found out the details of her own rape “while sitting at work one day, scrolling through the news on [her] phone.” She describes how her sister, who was with her on that night, picked her up from the hospital with a face “wet from tears and contorted anguish.” Her twelve-page letter goes on to encourage more awareness about campus sexual assault, rape, and consent and to stress that “campus drinking culture” is no excuse for sexual violence.
Sadly, our society is no stranger to sexual assaults, which have become increasingly common on college campuses. A study by the Association of American Universities found that more than 27 percent of females who are seniors, have reported enduring some type of unwanted sexual contact since enrolling in college. Further, the Rape, Abuse and Incent National Network (RAINN) conducted a recent study suggesting that 90 percent of college rapes are perpetrated by 3 percent of college men — this indicates an issue of repeat offenders.
In this case, the reduced sentence comes as even more of a shock because the State of California had a “slam dunk” case against Turner.
Sexual assault is “involuntary sexual contact that occurs through the actor’s use of force, coercion or the victim’s incapacitation.” Many would agree that sexual assault crimes are difficult to investigate because often times, victims will wait long periods of time before reporting the assault or will attempt to bathe or wash clothing, thus destroying evidence. The reduced sentence comes as even more of a shock because the State of California had a “slam dunk” case against Turner.
There were several factors that were present in this case that usually do not exist in sexual assault allegations. First, there were eyewitnesses — the two graduate students riding their bikes who saw what happened came forward and reported what they saw. Second, there was physical evidence. “Doe” was admitted to the hospital immediately after her attack and doctors performed a rape kit, thus, preserving all the evidence. “Doe” herself did not have to press charges or even make a report because there were eyewitnesses and overwhelming evidence to do that for her. These two factors are what usually impede sexual assault investigations and more often than not, lead to cases where rapists walk free. Despite the hard evidence and conviction by a jury, Brock Turner still, essentially, walked free.
This case has been a hard pill to swallow for many, and has sparked discussion about race, privilege, and justice. It is no secret that Turner grew up in Oakwood, Ohio, a city nicknamed “The Dome” due to the fact that children who grew up there are largely sheltered from violence, poverty and ugly truths. Turner went on to attend Stanford University on a swimming scholarship. One cannot help but wonder what the outcome would have been if the tables had been turned, and an African American, underprivileged man was on trial for the same crime. You will not have to wonder for very long. Brian Banks, a promising high school football player, who had committed to play at Southern Cal, was imprisoned for six years for a rape he did not commit. The 16-year-old was tried as an adult and faced 41 years to life in prison. It was not until 2012, when his accuser recanted her story, that Banks was finally released from prison. He had served five years and two months in prison.
Despite the traumatic nature of her attack, “Emily Doe” can take comfort in the fact that her story has not gone un-noticed.
Although it may not feel like it to some, Turner did not walk away scot free from his crime. As part of his punishment, Turner will have to register as a sex offender and will be placed on the registry for the rest of his life. Also, in a recent statement, USA Swimming confirmed that Turner will be never be allowed to compete in a USA Swimming-sanctioned event. He will also suffer as a convicted felon as he begins to search for a job and re-enter society.
These punishments still seem to pale in comparison to the damage caused to the victim and the lasting effects that she has suffered both physically and psychologically. Despite the traumatic nature of her attack, “Emily Doe” can take comfort in the fact that her story has not gone un-noticed. Vice President Joe Biden wrote an open letter to Doe in which he praised her for speaking out against her assailant and recognized that sexual assault is an issue that deserves more attention in this country.
Biden wrote, “I don’t know your name — but your words are forever seared on my soul. Words that should be required reading for men and women of all ages… words that I wish with all my heart you never had to write.”
These sentiments ring true in the hearts of not only Vice President Biden, but many Americans who are saddened and disappointed that our legal system has yet again, put politics ahead of justice, and in the process has let down yet another victim of sexual assault.