- Michele Landis Dauber
Stanford law professor who is leading the recall campaign against Aaron Persky, the Santa Clara County Superior Court judge who sentenced Brock Allen Turner to six months in jail after Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
A Stanford University law professor has launched a campaign to recall the judge who sentenced former Stanford swimmer Brock Allen Turner to six months in jail after he was convicted of three felony counts for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Judge Aaron Persky expressed concern a longer sentence would have “a severe impact” on Turner. Under California law, Turner’s crime carries a minimum punishment of two years in prison. But Stanford law professor Michele Landis Dauber says Judge Persky “really bent over backwards in order to give this defendant a very light sentence.” We speak with Michele Landis Dauber and read part of the powerful statement Turner’s victim delivered in court.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the effort to recall a judge who sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer, convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, to six months in jail. Judge Aaron Persky expressed concern that a longer sentence would have, quote, “a severe impact on him.” Brock Allen Turner was caught by two witnesses thrusting on top of the victim as she lay unconscious behind a dumpster.
In a packed California court, the victim read aloud what the local prosecutor called “the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy that I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor.” She began by recounting how she woke up in a hospital with pine needles in her hair and no memory of what happened to her. She said, quote, “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, [my safety,] my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she read, addressing her rapist directly. She said, “You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself.” She concluded her statement with a message to survivors everywhere, saying, quote, “On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you,” she said. The survivor, who has not been named publicly, told The Guardian she was overwhelmed and speechless at the support she has received.
Brock Allen Turner was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault and faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison, but was only sentenced to six months in a county jail and probation. That punishment is significantly less than the minimum prison time of two years prescribed by state law for his felony offenses. The judge is a Stanford alumnus, who led the university’s lacrosse team. His critics say he we was unduly influenced by Turner’s background as a fellow elite athlete. Turner’s father fueled the outrage by complaining his son’s life had been ruined for what he called, quote, “20 minutes of action.”
Meanwhile, Stanford University has finally released Turner’s original booking photo from the night of his arrest last year. Up until now, most media outlets had been using a smiling yearbook photo of Turner rather than the mugshots that typically accompany stories of sexual assault and other crimes. Stanford surveys have found that 43 percent of female graduates have experienced sexual assault or misconduct, and that more than two-thirds of them said perpetrators took advantage of intoxicated victims. Brock Turner’s case has sparked outcry across the country, in part because campus sexual assaults seldom lead to criminal prosecutions and convictions.
For more, we go to Stanford, California, where we’re joined by Michele Landis Dauber, the Stanford law professor who’s leading the recall campaign against Judge Aaron Persky, the Santa Clara County Superior Court judge who sentenced Brock Allen Turner to six months in county jail.
Professor Michele Landis Dauber, welcome to Democracy Now! Explain what exactly your petition is calling for.
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: So, we are a group of Democratic and progressive women here in Silicon Valley who have come together to put together an actual recall campaign. So there are a number of Change.org petitions online, but those are not the official California recall effort. To participate in that, viewers and listeners should go to RecallAaronPersky.com, where they can sign up for information updates or donate to the effort. And we will be collecting signatures, getting this on the ballot and working to replace him with someone who understands violence against women.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Judge Persky’s handling of the case? Explain what happened in the trial.
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Well, Turner was found guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt, by a jury for three felony sex crimes—two counts of sexual penetration of an intoxicated or incapacitated person, and one count of assault with intent to commit rape. And that’s a very serious charge that has a minimum, as you said, two-year sentence, and is presumptively not eligible for probation or a jail, you know, stay less than that two years; however, the judge really bent over backwards in order to give this defendant a very light sentence.
AMY GOODMAN: In his sentencing, Judge Persky seemed to sympathize with Turner’s assertion the encounter was consensual. He said, quote, “I take him at his word that subjectively that’s his version of his events. … I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him.” Judge Persky also said, quote, “A trial is a search for the truth. It’s an imperfect process.” He said his sentencing decision took into consideration the defendant had no significant prior offenses, he’d been affected by the intense media coverage, and, quote, “There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant who is … intoxicated.” Judge Persky also said, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. … I think he will not be a danger to others.” Your response, Professor Dauber?
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Yeah, this is the kind of talk that really has outraged the community, I mean, really, across the world, but here in Silicon Valley, in particular. Under the law, the judge had to make a finding in order to grant probation. The state Legislature requires that the judge make a finding that this is a, quote, “unusual” case and that the interests of justice require him to grant probation. And to do that, he found that because he was previously a very successful young man and a good swimmer, you know, with all of these accomplishments as an athlete, and that he was intoxicated, that that would be—make it unusual. And the problem with that is that that basically describes every sexual assault at Stanford.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain how Stanford—you’re professor at Stanford Law School. Explain how Stanford has dealt with this attack.
