The Vice President of the US has written an emotional open letter to the Stanford rape survivor who read a statement directly to her attacker in court.
The unnamed woman was raped by Brock Turner as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster in January 2015. In March 2016, Turner was convicted of three counts of sexual assault and given a six-month prison sentence – a punishment which has since been widely condemned for its leniency.
The survivor addressed Turner directly in court at the end of the case. Her 75,000-word victim impact statement has been read millions of times since it was published online, and has prompted widespread discussion in the US and around the world about the treatment of the survivors and perpetrators of sexual assault.
Now, US Vice President Joe Biden has written an open letter to the young woman. In the message, published on BuzzFeed, he praises her bravery and describes her as “a warrior – with a solid steel spine” and “limitless potential”.
“I am in awe of your courage for speaking out – for so clearly naming the wrongs that were done to you and so passionately asserting your equal claim to human dignity,” Biden wrote. “And I am filled with furious anger – both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth.”
Biden, who wrote the country’s 1994 Violence Against Women Act and backs the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign against sexual assault on college campuses, said that the young woman had been failed by a culture in the US where one in five women on a college campus is sexually assaulted. “And you were failed by anyone who dared to question this one clear and simple truth: Sex without consent is rape. Period. It is a crime.”
“The millions who have been touched by your story will never forget you,” Biden continued. “And if everyone who shared your letter on social media, or who had a private conversation in their own homes with their daughters and sons, draws upon the passion, the outrage, and the commitment they feel right now the next time there is a choice between intervening and walking away – then I believe you will have helped to change the world for the better.”
Since sentencing Brock Turner to just six months in county jail, Judge Aaron Persky has faced furious criticism and intense scrutiny. The maximum sentence for Turner’s three felony charges – 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 – was 14 years.
But the Stanford case is not the first time Persky has made a controversial ruling in a rape case involving college athletes. In 2011, he presided over a trial in which members of a California college baseball team were accused of gang-raping a 17-year-old. Persky allowed the defendants to show the jury photographs of the alleged victim wearing a revealing outfit and “making a sexually provocative gesture”, The Guardian reports.
Defence attorneys for the accused men argued that the photos contradicted the plaintiff’s claims that she had been harmed emotionally and psychologically by the alleged gang rape.
But the photos “were irrelevant” to the trial, and their “impact was very definitely prejudicial” against the young woman, one of her attorneys said. Barbara Spector added that the photos “had a positive impact for the defendants on the jury.” Four of the defendants settled, three had their charges dismissed, and two went to trial but were found not liable by the jury.
A petition for Judge Persky to be removed from the bench had received over 1 million signatures at the time of writing.