In March 2016, 20-year-old US college student Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail, after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster.
The leniency of Turner’s sentence made headlines around the world, sparking major conversations about several entangled issues – among them the influence of privilege on the criminal-justice system, the prevalence of rape at US universities, and a culture of victim-blaming in sexual assault cases.
At the time of sentencing, it was suggested that Turner’s lack of prior criminal convictions could mean he spent an even shorter time in jail. Now, that prediction has come true. Turner will be released from Santa Clara County jail this Friday after serving just three months in prison.
The convicted rapist’s release date has been confirmed by jail records and the local Sheriff’s Office, according to San Jose newspaper the Mercury News.
Turner was convicted of three crimes: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman; sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object; and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
He committed the sexual assault in January 2015, after finding the unnamed woman lying unconscious behind a dumpster near the Kappa Alpha fraternity at Stanford University. When two graduate students discovered Turner “thrusting” on top of the woman, who was partially clothed, he tried to run off; they chased him down and called the police.
The case prompted discussions about bias in the US court system, particularly with regard to rape cases. Turner is a young white man from a wealthy family and a former college athlete at a prestigious university, factors which it was suggested might have influenced his sentence.
It was widely observed that much initial reporting of the case used Turner’s yearbook photo, which showed him looking clean-cut and smiling in a suit, instead of his bleary-eyed prison mugshot.
Judge Aaron Persky, who oversaw the case, is a former Stanford athlete himself. He said in court that positive character references had contributed his decision to grant Turner a short sentence.
However, Turner’s parents had been heavily criticised for the letters they wrote to the judge in defence of their son. In his letter, Turner’s father lamented that his son had lost his appetite for steaks, arguing that he should not have to spend years in prison for “20 minutes of action”; Turner’s mother, meanwhile, wrote that her “beautiful son” was the “most trustworthy and honest person I know”.
But it was the impact statement written by Turner’s victim – a blistering, 7,138-word letter that quickly went viral after being published online – that cemented the notoriety of the Stanford rape case.
The 23-year-old woman read the statement in court, telling Turner: “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
Addressing the court, she said: “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.”
In the aftermath of the case, Persky had his sentencing record scrutinised. It was discovered that he had presided over another civil lawsuit involving college athletes and an unconscious woman – this time members of a basketball team accused of gang-raping an underage girl. Persky had allowed revealing photos of the alleged victim, taken at another party, to be used as evidence for the defence, a decision which was criticised by activists as an example of victim-blaming.
A petition to have Persky removed from the bench currently has almost 1.3m signatures. Persky recently requested to be moved from criminal to civil court as a result, a change which will reportedly take effect in September.
As a consequence of the Stanford case, legislation was passed in California on Monday to close the loophole that allowed Persky to grant such a lenient sentence. Until now, current state law has not called for a mandatory prison sentence in rape or sexual assault cases where the victim is unconscious or severely intoxicated and thus unable to resist, according to Reuters.
After Turner is released, he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and complete a sex offender management programme.
A protest is planned for Thursday outside the jail where Turner is held. Michelle Dauber, the Stanford law professor who launched the campaign to have Persky removed from the bench, said that the protesters do not intend to confront Turner as he leaves prison; rather, they want to bring attention to the dangers of light sentences like the one handed down by Persky.
She told the New York Daily News: “It is my hope that [Turner is] not going to reoffend, because one of the consequences of failing to hold offenders accountable is that they get the wrong message.”
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