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: I’m sorry. There’s a lot of clicking on the line. Could you repeat the question, Amy?
AMY GOODMAN: Explain how your university, how Stanford University, dealt with the attack. It took place in January of 2015, is that right? And the reason that the—the reason that the perpetrator was found was because two people were riding by on a bicycle and saw him on top of this unconscious woman.
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Yes, that’s right, Amy. So, Stanford—
AMY GOODMAN: And chased him.
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: Yes, that’s right. There were eyewitnesses to this assault, which makes it even worse, frankly, that the judge was so lenient in this sentence. And I think that one of the questions you asked me was, you know, how has Stanford done with respect to this question. And I think it’s important for viewers to understand that Stanford has a long history, really, of not treating these offenses particularly aggressively. For example, up until at least last year, Stanford had only ever expelled one student in the whole history of the university for sexual assault. And they have not, say, for example, as Harvard President Drew Faust has, taken on the fraternity culture of sort of toxic masculinity and the sexual assault that comes along with that, you know, sort of more directly. Harvard has taken some very strong measures against fraternities. And Stanford has—our provost, John Etchemendy, has really not stood up to the fraternities. And I think that, you know, in some ways, you can see that this is the kind of situation that you can end up with when you have a culture of elite, male, athletic privilege.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to read more from the statement that the victim made in the courtroom, which has been viewed by millions of people. Addressing Brock Allen Turner, she said, quote, “While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see. I showed up an hour late to work every morning, excused myself to cry in the stairwells, I can tell you all the best places in that building to cry where no one can hear you. The pain became so bad that I had to explain the private details to my boss to let her know why I was leaving. I needed time because continuing day to day was not possible. …
“My life has been on hold for over a year, a year of anger, anguish and uncertainty, until a jury of my peers rendered a judgment that validated the injustices I had endured. Had Brock admitted guilt and remorse and offered to settle early on, I would have considered a lighter sentence, respecting his honesty, grateful to be able to move our lives forward. Instead he took the risk of going to trial, added insult to injury and forced me to relive the hurt as details about my personal life and sexual assault were brutally dissected before the public. …
“I told the probation officer I do not want Brock to rot away in prison. I did not say he does not deserve to be behind bars. The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women. It gives the message that a stranger can be inside you without proper consent and he will receive less than what has been defined as the minimum sentence. Probation should be denied. I also told the probation officer that what I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing.
“Unfortunately, after reading the defendant’s report, I am severely disappointed and feel that he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct. I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of 'promiscuity'. By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction,” she said.
The victim ended her statement with a message to fellow survivors. She said, “As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, 'Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.’” She said, “Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.”
The victim chose to remain anonymous. Professor Dauber, her statement in court?
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: It is so—I’m having trouble keeping my composure listening to you read it, as I think a lot of people probably are. And I really hope that you’ll post the full statement on the Democracy Now! website or link to the BuzzFeed site so that people can read it for themselves. It’s incredibly powerful. And it really has, I think, caused a lot of women who have been sexually assaulted, or other individuals who someone close to them has been sexually assaulted, to really understand the pain. But I really want your viewers to understand that she—although this has really inspired so many people, she didn’t write it for that purpose. She wrote it for the purpose of persuading the judge, Judge Aaron Persky. And unfortunately, unlike, you know, the millions of people who have been moved around the world, Judge Persky apparently was not moved by this, but was instead persuaded that he needed to have a lot of sympathy and solicitude for Brock Turner.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end by asking you about something else that happened in California. Black Lives Matter activist Jasmine Richards has been sentenced to 90 days in jail after she was convicted of an offense known up until recently as “felony lynching.” Police accused her of trying to de-arrest someone during a peace march in Pasadena last August. The arrest and jailing of a young black woman activist on charges of felony lynching sparked a firestorm of protests. Richards faced up to four years in prison. She was sentenced Tuesday to 90 days, with 18 days served, plus three years’ probation. Brock Allen Turner is expected to serve three months or less, with good behavior, and the same amount of probation time. Your response?
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: I think that this really does highlight the reason why we feel it’s important to recall Judge Persky, because we have one system of justice in this country, and we need to make sure that women are safe where they—regardless of where they’re assaulted, and that—whether it’s on a college campus or anywhere else, and that when an individual does perpetrate an offense, that they’re subject to the same kind of justice and to equal justice, regardless of who they are, whether they have high grades, whether they are a Stanford student or not, whether they are an excellent elite athlete or not. Everyone needs to be subject to the same standard.
AMY GOODMAN: Michele—
MICHELE LANDIS DAUBER: And for the judge to say—oh, I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but I want to continue this conversation and post it online, because I want to ask you what happened right before Brock was sentenced, a fascinating story that links really to what we’re seeing today. Michele Landis Dauber, Stanford law professor, leading the recall campaign against Aaron Persky, Santa Clara County Superior Court judge.